Stem Cells the Lifeblood of 21st-Century Medicine; Ability to 'Become' Healthy Tissue Is Truly Staggering

Daily Mail (London), May 17, 2016 | Go to article overview

Stem Cells the Lifeblood of 21st-Century Medicine; Ability to 'Become' Healthy Tissue Is Truly Staggering


Byline: PAT HAGAN

FROM easing creaky knees to mending a damaged heart, it seems that scientists are on the brink of using stem cells to revolutionise treating a range of conditions.

These master cells are essentially the building blocks of human tissue, and some have the capacity to turn into any type of specialist cell, such as skin, muscle or nerve.

Stem cells were hailed as a major medical breakthrough in the late 1990s when scientists discovered how to grow them in the lab.

But early progress was stymied, partly because these cells were originally harvested from embryos, leading to ethical concerns.

However, these worries eased with the discovery of so-called induced pluripotent stem cells about ten years ago. These are cells found in adults, which can be genetically reprogrammed to behave like embryonic stem cells, so they can become the cells of all organs and tissues.

'We are on the cusp of major things,' says Professor Brendon Noble, a leading stem cell expert. 'Stem cell therapies won't just treat illnesses, they'll cure them.' Blood stem cell transplantation involves injecting donated bone marrow packed with stem cells to treat cancers such as leukaemia.

Holoclar, an advanced stem cell therapy, aims to restore sight in patients with diseased or damaged corneas, often due to burns.

Here we look at some of the treatments being tested that could soon be used on patients: HEART DISEASE HEART attacks kill approximately 5,000 people in Ireland a year.

Those who survive often suffer severe damage to the cardiac muscle that leaves them with heart failure, which causes breathlessness, swelling and fatigue. Until now there has been no way to repair this damage, but a trial at University College London is looking at whether injecting stem cells within hours of a heart attack can repair or replace the damaged cells.

The cells are harvested from a patient's bone marrow, purified and then injected into the heart via a tube that is fed into the body through a leg artery.

Two or three days afterwards, the patient has an MRI scan of the heart to record the damage done by the heart attack.

A year later, they have another scan to see if the stem cells have helped healthy tissue grow and the results are then compared with patients who did not get the stem cell injections.

The trial, involving 100 patients, ended in 2014 and the results should be available soon.

A similar study in the US found that stem cell therapy halved deaths among patients who were so ill their only hope was a heart transplant.

ACHING KNEES IN 2014, scientists at the Regenerative Medicine Institute in Galway made a breakthrough in the treatment of osteoarthritis, using innovative stem cell technology.

Today, doctors at the Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Orthopaedic Hospital in Britain are testing 120 patients with osteoarthritis to see if injecting their own stem cells can repair damaged cartilage in the joints.

Osteoarthritis, which affects 400,000 people in Ireland, develops when cartilage, the body's built-in shock absorber inside joints, breaks down.

The new trial involves extracting cells that make new cartilage (chondrocytes) from the knee to grow in the laboratory. These can then be implanted back into the damaged knees.

At the same time, bone marrow is taken from the patients' hips in order to extract mesenchymal stem cells. These are capable of turning into bone, cartilage and tendon, which will then be implanted in the knee.

A third of the patients will get the chondrocytes, a third the mesenchymal stem cells and a third both. Doctors think that combining the treatments together will give the best results potentially delaying or even avoiding the need for knee replacement surgery. …

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