It is certainly a big step forward in the medical field when scientists finally succeed in creating blood-forming stem cells to help in various medical conditions and curb the lack of blood donors.

Below are four latest stem cell research and applications that have achieved remarkable progress and breakthrough in medical treatments.

1.Making blood from stem cells

Two teams, led by stem-cell biologists George Daley of Boston Children’s Hospital in Massachusetts and Shahin Rafii of Weill Cornell Medical College in New York respectively, have finally created stem cells in the lab that can produce blood after 20 years of striving.

This could potentially provide an unlimited number of blood and immune cells for transplants by reprogramming a patient’s own skin cells where blood donors may no longer be needed in the future.

Daley’s team reprogrammed the skin cells from adult patients into induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells and injected the modified human cells into mice to develop. The iPS cells later transformed into progenitor cells that could generate human blood, including immune cells, which are highly similar to naturally occurring “haematopoietic” stem cells.

On the other hand, Rafii’s team – taking a different approach – generated true blood stem cells from mice by extracted cells from the lining of blood vessels in mature mice, and developed them in an artificial environment of human blood vessels.

Despite the different techniques, both research teams have opened up possibilities for treatment in blood diseases.

2. Stem cell heart patch

Meanwhile, a Japanese study conducted by a research team from Osaka University managed to mend damaged hearts using a tiny patch made up of stem cells harvested from a patient’s thigh. The sticking plaster was glued to the surface of the damaged areas in the heart to help the heart tissue function better.

Researchers have mended damaged hearts using a tiny patch containing health-boosting cells. Photo credit: Daily Mail
Researchers have mended damaged hearts using a tiny patch containing health-boosting cells. Photo credit: Daily Mail

The researchers said this therapy is a “promising” long-term solution to treat heart failure since the existing treatment options are not ideal and are relatively short-term.

In the study, 27 patients with heart failure, who were not responding to other treatments, were treated with the stem cell patch and showed significant improvements in their capacity to exercise as well as the functioning of their hearts a year later.

“Currently, heart failure is incurable, but stem cell-based treatments may offer new hope to people suffering from the disease,” said Prof Metin Avkiran, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation.

3. The largest resource for stem cells

In the UK, scientists have created the largest resource of human stem cells from healthy people to aid in the study of human development and disease. They generated iPS cells to study cell differences among individuals as well as the impact and development of diseases, such as cancer, Alzheimer’s and heart disease.

Extracting adult cells and returning them to an early embryonic state using specific growth conditions, the researchers created 711 iPS cell lines and generated detailed information about their genome, the proteins expressed and their cell biology.

"This is the fantastic result of many years of work to create a national resource of high-quality, well-characterised human induced pluripotent stem cells," said Dr Michael Dunn, Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute’s Head of Genetics and Molecular Sciences.

“By ensuring this resource is openly available to all, we hope that it will pave the way for many more fascinating discoveries.”

4. Stem cell and gene therapy for bone regeneration

On the other hand, a study conducted at Cedars-Sinai Medical Centre in Los Angeles combined gene therapy, stem cells and ultrasound to stimulate robust bone repair in pigs within eight weeks without invasive surgery.

According to the co-author Gadi Pelled, professor of surgery at Cedars-Sinai Medical Centre, the researchers inserted a biodegradable scaffold into the broken shins of the 18 mini pigs. To trigger the bone repair process, the team delivered a bone-inducing gene into the stem cells using an ultrasound pulse and injected microbubbles mixed with bone morphogenetic proteins to ease the entry of the gene into the cells.

Proven to be a potential alternative to bone grafts that comes with risk and additional surgery, the study is said to be successful in the animal trials that it is expected to move quickly into human clinical trials.

“This study is the first to demonstrate that ultrasound-mediated gene delivery to an animal's own stem cells can effectively be used to treat nonhealing bone fractures,” Pelled said.

“It addresses a major orthopaedic unmet need and offers new possibilities for clinical translation.” MIMS

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The ups and downs of stem cell therapies
World’s first human-pig hybrid: Medical breakthrough or ethical dilemma?