Akin to the transition from winter to spring, stem cells regenerate life. Their regenerative role in the human body is the subject of intensive research aimed at producing the next generation of effective cell-based cures for various human diseases. Researchers from around the globe gathered to present current stem cell technologies and their use and importance in regenerative medicine at the “World Stem Cell Summit” held in Baltimore last month.
Doris A. Taylor, Ph.D., director of the Center for Cardiovascular Repair at the University of Minnesota, spoke about the role that stem cells play in the prevention, treatment, and cure of diseases associated with aging; she sees aging as “a failure of stem cell-mediated endogenous repair.”
Dr. Taylor explained that in order to prevent or reverse the onset of disease, it is necessary to decrease inflammation by mobilizing stem cells to the site of repair early in the pathogenesis of the disease. Stem cell treatments for such diseases function by repairing or replacing pathologic organ vasculature and parenchyma, which slows or “cures” the disease by building new tissues, vasculature, and organs.
Dr. Taylor’s use of stem cells as reparative tools involves cells derived from a variety of sources, including bone marrow, peripheral blood, cord blood, and embryonic and inducible pluripotent cells. These stem cell technologies are critical to building new tissues, vasculature, and organs, and are thus crucial for regenerative medicine.
Dr. Taylor is also exploring the reversal of endothelial dysfunction as well as differences in atherosclerosis between men and women, showing sex-based differences in stem cell number and function. Other areas of interest include bio-organogenesis, which involves a novel technology to construct various functional organs, including heart, liver, pancreas, and kidney.
Stem cells are also crucial for regenerating tissue that has been damaged by trauma. Chris Mason, M.D., Ph.D., professor of regenerative medicine at the University College, London, gave a talk on regeneration of tissue after eye injury. The research he presented was performed in collaboration with a number of clinical groups and employed both adult and embryonic stem cells.
He spoke specifically about a collaboration with Julie Daniels, Ph.D., director of the Cells for Sight Tissue Bank at Moorfields Eye Hospital, involving an adult stem cell therapy used to treat patients with damaged cornea that occurred as a result of a chemical burn. “Normally after simple trauma, the corneal cells would grow back, but in the case of an alkali injury, which can permanently destroy the cornea and the replenishing stem cells, they do not,” Dr. Mason said.
“After taking stem cells from the good eye, we processed them under GMP conditions that included seeding them on a contact lens, which is then stitched over the surface of the damage eye. The stem cells then migrate in and restore normal vision in about 80% of patients.” He added that this is a good example of a manually processed, autologous therapy using adult stem cells that has produced excellent clinical results.
According to Dr. Mason, it is challenging to take “basic science through to safe, effective, and affordable cell therapies suitable for routine clinical practice. Stem cell therapies are only of value to mankind if we can successfully translate them into real therapies to treat serious diseases.”