Scientists Get the Green Light to Resurrect the Dead With Stem Cells

(MindsBioquark, a biotech company based in the United States, has been given the go-ahead to begin research on 20 brain-dead patients, in an attempt to stimulate and regrow neurons and, literally, bring the patients back from the dead.

The technique is new and untested so the study will likely be controversial.

By implanting stem cells in the patient’s brain, in addition to treating the spinal cord with infusions of chemicals and nerve stimulation techniques (both of which have been shown to bring people out of comas), they hope to reboot the brain and jump-start neural activity.

The result could be people coming back to life.

There isn’t much evidence that this will work, though there is one well-known neurological researcher and a member of the American Academy of Neurology, Dr. Calixto Machado who is involved with the study as a panel expert.

Bioquark’s CEO, Ira Pastor, said that

“to undertake such a complex initiative, we are combining biologic regenerative medicine tools with other existing medical devices typically used for stimulation of the central nervous system, in patients with other severe disorders of consciousness. We hope to see results within the first two to three months.”

He added, “it is a long-term vision of ours that a full recovery in such patients is a possibility, although that is not the focus of this first study.

“It is a bridge to that eventuality.”

Stem Cells and Type 1 Diabetes: What the Future Has in Store

Stem cell


A pancreas transplant has always stood out as a possible ‘cure’ for type 1 diabetes (T1D), but one problem has been obvious: there just are not enough organ donors-on the order of 10,000 a year-while there are between 1 and 2 million people with T1D in the U.S. In a kidney transplant, a healthy donor can donate one of two functioning kidneys with a generally low-risk surgery, and still have normal kidney function. A similar approach with part of the pancreas would be unsafe. In addition, a pancreas transplant is generally less successful than a kidney transplant, and there are higher risks of serious side effects after pancreatic transplant surgery. The math is even worse when trying to transplant insulin-producing islets, because more than one donor is needed per recipient, which has stopped islet cell transplant from taking hold outside of a few centers. Furthermore, transplants of any sort require lifelong use of powerful and expensive medications that suppress immune function and can also cause serious side effects.

But what if we could transplant insulin-producing cells made in the lab? Wouldn’t that solve the donor dilemma? Yes, but the recipient with by far the most common form of T1D would still require immune suppression. Their immune system already destroyed, and is continuing to destroy, their insulin- producing beta cells. This would be true even if the insulin producing cells were derived from their own tissue. But what if we could protect new insulin-producing cells from the recipient’s immune system another way?

It is now possible to manufacture insulin-producing cells in the lab, using multiple different techniques developed by a multitude of researchers (Type 1 Diabetes Treatments Based on Stem Cells, Arana et al., Current Diabetes Reviews, 2018, 14, 14-23). That is a huge step forward, and a tribute to the benefit of supporting basic and applied research. Researchers are working on ways to ‘hide’ the new cells from the recipient’s immune system by altering the cells immune ‘appearance’, or more selectively suppressing the immune attack by the host. Hopefully, those efforts will pay off someday. But how about putting the new cells behind a barrier that the immune system cannot get through?

ViaCyte, a privately-held bioresearch company, reported some intriguing results at this year’s American Diabetes Association Scientific Sessions: the two-year data from the ongoing Safety, Tolerability, and Efficacy of PEC-Encap™ Product Candidate in type 1 diabetes (STEP ONE) clinical trial. The PEC-Encap consists of stem cell-derived cells that can develop into insulin-producing cells, encapsulated in a delivery device that is surgically implanted under the skin, called the Encaptra® Cell Delivery System. This system is designed to block immune access to the new cells but allow insulin, glucagon, glucose and other nutrients to pass through the membrane. The results indicate that the PEC-Encap product did not trigger a specific immune response against the new cells or the device itself, and it appeared to be safe. That’s the good news. Unfortunately, few of the implanted devices allowed enough new blood vessel growth from the host to sufficiently nourish the new cells, so in most cases, the new insulin-producing cells did not last. This appeared to result primarily from a foreign body reaction, a non-specific response of the recipient’s immune system that is similar to what one might find develop around a splinter. ViaCyte is now working on modifying the system to improve the potential for long-term survival of the manufactured insulin-producing cells.

