Wednesday, July 20, 2011

New Advances

An article in the current issue of the New Scientist focuses on some recent – and major – developments in the both real and potential therapeutic benefits from stem cells.

“Stem cell therapies ready for the real world” the article states.

Ready for the real world. For all the hype over embryonic stem cells for at least 10 years now, you might think the article would be about them, right?

Wrong. The article instead celebrates ongoing therapeutic advances utilizing adult stem cells.

The first involves the successful transplant of an artificial trachea (windpipe) into a patient whose own, cancerous trachea had been removed. Modeled on the diseased trachea, a new one was constructed of a “novel polymeric material.” This was then coated, inside and out, with the patient’s own cells that had been derived from stem cells in the patient’s bone marrow. The Karolinska University Hospital in Stockholm, Sweden, where the transplant took place, issued a statement noting that "because the cells used to regenerate the trachea were the patient's own, there has been no rejection of the transplant and the patient is not taking (anti-rejection) drugs." The patient has recovered and been sent home.

The next advance noted in the New Scientist involves a South Korean company which became the first in the world to receive official approval for the sale and use of a stem cell treatment for heart disease. Called “Hearticellgram-AMI” the treatment takes the patient’s own bone marrow derived adult stem cells, multiplies and then injects them directly into the coronary arteries to regenerate cells damaged or lost due to acute myocardial infarction.

The article also refers to a recent development that saw Japanese scientists successfully grow teeth using tissue stem cells derived from fetal mice (the New Scientist mistakenly refers to them as “embryonic” stem cells). The treated stem cells were grown in a box placed within a mouse’s kidney; they then developed into fully formed teeth with ligament and bone; when transplanted into the mouse, the teeth connected with the animal’s blood and nerve supply to function as naturally formed teeth. According to one news report, Professor David Leavesley, from the Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation at Queensland (Australia) University of Technology, said this development suggested adult stem cell could be used to create other complex organs such a liver, pancreas and even eyes.

Finally, the article notes that scientists had isolated the “mother” stem cell for blood, from which both red and white blood cells are derived. “This raises the possibility of being able to completely reconstitute a patient's blood - perhaps after chemotherapy for leukaemia - from a single cell extracted from bone marrow before treatment began,” the New Scientist notes. The study was published in Science.

Embryonic stem cells are nowhere even close to duplicating these advances. Yet more reason to direct limited resources away from embryonic stem cell research and into research that is actually helping patients…adult stem cell research.

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