Progress in controlling and manipulating stem cells is rapid these days. Important advances in infrastructural methodologies for storing, creating, and growing stem cells are being made on a near-weekly basis. As these fundamental tools of stem cell science become better and cheaper, so do the end results - therapies built upon regenerative medicine and tissue engineering. Replacements for damaged tissues, including those damaged by some of the processes of aging. Enhanced regeneration that would not normally take place in an old body. And so forth. Here are two items that are illustrative of the present pace in research and development:
In a leap toward making stem cell therapy widely available, researchers at the Ansary Stem Cell Institute at Weill Cornell Medical College have discovered that endothelial cells, the most basic building blocks of the vascular system, produce growth factors that can grow copious amounts of adult stem cells and their progeny over the course of weeks. Until now, adult stem cell cultures would die within four or five days despite best efforts to grow them.
Researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have discovered a new method for predicting - with up to 99 percent accuracy - the fate of stem cells. ... In order to achieve successful stem cell-based therapies, researchers require access to large amounts of specific cells. This has proven difficult, as there are currently no methods for controlling or manipulating the division of bulk quantities of cells. When stem cells or progenitor cells divide via mitosis, the resulting daughter cells can be self-renewing or terminal. A self-renewing cell will go on to split into two daughter cells, while a terminally differentiated cell is fated to be a specific, specialized cell type. Researchers want the ability to influence this division in order to produce large volumes of the correct type of cells.
Both of these lines of research feed into the search for low-cost and reliable sources of specific cell populations, and ways to quickly generate those sources from a patient's own cells. Much of the progress in this field has yet to happen, as the real free-for-all of experimentation and implementation only gets underway once costs in time and money become low enough. Everything that has happened in the fields of regenerative medicine and tissue engineering over the past decade was just a warm up in comparison to what's ahead.