If these or other similar efforts are successful, a large percentage of those with T1D could ultimately receive a functional ‘cure’. In addition, those with long-term type 2 diabetes (T2D) who can no longer produce much insulin, a common state that makes blood sugar management very difficult, might also benefit from this promising new therapy.

A second, perhaps less ambitious device is also under development, PEC-Direct™, one which would still require the use of immunosuppression medication. However, since the cells can be generated in a lab in potentially unlimited numbers, there is no need for organ donors. Thus, a much larger group of people might be able to benefit from transplanted insulin-producing cells, albeit with the need for immunosuppression. The current plan is to consider such a transplant for those with T1D who suffer from recurrent severe hypoglycemia episodes or have hypoglycemia unawareness, conditions which are life-threatening. Those who are unable to manage T1D effectively due to highly variable blood glucose levels, so-called ‘brittle’ diabetes, could also benefit. Together, such groups are thought to represent about 10% of all people with T1D.

In summary, there is great news in the stem cell arena; insulin-producing cells can be made in unlimited numbers. While not yet ready for clinical use in people with diabetes, rapid progress is being made. We waited for finger sticks to become available, so we could finally see what we so desperately needed to see–where is my blood glucose, right now. We waited for insulin pumps and better insulins, so we could do what we so desperately needed to do, right now-tame T1D’s wild blood glucose fluctuations. We waited for continuous glucose monitoring, so we could know what we so desperately needed to know- where is my blood sugar going, right now. Stems cells have the potential to deliver what we all still so desperately want- relief from the 24/7/365 burden of thinking and acting like a beta cell. Stay tuned, T1D nation!

Nicholas B. Argento, MD, Diabetes Technology Director, Maryland Endocrine and Diabetes

Stem Cells From Baby Teeth Could Be Used to Bring Back a Dead Tooth

Don’t throw out those baby teeth, they have incredible potential.

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Stem cells taken from baby teeth could be used to repair dental injuries and fix dead teeth in the future, according to new research.

Scientists have announced they’ve been able to use the cells to patch up permanent teeth in children that have not yet fully grown.

The regenerative nature of stem cells – those powerful cells that can morph and divide to repair almost any part of the body – enabled researchers to successfully replenish the soft inner tissue (or dental pulp) in the teeth of 30 patients in a clinical trial in China.

Further down the line the same technique could be used to repair adult teeth as well, replacing the blood vessels and nerve connections that are often gone forever when a tooth take a serious knock.

baby teeth stem 2Regenerated dental pulp. (University of Pennsylvania)

“This treatment gives patients sensation back in their teeth,” says one of the team, Songtao Shi from the University of Pennsylvania. “If you give them a warm or cold stimulation, they can feel it; they have living teeth again.”

“So far we have follow-up data for two, two and a half, even three years, and have shown it’s a safe and effective therapy.”

As the researchers point out, nearly half of all kids suffer some kind of injury to a tooth during childhood, and if that happens while their permanent teeth are still growing, blood supply and root development can be affected, sometimes leaving a “dead” tooth.

Dentists already use a treatment called apexification to try and encourage root development, but it’s not an ideal solution, and doesn’t do anything to replace lost tissue – that dental pulp inside our teeth.

Shi and his team have been working for a decade with dental stem cells taken from baby teeth, technically known as human deciduous pulp stem cells (hDPSC).

The clinical trial most recently carried out involved 30 kids treated with the new method and 10 kids treated using apexification.

For those undergoing the new treatment, stem cells were cultured in a lab and them implanted back into the injured tooth.

The results showed that the injured teeth of the children who had been given hDPSCs had increased blood flow and thicker dentin, as well as more signs of healthy root development. A year afterwards, only those on the new treatment had regained some sensation in their damaged teeth.

One of the kids unfortunately re-injured the same tooth and had to have it extracted – but that did give researchers chance to examine it again. They found the stem cells had regenerated dentin-producing cells, connective tissue and blood vessels, which all help to make up dental pulp.

