12 years ago, Dr. Anthony Atala, a leading stem cell specialist at Boston Children’s Hospital, created a lab-grown bladder from a patient’s own stem cells. The procedure involved obtaining a sample from the patient’s bladder, and culturing the stem cells to grow into a full-sized, functional bladder. 12 years following the procedure, the patient is thriving and has experienced no long-term adverse effects from the regenerated bladder. Since then, the differentiation protocols utilized to grow the bladder have been successfully adapted to grow other functioning tissues like skin, cartilage and urethras, which is indicative of the paradigm shift stem cells represent in treating organ deficiencies.
A major obstacle to successful bone marrow transplants (BMT) is rejection due to the age discrepancy of the donor and recipient, with older donors presenting problems due to the donor stem cells’ loss of efficacy with age. The older stem cells’ compromised ability to actively regenerate (given that older stem cells are less active than younger stem cells) increases the risk of age-related rejection significantly. In a groundbreaking study, researchers have discovered that the in-vitro (outside the body) introduction of young mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) to aged donor hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) used for transplants resulted in the rejuvenation of the donor cells likely improving the efficacy of the transplant.