Australian scientists develop breakthrough method to induce stem cell faster. Stem cells therapy is clearly the wave of the future. Since Canadian scientists first discovered the presence of self-renewing cells in the bone marrow of mice in 1963, research into these self-renewing cells have come a long way.
Because of their capacity to develop into virtually any cell in the body, stem cells hold the promise of revolutionizing the practice of medicine. Scientists think it’s only a matter of time before stem cells will be used routinely to treat now incurable diseases by repairing or replacing diseased or injured cells and tissues.
In the past 15 years, too, medical researchers have been studying how to tap the regenerative potential of a particular stem cell found in the bone marrow, mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs). MSCs can proliferate into a variety of cell types and can generate bone, tendons, cartilage, fat, cells that support the formation of blood, and fibrous connective tissue, and today, these adult stem cells are used almost every day in regenerative orthopedics to repair cartilage and bone.
Transplants of bone marrow stem cells are also increasingly becoming standard therapy for certain cancers like leukemia and lymphoma, and for other diseases of the blood and bone.
Because of their immunosuppressive properties and ability to differentiate into a wide range of tissues, MSCs show great potential for treating cardiac, renal, neural, joint and bone diseases and injuries as well as inflammatory conditions and blood diseases.
In recent years, the study of MSCs has exploded, with thousands of studies being undertaken to check if these can be used to treat a host of these diseases.
But there’s much to improve in the process of deriving these stem cells from either human embryos or induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), then inducing them to become the type of cells needed to replace the damaged cells in a particular disease. Then, of course, there are risks.
MSCs are also typically harvested from adult bone marrow or fat, which not only is painful but also yields low amounts.
Developed faster, in more quantities
“To make the pluripotent mature stem cells useful in the clinic, they have to be told what type of cell they need to become (pre-differentiated), before being administered to an injured organ, or otherwise they could form tumors,” observes Prof. Nicholas Fisk of the University of Queensland Clinical Research Centre.
Dr. Fisk is leading the Queensland University team that’s recently discovered a new method to produce MSCs from other human stem cells much faster than before, and in the large quantities needed to make them useful for clinics. The method substantially improves on current protocols and speeds up conversion time.
The research is a collaborative effort between two major research hubs in the University — Dr. Fisk’s center and the UQ’s Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (AIBN).
The new method for producing MSCs developed by the University of Queensland scientists — a world-first — will impact substantially patients who have a range of serious diseases.
“Because only small numbers of MSCs exist in the bone marrow and harvesting bone marrow from a healthy donor is an invasive procedure, the ability to make our own MSCs in large number in the laboratory is an exciting step in the future widespread clinical use of MSCs,” Dr. Fisk says. The research was published in the February edition of the STEM CELLS Translational Medicine journal.
The new protocol has overcome a significant barrier in the translation of stem cell-based therapy, according to Dr. Ernst Wolvetang, AIBN Associate Professor and Dr. Fisk’s co-Investigator on the project.
How they did it
“We used a small molecule to induce embryonic stem cells over a 10 day period, which is much faster than other studies reported in the literature,” Prof. Fisk reveals.
“The technique also worked on their less contentious counterparts, induced pluripotent stem cells (iNPCs),” he explains.
iNPCs are adult cells that scientists “force” or “induce” to develop into pluripotent cells that can change into all types of cells by adding “transcription factors.” These factors drive the adult cells back along the developmental timeline to an undifferentiated stem-cell-like state.
These “induced pluripotent stem cells” or “iPS cells” or “iPSCs” are then grown under various specific conditions to induce them to re-specialize into many different cell types.
In general, stem cell scientists use either human embryonic stem cells or induced pluripotent cells to develop new cell types needed to treat specific medical conditions.
To date, Dr. Fisk’s team has been able to derive bone marrow stem cells from iNPCs or human embryonic cells and is testing their capacity to repair bone.
“We were able to show these new forms of stem cells exhibited all the characteristics of bone marrow stem cells and we are currently examining their bone repair capability,” he announces.
UniQuest, The University of Queensland’s main business entity for its scientific research, is also inviting investors who might be interested to tap this new discovery. UniQuest can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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