This is all very encouraging but there’s still plenty of work to do.

Broader tests need to be carried out to make sure the procedure works, and the team also wants to explore how stem cells not taken from patients’ own baby teeth might react inside the body – when it comes to adult dental injuries of course, the baby teeth will be long gone.

For now mark this down as another encouraging step forward in the field of dental repair.

Last year researchers identified a drug called Tideglusib that can activate stem cells inside the tooth’s pulpy centre and potential regrow some of the tissue inside. No human trials have been carried out as yet, but work is ongoing.

If treatments like these can eventually be made reliable and safe enough, we should see more children and adults with a healthier set of teeth.

“For me, the results are very exciting,” says Shi. “To see something we discovered take a step forward to potentially become a routine therapy in the clinic is gratifying.”

New way to weed out problem stem cells, making therapy safer

Mayo Clinic researchers have found a way to detect and eliminate potentially troublemaking stem cells to make stem cell therapy safer. Induced Pluripotent Stem cells, also known as iPS cells, are bioengineered from adult tissues to have properties of embryonic stem cells, which have the unlimited capacity to differentiate and grow into any desired types of cells, such as skin, brain, lung and heart cells. However, during the differentiation process, some residual pluripotent or embryonic-like cells may remain and cause them to grow into tumors.

 show great promise in the field of regenerative medicine; however, the risk of uncontrolled cell growth will continue to prevent their use as a therapeutic treatment,” says Timothy Nelson, Ph.D., M.D., lead author on the study, which appears in the October issue of Stem Cells Translational Medicine.

Using mouse models, Mayo scientists overcame this drawback by pretreated stem cells with a chemotherapeutic agent that selectively damages the DNA of the stem cells, efficiently killing the tumor-forming cells. The contaminated cells died off, and the chemotherapy didn’t affect the healthy cells, Dr. Nelson says.

“The goal of creating new therapies is twofold: to improve disease outcome with stem cell-based regenerative medicine while also ensuring safety. This research outlines a strategy to make stem cell therapies safer for our patients while preserving their therapeutic efficacy, thereby removing a barrier to translation of these treatments to the clinic,” says co-author Alyson Smith, Ph.D.

Stem cell therapies continue to be refined and improved. Researchers are finding that stem cells may be more versatile than originally thought, which means they may be able to treat a wider variety of diseases, injuries and congenital anomalies.  is an emerging regenerative strategy being studied at Mayo Clinic.

“By harnessing the potential of regenerative medicine, we’ll be able to provide more definitive solutions to patients,” says Andre Terzic, M.D., Ph.D., co-author and director of Mayo Clinic’s Center for Regenerative Medicine.

Stem cells collected from fat may have use in anti-aging treatments

Adult stem cells collected directly from human fat are more stable than other cells – such as fibroblasts from the skin – and have the potential for use in anti-aging treatments, according to researchers from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. They made the discovery after developing a new model to study chronological aging of these cells. They published their findings this month in the journal Stem Cells.

Chronological aging shows the natural life cycle of the  – as opposed to cells that have been unnaturally replicated multiple times or otherwise manipulated in a lab. In order to preserve the cells in their natural state, Penn researchers developed a system to collect and store them without manipulating them, making them available for this study. They found  collected directly from human fat – called adipose-derived stem cells (ASCs) – can make more proteins than originally thought. This gives them the ability to replicate and maintain their stability, a finding that held true in cells collected from patients of all ages.

“Our study shows these cells are very robust, even when they are collected from older patients,” said Ivona Percec, MD, director of Basic Science Research in the Center for Human Appearance and the study’s lead author. “It also shows these cells can be potentially used safely in the future, because they require minimal manipulation and maintenance.”

Stem cells are currently used in a variety of anti-aging treatments and are commonly collected from a variety of tissues. But Percec’s team specifically found ASCs to be more stable than other cells, a finding that can potentially open the door to new therapies for the prevention and treatment of aging-related diseases.

