Embryonic Stem Cells Without the Embryo

stem cell, generating stem cells, embryonic stem cells

Researchers have recently taken adult stem cells in mice and reverted them back to the embryonic state.  This technique eliminates ethical issues and could potentially allow scientists and eventually physicians to create any cell needed to improve patient health.

Researchers have already used stems cells for regenerating skin and blood.  There has also been early lab work with cardiovascular diseases, and brain disorders.  Embryonic stem cells can be grown into any type of human cell.  Due to ethical consideration, most researchers have been working with induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS).  These adult cells are limited, however, as they can only grow into the type of cell from which they are harvested.

Imagine having your own stem cell bank

Imagine if disease strikes and you simply revert some healthy cells back to their embryonic state and then essentially grow replacement parts as needed?  There would be minimal concern about rejection from the body because you’re using your own cells.  Instead of waiting on a donor list, you’d be waiting for the lab to manufacture the tissue, perhaps on a 3D medical printer.

How it works

Brigham and Women researchers harvested mature blood cells from mice and exposed the cells to an acidic environment.  After a few days, the cells began to revert back to their embryonic stem cell state and grow in clusters.  They then removed the clusters and placed in different organs.

The investigators found that the cell clusters caused GFP+ tissues to grow in all organs of the mice that were tested. This confirmed that the cells were pluripotent.

When will stem cells be available for medical use?

Stem cells are already used with bone marrow transplants using a blood forming stem cell.  Just the cells that are needed are transported to the area in the marrow and the cells migrate, renew and rebuild the entire blood system.   There are also currently some applications for bone, skin and corneal injuries using stem cells from those organs.  The first phase 1 clinical trial has been authorized by the FDA for spinal cord injury.

In theory stem cell applications are limited only by the body tissue that needs repair.  Applications could apply to a wide array of diseases.  Having a reliable source of embryonic stem cells would be a boon to researchers and could potential help speed up therapies that are years, possibly decades away now.

As a physician are there any stem cell therapies that you are looking forward to?  We will be continuing the conversation inside Sermo.  If you’re an M.D. or D.O., we’d love to have you join us.

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