Somewhere in the world, someone today pushed out the boundaries of what can be done with stem cells in medicine. The field is now so large and well funded that noteworthy advances are rolling in every week, and for each incremental step forward that you read about in the popular science press there are another half a dozen more behind the scenes, achieved without much commentary outside the scientific community. This is what a healthy field of research and development looks like: a lot of movement, a great deal of progress. Here are pointers to a few recent items, representative of what is taking place day in and day out around the world:
The study found that a combination of two drugs lengthened survival time and prevented liver rejection in rodents. One drug was a low dose of tacrolimus, which prevented immediate rejection of the transplant, and the other was plerifaxor, which freed the recipient's stem cells from the bone marrow. The bone marrow cells freed by plerifaxor then traveled to the damaged liver and repopulated it with the recipients' own cells, replacing the donor cells that cause rejection. The stem cells also appeared to control immune response by increasing the amount of regulatory T-cells. Essentially, the scientists said they transformed the donor liver from a foreign object under attack by the immune system into an organ tolerated by the body within three months of the surgery. And - the rats only had to take the medications for one week after the transplant.
Researchers from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute have today announced a new technique to reprogramme human cells, such as skin cells, into stem cells. Their process increases the efficiency of cell reprogramming by one hundred-fold and generates cells of a higher quality at a faster rate. Until now cells have been reprogrammed using four specific regulatory proteins. By adding two further regulatory factors [retinoic acid receptor gamma (RAR-γ) and liver receptor homolog (Lrh-1)], Liu and co-workers brought about a dramatic improvement in the efficiency of reprogramming and the robustness of stem cell development. The new streamlined process produces cells that can grow more easily.
Limbal stem cell deficiency (LSCD) [is] a condition which causes the cornea to become cloudy and develop a rough surface causing pain and leading to blindness. Currently, treatments focus on harvesting limbal cells from a patient's healthy eye or from cadaveric tissue. In her pioneering research, Dr. Meyer-Blazejewska considered the potential use of stem cells harvested from hair follicles to reconstruct damaged tissue for patients who suffer from LSCD in both eyes. ... Dr. Meyer-Blazejewska's team demonstrated that in the right microenvironment stem cells from hair follicles do have the capacity for cellular differentiation, the process whereby a less specialized cell becomes a more specialized cell type, in this case the cells of the corneal epithelial phenotype. The team's results showed an 80% rate of differentiation in mouse eyes following a cell transplant highlighting the promising therapeutic potential of these cells.
Next year, Pfizer Inc. and a clutch of British scientists hope to join a small but growing group of researchers conducting the first clinical trials in one of the more contentious areas of science: medical treatments derived from human embryonic stem cells. Pfizer and its partners at University College London's Institute of Ophthalmology are awaiting regulatory permission to begin a human study in the U.K. of a possible treatment for age-related macular degeneration, a common disorder in the elderly that can cause blindness.
The constant hum of progress from the field of stem cell science and development is what we'd like to see emerging from work on aging and longevity science - and needless to say we don't. There are not enough researchers, and there is not enough funding, and there is not enough popular support to build this sort of pace of progress at the present time. That is what we must strive to change.