“Unlike other adult human stem cells, the rate at which these ASCs multiply stays consistent with age,” Percec said. “That means these cells could be far more stable and helpful as we continue to study natural aging.”

ASCs are not currently approved for direct use by the Food and Drug Administration, so more research is needed. Percec said the next step for her team is to study how chromatin is regulated in ASCs. Essentially, they want to know how tightly the DNA is wound around proteins inside these cells and how this affects aging. The more open the chromatin is, the more the traits affected by the genes inside will be expressed. Percec said she hopes to find out how ASCs can maintain an open profile with aging.

Stem Cell Research: What Are Stem Cells And Why Is There So Much Controversy?

Stem cell research is often in the news both for its involvement in scientific breakthrough and the controversy surrounding its use. But while many of us are familiar with the term, when it comes to understanding exactly what stem cells are and what exactly they do, things can get a bit hazy. Luckily, YouTube channel Life Noggin put together a colorful video to outline the basics of stem cells.

Stem Cell Research: What Are Stem Cells, And Why Is There So Much Controversy? Here’s a quick overview of what makes stem cells so special and what exactly they can be used for. 

Stem Cell Research: What Are Stem Cells, And Why Is There So Much Controversy?

First off, all of your cells contain the same genetic code which is unique to you (unless, of course, you are an identical twin or triplet). What sets a skin cell apart from a brain, bone, or blood cell is the manner in which these genes are expressed or turned on. Stem cells are unspecialized, meaning their gene expression has not yet been set. It’s this factor that makes them so important.

Adult stem cells, also known as somatic cells, are used to maintain and repair cells in the tissue in which they are found. These types of stem cells are used in procedures such as skin grafts for burn victims. Researchers hope that eventually science will advance enough to enable these cells to regenerate whole organs and therefore lift some of the burden from organ transplant lists.

Controversial discussions involving stem cells usually refer to embryonic stem cells. Rather than being taken from adults, these cells are retrieved from fertilized embryos and can theoretically become any type of cell. This type of stem cell therpy is used in studies involving the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases. The embryos are most often donated by women who are participating in in-vitro fertilization and have leftover embryos.

Despite this controversy, stem cells are at the forefront of treatment for everything, from Alzheimer’s disease to HIV, and are part of a truly exciting field of science.

Stem cells – hope or hype?

Stem cell technology offers the promise of curing the incurable – but for the moment lives are being lost while the issue is mired in controversy.

After 21 years of unsuccessful heart treatments, including several heart procedures, 68-year-old Coenie de Jongh was desperate. So when his cardiologist suggested a last-resort experimental therapy, it represented a literal life line.

Coenie, from Bloubergstrand near Cape Town, had his first heart attack at the young age of 40. A bypass operation followed and his condition improved, but seven years later Coenie’s health started deteriorating again. More operations and more intense treatment followed, but in 2002 his health took a real turn for the worse.

His condition was so bad he struggled to find a cardiologist who was willing to perform another bypass operation. The procedure was eventually done, but it wasn’t as successful as they’d hoped.

At that stage, Dr Andre Saaiman from Kuils River Hospital was conducting research involving the use of stem cells*. He was inspired by the work done by Prof Philippe Menasche from France, who had figured out a way to inject stem cells derived from skeletal muscle into failing hearts.

After getting ethical approval from Stellenbosch University, Dr Saaiman decided to try out the novel therapy on Coenie, who by then was extremely ill and confined to a wheelchair. In December 2004, he called Coenie in and took cells from his upper leg, which he then cultivated in a laboratory. A month later, he injected the cultivated stem cells into 40 areas of Coenie’s failing heart.

The results were little short of miraculous.

In less than two weeks, Coenie’s condition improved dramatically. “He was a different person,” Marlene, Coenie’s wife, recalls.

“Before the operation, he had only 10 percent heart function; afterwards, his heart function shot up to almost 35 percent. It was amazing to see what he could do again. He started walking again, and could lead a relatively normal life.”

Tragically, due to medical complications unrelated to the stem-cell transplant, Coenie passed away on 10 February 2008.

