Much of modern stem cell research and clinical application is focuses on autologous therapies: extracting useful cells from the patient, such as stem cells, culturing the cells to multiply their numbers, potentially altering or reprogramming them for better therapeutic effect, and then returning them to the body to spur regeneration. The use of the patient's own cells circumvents almost all of the biggest issues surrounding transplants between people - such as rejection by the immune system, and the need for potentially dangerous drugs to suppress that rejection.
This is all foundation work that may later become important to engineered longevity. One thing that may prove useful is the ability to take important types of cell from the patient (such as stem cells, or long-lived cell types that are not normally replaced), repair whatever molecular damage they have accumulated, grow an entire replacement population from the repaired cells, and then return them to the body. In this way, medical technology may revert the function of specific cell populations to a youthful state - this is the hope, in any case, though the situation is complicated by the existence of remaining still-damaged cells and other forms of age-related damage that cannot be solved through cell replacement, such as intracellular and extracellular aggregates.
Here are some recent examples of work in this field that caught my eye, and which hopefully together provide some insight as the to the state of research and development at the present time. As is usually the case, what is possible is far ahead of what has been pushed at great expense into clinical trials:
In a development that could lead to more complete recovery from torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries in humans, University of Michigan researchers have grown and repaired knee ligaments in rats from bone marrow stem cells harvested from the rats' own bones.
he XCell-Center has released results from a follow-up study of 115 spinal cord injury patients treated with autologous bone marrow stem cells. Overall, nearly 60% improved following treatment. These results support the premise that spinal cord injury patients can be treated safely and effectively with autologous stem cell therapy. The most common improvement, reported by more than 6 out of every 10 patients, was the return of feeling to the hands, feet, arms, legs or trunk.
The team sampled progenitor eye cells, which regenerate the eye's cornea, from laboratory rats. By reprogramming them to resemble stem cells they acquired the properties necessary to replace or restore neurons, cardiomyocytes, and hepatocytes, cell types which are degenerated in Parkinson's disease, heart disease, and liver disease.
Miltenyi Biotec announces the treatment of the first patient in a phase III clinical trial termed PERFECT. The trial aims at determining whether intramyocardial injection of autologous CD133+ bone marrow stem cells improves heart function in addition to coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG) in patients with chronic ischemic heart disease and reduced pumping function.