Incremental Advances in Stem Cell Science are Constant and Ongoing

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:

New Transplant Method May Eliminate Need for Lifelong Medication

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.

100-fold increase in efficiency in reprogramming human cells to induced stem cells

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.

Regenerating eyes using cells from hair

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.

Stem-Cell Clinical Trials Move Debate Beyond Labs

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.

Comments

Those are some particularly exciting news briefs today.

Posted by: Patrick at October 11th, 2011 6:42 PM

The good thing is that stem cells help fight aging to some degree, so it's not a waste of time and money as far as anti-aging research is concerned. Apart from that, stem cells are "the sh*t" and I totally support them. When it comes to anti-aging research funding, though, we need to wait till the stem cell business becomes self-sustaining so that the funding it would otherwise get will be available for sth else like, for ex., anti-aging research. It'll take some time, but better late than never. Maybe some other sources of funding become available earlier. Only time will tell.

Posted by: Nick at October 12th, 2011 8:23 AM

I would not view research into stem cells as a bridge or a partial effort so much as the easiest, most viable way to reengineer your body with SENS-like alterations.

Think about it like this: changing the cells in your body would require an ENORMOUS amount of genetic engineering, a very difficult process outside of a petri dish in a lab. Developing a method to reengineer your body, more than actually designing the SENS techniques, might turn out to be the longest, hardest step of SENS.

However, it is (relatively) easy to engineer cells in a petri dish with these modifications. I believe the way we will ultimately alter our bodies will be through stem cells. Basic outline: Isolate cells, adult stem cells or created induced pluripotent stem cells, alter them in the lab with SENS modifications, and then reintroduce them to your body. The reintroduction could be of the fairly dramatic nature (grow a SENS kidney, replace your kidney with it) or a less invasive nature- reintroduce the SENS cells into your bodies tissues, and as your natural cells age and die, the SENS cells will act perpetually young and slowly outcompete them until you are more or less entirely made up of SENS cells. Clearly an oversimplification but it is much closer to our current biotechnological capabilities than a non-stem cell based approach.

Posted by: Stephen G at October 12th, 2011 2:04 PM

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