Even though stem-cell transplants are still experimental and research into this field is in its baby shoes, for Marlene and Coenie this procedure was a miracle.

Coenie de Jongh, here with his wife Marlene and grandchildren,
had experimental stem cell therapy that repaired his ailing heart.

Medical miracle –and controversy
Stem cells are one of the most exciting advances to have happened in medicine in the last few decades. Researchers are inspired by the prospect of curing the incurable, and many positive results are already being seen.

The use of stem cells, particularly those of the embryonic type, is, however, mired in controversy, thanks largely to the position adopted by conservative political and religious groupings. Former US President George W Bush firmly opposed stem-cell research during his term, arguing that working with cells ‘harvested’ from human embryos is tantamount to taking life.

This has had two spinoffs: the first is that the presidential vetoing of a number of stem-cell research bills has led to severe limitation on funds for the creation of new embryonic stem cell lines in the US. This, in turn, has greatly hampered the international research process.

The second issue is that the row has led to a global situation in which the potential use of stem cells is shrouded in excited confusion. This is alarming: even using stem cells in the current limited way, it’s calculated that one in every 200 people who reach the age of 70 will, at some point, develop a disease that could benefit from stem-cell transplantation. In other words, the concern about the ethics of stem cell technology could result in thousands upon thousands of unnecessary illnesses and deaths.

But while the debate is heated in the northern hemisphere, things are quiet at the southernmost tip of Africa – particularly with regard to research around the use of embryonic stem cells. According to Prof Michael Pepper, Extraordinary Professor in Immunology at the University of Pretoria’s Faculty of Health Sciences, no basic research of note is currently being conducted here.

So what can be used?
Stuck in the middle of the international controversy are thousands of patients, many of whom anxiously await life-saving treatment.

While adult stem cells have been used for several decades in the treatment of disease – also in South Africa – the problem is that these cells aren’t as flexible as embryonic stem cells. They have fewer applications in the treatment of disease and they’re restricted to very specific tissues.

To compound the frustration, the use of adult stem cells is also quite limited. These cells have many important and wonderful applications (such as the way in which the technology was used to heal Coenie’s heart), but these are either in a legitimate experimental stage or are regarded as unethical, and aren’t accepted by the medical community as a routine form of therapy.

The South African government is in the process of producing regulations on stem cells, currently in draft form. “In the absence of regulations, doctors don’t have any local guidance at this stage, and have to rely on international standards and codes of practice,” Prof Pepper says.

While bone-marrow transplants are covered by the National Health Act, legislation that deals with human tissues, Section Eight, hasn’t been promulgated. In August 2009, the Financial Mail reported that, in its absence, researchers have to fall back on the Human Tissue Act of 1983. “This was published when many of the complex issues that require rules and guidelines were not yet part of the scientific landscape,” Razina Munshi writes.

“This also means that we don’t have a legal framework in which to work,” Pepper adds.

At this stage, adult stem cells are used in bone-marrow transplants only. This is applied in the treatment of several diseases, but mainly in the treatment of cancer. These cells make it possible for patients to receive very high doses of chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy.

The way forward
Most experts agree that stem-cell technology holds enormous potential. We’re experiencing the benefits already. “The current reality is that close to 100 diseases can already be treated with bone-marrow transplants. Unfortunately, limited funds mean that it’s hugely underutilised,” Prof Pepper says.

A solution seems to be coming out of the alternative ways scientists are slowly finding to obtain embryonic cells. This could mean they might be able to circumvent any ethically controversial issues in future, paving the way to more research and, hopefully, more stem-cell-related treatment options.

In 2007, Japanese researchers managed to coax human and mouse skin cells into stem cells that are identical to those found in embryos – a discovery that has been hailed a major breakthrough. These results have also been replicated by scientists elsewhere. So, the future is looking bright.

Prof Pepper believes that the current excitement centred on curing a myriad of conditions is most certainly justifiable. Several potential uses of both adult and embryonic stem cells are currently being investigated, but are not yet a reality in a clinical sense – but he has no doubt that these applications will in the future become part of standard medical practice.

