A Brace of Stem Cell Research News

The field of stem cell research is busy indeed, as is the application of new knowledge in regenerative medicine. More and more news that would have been noteworthy five years ago just slips past with a brief mention now - so you might imagine what will be buried in the academic press releases by 2016. By that time, examples of unarguably, demonstrably successful human autologous stem cell therapies will be yesterday's news, offered to hundreds or thousands of patients in many clinics outside the US, and you'll have to do better than repair the ravages of disease or injury in a mouse to gain the attention of the press. But for now, the following items are examples of comparatively buried news - the everyday advances in the field that are no longer written up in glowing editorials. Progress is measured by the increasing degree to which your work has faded into the background hum of science under way.

Newly discovered heart stem cells make muscle and bone:

Researchers have identified a new and relatively abundant pool of stem cells in the heart. ... these heart cells have the capacity for long-term expansion and can form a variety of cell types, including muscle, bone, neural and heart cells. ... While cell-based therapies do have potential for repairing damaged heart tissue, [researchers] ultimately favors the notion of regenerative therapies designed to tap into the natural ability of the heart and other organs to repair themselves. And there is more work to do to understand exactly what role these stem cells play in that repair process. [The] team is now exploring some of the factors that bring those cardiac stem cells out of their dormant state in response to injury and protect their "stemness."

Repairing spinal cord injury with dental pulp stem cells:

Hope that a stem cell population, specifically dental pulp stem cells, might be of benefit to individuals with severe spinal cord injury has now been provided by the work of Akihito Yamamoto and colleagues, at Nagoya University Graduate School of Medicine, Japan, in a rat model of this devastating condition. In the study, when rats with severe spinal cord injury were transplanted with human dental pulp stem cells they showed marked recovery of hind limb function. Detailed analysis revealed that the human dental pulp stem cells mediated their effects in three ways: they inhibited the death of nerve cells and their support cells; they promoted the regeneration of severed nerves; and they replaced lost support cells by generating new ones.

UCLA researchers identify new method for generating stem cell-like cells from human skin:

Researchers from the UCLA School of Dentistry investigating how stem cells can be used to regenerate dental tissue have discovered a way to produce cells with stem cell-like characteristics from the most common type of human skin cell in the epidermis. These skin cells, called keratinocytes, form the outermost layer of skin and can be cultured from discarded skin tissues or biopsy specimens. ... Since [these stem cells] may be obtained by taking a small punch-biopsy of skin tissues from patients, these cells are an easily accessible, patient-specific source of stem cells, which can be used for regenerative purposes.

Adult stem cells use special pathways to repair damaged muscle:

When a muscle is damaged, dormant adult stem cells called satellite cells are signaled to "wake up" and contribute to repairing the muscle. University of Missouri researchers recently found how even distant satellite cells could help with the repair, and are now learning how the stem cells travel within the tissue. This knowledge could ultimately help doctors more effectively treat muscle disorders such as muscular dystrophy, in which the muscle is easily damaged and the patient's satellite cells have lost the ability to repair.

And that was just a random selection of stem cell news grabbed from the top of today's pile. It's a busy time for the life sciences, and we will all benefit from the results ten or twenty or thirty years from now.

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