Regenerative Medicine for Things Other Than Aging

I don't normally give much time to research into regenerative therapies for non-age-related conditions, but it's worth glancing over the fence every so often - it helps in obtaining a feel for how fast medical science as a whole is moving. Here are a couple of recent items:

Scientists Hold Out Hope for Diabetes Cure:

Three years ago, scientists announced a new treatment had cured diabetes -- in mice. But researchers reporting in the March 24 issue of Science say three separate attempts to replicate that pioneering study have proven only partially successful. The results, while not stellar, still leave the cup of hope at least half-full for people with diabetes, experts say.

In fact, Dr. Denise L. Faustman, the scientist who performed the first study, contends the cup is still "100 percent full, because the new studies confirm that it is possible to stop the process by which the immune system mistakenly destroys insulin-producing islet cells." Islet cells reside in the pancreas, but are destroyed in the type 1 form of diabetes.

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Type 1 diabetes generally appears early in life and is much more difficult to treat than obesity-associated type 2 diabetes, in which the body's insulin production gradually declines.

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Meanwhile, she said, "We are actually elated by these studies. For 20 years, the hope has been that humans can regenerate insulin-producing cells. When we began this work we were not even allowed to use the word 'regeneration' in our papers. By 2003, we were able to use the word.

Cell therapy slows progression of an inherited neurological disease:

The new study, published in the March 22 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience, may have implications for developing new therapies for metachromatic leukodystrophy, or MLD, a fatal, relatively rare inherited disorder that in humans usually begins early in life. In the disease, the fatty substance sulfatide accumulates in the brain due to the lack of an enzyme and causes loss of the white matter or myelin protecting nerve fibers. Without myelin, nerves cannot conduct impulses to and from other areas of the body, resulting in symptoms including convulsions, seizures, personality changes, spasticity, progressive dementia, motor disturbances progressing to paralysis, and blindness. There is no cure; the only current treatment is a bone marrow transplant.

Ernesto Bongarzone, PhD, and his colleagues at the San Raffaele Scientific Institute in Milan, Italy, transplanted cells that produce myelin into the brains of newborn MLD mice. The researchers found that the transplanted myelin-producing cells survived in the mice brains and successfully moved to regions of the brain where they could aid in producing myelin. The transplanted cells also helped lead to production of healthy myelin and improved motor coordination.

Progress may seem slow at times, but researchers have come a long way in recent years. What happens in the laboratory today would have been - and sometimes was - science fiction back in the 80s.

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