* Stem cells serve as a sort of repair system for the body – they are ‘immortal’ cells that can produce all the different cells in the body. Theoretically, they can divide and continue to divide, replenishing other damaged cells in your body for as long as you live. It’s hoped that scientists will one day succeed in replacing damaged genes or add new genes to stem cells in order to give them characteristics that can ultimately treat disease, according to the US National Institutes of Health.

Machine learning predicts the look of stem cells.

 No two stem cells are identical, even if they are genetic clones. This stunning diversity is revealed today in an enormous publicly available online catalogue of 3D stem cell images. The visuals were produced using deep learning analyses and cell lines altered with the gene-editing tool CRISPR. And soon the portal will allow researchers to predict variations in cell layouts that may foreshadow cancer and other diseases.

The Allen Cell Explorer, produced by the Allen Institute for Cell Science in Seattle, Washington, includes a growing library of more than 6,000 pictures of induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS) — key components of which glow thanks to fluorescent markers that highlight specific genes.

The Cell Explorer complements ongoing projects by several groups that chart the uniqueness of single cells at the level of DNA, RNA and proteins. Rick Horwitz, director of the Allen Institute for Cell Science, says that the institute’s images may hasten progress in stem cell research, cancer research and drug development by revealing unexpected aspects of cellular structure. “You can’t predict the outcome of a football game if you know stats on all the players but have never watched a game.”

Looking skin deep

The project began about a year ago with adult skin cells that had been reprogrammed into an embryonic-like, undifferentiated state. Horwitz and his team then used CRISPR–Cas9 to insert tags in genes to make structures within the cells glow. The genes included those that code for proteins that highlight actin filaments, which help cells to move and maintain their shape. It quickly became clear that the cells, which were all genetic clones from the same parent cell, varied in the placement, shape and number of their components, such as mitochondria and actin fibres.

Computer scientists analysed thousands of the images using deep learning programs and found relationships between the locations of cellular structures. They then used that information to predict where the structures might be when the program was given just a couple of clues, such as the position of the nucleus. The program ‘learned’ by comparing its predictions to actual cells.

The deep learning algorithms are similar to those that companies use to predict people’s preferences, Horwitz says. “If you buy a chainsaw at Amazon, it might then show you chain oil and plaid shirts.”

The 3D interactive tool based on this deep learning capability should go live later this year. At the moment, the site shows a preview of how it will work using side-by-side comparisons of predicted and actual images.

Benjamin Freedman, a cell biologist at the University of Washington in Seattle, looks forward to playing with the Cell Explorer’s predictive function once the Allen Institute team has taught their algorithm to recognize more iPS cells that have been changed genetically or chemically. For example, Freedman says he could delete a gene related to kidney disease in one of the fluorescently tagged stem cells from the Allen Institute and see how the mutation affects the glowing structure. Then he could use the site’s modelling tool to determine how other cellular components might be altered. “Ultimately,” Freedman says, “we want to understand processes at the cellular level that cause disease in the kidney as a whole.”

Filling in the holes

In the coming months, Allen Institute researchers will update the site with images of stem cells at different stages of cell division, and as they transform into distinct cell types, such as heart and kidney cells. Catching cells at different time points can be crucial to identifying fundamental processes, says Horwitz.

Structural differences in the DNA (purple) and cellular membrane (blue) of genetically identical stem cells.

The Allen Institute’s visual emphasis on stem cells dovetails with a number of efforts to catalogue other aspects of cells. For example, the London-based charity Cancer Research UK is creating interactive virtual-reality models of breast cancer cells in tumours. And an international effort called the Human Cell Atlas seeks to define all human cell types in terms of their molecular profiles, including DNA sequences, RNA transcripts and proteins.

Aviv Regev, a computational biologist at the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who is working on the Human Cell Atlas, says that the Allen Cell Explorer complements her project by focusing on the look of cellular features as opposed to how genes, RNA and proteins interact within the cell. “The community is accepting that there are a lot of differences between cells that we thought were the same until recently,” she says, “so now we’re taking an unbiased approach to learn about pieces in the puzzle we didn’t know existed before.”


