Researchers at the University of Edinburgh have made a major breakthrough in the development of a treatment for Parkinson’s disease. Clinical trials are currently underway that utilize stem cells to treat Parkinson’s by injecting healthy stem cells directly into the brain. However, there is one major hurdle: the healthy injected cells can become diseased from the nearby cells exhibiting Parkinson’s symptoms. In lab tests, the researchers used CRISPR to splice the DNA of the stem cells to eradicate the gene that causes the toxic clumps of cells in the brain, which contribute to the neuronal degeneration. The edited stem cells also successfully produced dopamine, which is significantly lacking in Parkinson’s patients.
Researchers at Rutgers University have created a bio-degradable scaffold that could overcome the biggest hurdle in stem cell treatments, which is cell survival and delivery. In order for a treatment to be effective, the stem cells must reach the designated site and remain there while they work. "Our enhanced stem cell transplantation approach is an innovative potential solution," comments Professor Ki Bum Lee, senior author of the study.
The University of Illinois at Chicago has received a $5.25 million grant from the Department of Defense [DoD] to develop clinical trials using stem cells to treat eye injuries and expedite healing. The treatments utilize mesenchymal stem cells (the same type of stem cells found in teeth) due to their anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory properties, which can help heal scarring and preserve eyesight. The treatments are targeted for combat veterans injured due to explosions and chemical burns to the eye, but could also be used to treat chronic corneal injuries in other patients.
Doctors at the New Jersey Institute of Technology have developed a stem cell hydrogel designed to keep teeth alive following a root canal. This revolutionary, biological hydrogel is said to stimulate angiogenesis, which is the growth of blood vessels, and this key factor could help teeth remain both alive and more fortified, compared to a traditional root canal treatment. When patients require root canals, the decay inside the pulpal chamber and canals is cleared and replaced with gutta percha. This eliminates the infection, but also renders the tooth dead typically leading to the loss of the tooth entirely later on. The hydrogel, seeded with dental pulp stem cells and working in conjunction with the hydrogel’s promotion of angiogenesis, has the potential to repopulate the tooth with living, functioning dental pulp and restoring function to the tooth.
Organs-on-Chips are set to be studied in zero gravity at the International Space Station. Astronauts who go into space have been known to experience changes in their health and immune response, but until recently, the reasons for these changes remained largely unknown. Previously, animals were sent as a way to determine the long-term health effects of being in space. However, since every organism functions differently, this approach, while useful, had obvious drawbacks. Organs-on-Chips [OOCs] are an innovation created by a collaborative effort of the Wyss Institute of Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, among others. OOCs are small vessels that utilize stem cells to create various tissue types to simulate the conditions inside human organs. If the tests prove successful, these tiny chips will be the closest researchers get to estimating the effects of space travel on human organ function - aside from sending out actual astronauts.
Researchers at USC [University of Southern California] have utilized stem cells to track neuronal growth and identify specific genes that appear to be responsible for the development of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and depression. The study linked the DISC1 gene to the development of schizophrenia, which currently does not have effective treatments and causes disproportionate disability compared to other neurological disorders. Like many neurological disorders, the source of schizophrenia has been ambiguous and this research, with the use of stem cells, is helping to navigate this disorder. Through the utilization of stem cells, the study determined how genes like DISC1 function in the body, and their downstream impact on protein function and neurotransmitter production by tracking the gene expression.
“Clean meat” company Future Meat Technologies anticipate they can bring the price of lab-grown, “meatless” meat down to approximately $8 per kg [$4 per pound]. The process involves obtaining mesenchymal stem cells from the animal and differentiating the stem cells into both muscle and fat tissues, which are indistinguishable from those found in standard meat. The meat cooks, tastes and smells exactly like anything you’d get from an animal- however, the biggest hurdle has been its high price. Future Meat Technologies looks to overcome this hurdle by bringing costs down, by differentiating stem cells more efficiently and scaling up production.
Researchers at Tufts University School of Dental Medicine are creating bioengineered teeth from dental stem cells, with the ultimate goal of replacing dental implants. The innovative approach utilizes a hydrogel that has been developed to encapsulate dental stem cells enabling them to differentiate and grow into buds that can be implanted to grow into healthy teeth. In a pre-clinical model, the procedure involves using the hydrogel to provide a scaffold for the stem cells to grow in vitro, followed by the implantation of the scaffold in vivo, where the stem cells developed into whole tooth structures.
UCLA researchers have developed a potential stem cell based treatment for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD). This degenerative muscular disorder - caused by a genetic mutation in a protein essential for skeletal muscle function - primarily affects young men and boys, degenerating skeletal muscle to the point where it eventually wastes away. This severe degeneration of skeletal muscle results in almost a complete lack of voluntary movement. The UCLA team used the gene editing technology, CRISPR, to repair the mutated gene for the protein in stem cells obtained from the subjects and reintroduced the re-programmed muscle cells back into the subjects. In an animal model, the re-programmed cells successfully produced the dystrophin protein, reversing the degeneration of the skeletal muscle. The team has also conducted a second set of biological markers to ensure complete differentiation into adult muscle cells.
A team of researchers at the Hadassah Medical Center in Israel has developed a unique method of applying a patient’s own stem cells to restore mobility following progressive multiple sclerosis (MS). MS is an autoimmune disorder in which the body attacks its own neurons and affects millions of people worldwide. Severely progressive MS leads to complete loss of limb function, memory problems, seizures, and even systemic organ failure. This groundbreaking, double-blind, Phase II clinical trial successfully administered autologous (the patient’s own) mesenchymal stem cells, which were cultured and expanded to clinically significant numbers, and then applied directly into the spinal fluid. The treatment simultaneously addressed the two problems of MS - inflammatory immune response and the destruction of the outer coating of neurons that allows for quick signal transduction thereby engendering a significant increase in efficacy.