By manipulating embryonic stem cells, scientists in the United Kingdom have successfully grown human brain and lung tissue. The breakthroughs raise hope for a cure to Alzheimer's disease and the possibility of growing human lungs for transplant.
Living cells taken from the brain stems of human embryos can be programmed to develop into many different types of human tissue, including bone, skin, and nerve. Though the procedure remains controversial, research is proceeding in many countries.
To make lung tissue, researchers affiliated with Imperial College London used a process that converted or "directed" embryonic stem cells into mature small-airway ephithalimum cells, which line the portion of the lung where oxygen is absorbed and carbon dioxide is excreted.
Dame Julia Polak, who led the research team, remarked, "This is a very exciting development and could be a huge step towards being able to build human lungs for transplantation or to repair lungs severely damaged by incurable diseases such as cancer." According to the American Cancer Society, lung cancer is the most common cancer worldwide and killed more than 1.18 million people across the globe in 2002. The Imperial College researchers believe their findings may also be effective against acute respiratory distress syndrome, which afflicts primarily intensive-care patients.
In a separate development, researchers affiliated with the Scottish group Stem Cell Sciences (SCS) have discovered a new technique for growing the cells that help make up the brain and nervous system. SCS chief executive Peter Mountford believes the development could lead to new lines of cell-based drugs and treatments.
Many researchers consider cell-based therapies to be among the most-promising areas of medical science. Blood transfusions and bone marrow transplantation are two examples of cell-based therapies already in use, but recent advances in cellular and molecular biology have expanded the potential applications of cell-based cures.
Most common diseases develop due to alterations in the interactions of cells' components. Cell-based therapy responds to the unique genetic makeup of individual patients and their equally individual illnesses. Such therapies may one day be used to deliver drugs to specific locations in the body more efficiently, help patients rebuild or augment their immune systems, and regenerate and replace tissue.
The researchers at SCS believe the new technique for growing brain tissue will eventually help doctors build replacement neural or brain matter for people who suffer from Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases. A 2003 Swedish study estimates that Alzheimer's disease afflicts 27. …