Stem Cell Technique Could Regenerate Any Human Tissue Damaged By Aging or Disease

Stem Cells: They Keys To Human Health

Stem cells are, in may ways, our lifeblood, and understanding them could utterly transform human biology. While stem cells have already worked wonders in medicinal research, showing signs of curing everything from spinal cord injuries to blindness, they’ve always had their shortcomings—mostly tied to our own lacking understanding.

However, each year brings us closer to truly understanding these cells, how they function, and how they can be manipulated for a variety of health purposes. For example, we know that stem cells are tied to aging, and we know that understanding exactly how they are tied to aging is critical to combating age-associated degeneration. As work published in the National Center for Biotechnology Information outlines:

“Aging tissues experience a progressive decline in homeostatic and regenerative capacities, which has been attributed to degenerative changes in tissue-specific stem cells, stem cell niches and systemic cues that regulate stem cell activity.”

And one study is promising a “game-changing” technique for stem cells.

Taking their cue from salamander regeneration, research led by the University of New South Wales says that a stem cell therapy capable of regenerating any human tissue damaged by injury, disease, or aging could be available within a few years, thanks to an innovative technique.

But first, a breakdown of what stem cells are and why they are so terribly important:

The Technique

The technique pioneered by the researchers at University of New South Wales involves reprogramming bone and fat cells into “induced multipotent stem cells” (iMS). These cells are special in that they can regenerate multiple tissue types.

The team notes the significance of these cells, stating that, “unlike primary mesenchymal stem cells, which are used with little objective evidence in clinical practice to promote tissue repair, iMS cells contribute directly to in vivo tissue regeneration in a context-dependent manner without forming tumors.”

There are two kinds of stem cells: embryonic stem cells that during embryonic development generate every type of cell in the human body, and adult stem cells that are tissue-specific, and unable to regenerate multiple tissue types.

This method has the potential to transform current approaches in regenerative medicine.

Embryonic stem cells would be preferable, save that they are prone to form teratomas (tumors composed of different tissue types), and their use is highly controversial.

In any case, the scientists are quick to note the utterly transformative nature of this technique, and it’s great potential in relation to the future of medicine: “This method can be applied to both mouse and human somatic cells to generate multipotent stem cells and has the potential to transform current approaches in regenerative medicine.”

How It Works

The method used by the researchers is, quite frankly, amazing. They took bone and fat cells in mice, switched off their memory, and transformed them into stem cells.

To be specific, the technique involves extracting adult human fat cells and treating them with the compound 5-Azacytidine (AZA), along with platelet-derived growth factor-AB (PDGF-AB) for approximately two days. The cells are then treated with the growth factor alone for a further two to three weeks.

The AZA relaxes the hard-wiring of the cells by inducing cell plasticity, and this is expanded by the growth factor. Release the iMS into damaged tissue, and they will multiply, healing the tissue. The technique is a huge step up from other stem-cell therapies, since embryonic stem cell therapies may form tumors, and others use viruses to transform cells into stem cells.

The technique is a huge step up from other stem-cell therapies, since embryonic stem cell therapies may form tumors, and others use viruses to transform cells into stem cells. The current trials use iMS from adult human fat cells inserted into mice. Human trials for this technique are expected by late 2017.


Imagine losing control of your car and waking up in the hospital paralyzed from the neck down. This is the story of Kristopher Boesen, who experienced a life-changing moment where his car spiraled out of control on a slippy road surface, slamming into a tree and lamp post. Doctors warned Kris’s parents that he might never be able to function from the neck down again.


The process began in April where Dr. Liu injected 10 million AST-OPC1 cells directly into Kris’ cervical spinal cord.  Dr. Liu explains that; “Typically, spinal cord injury patients undergo surgery that stabilizes the spine but does very little to restore motor or sensory function. With this study, we are testing procedure that may improve neurological function, which could mean the difference between being permanently paralyzed and being able to use one’s arms and hands. Restoring that level of function could significantly improve the daily lives of patients with severe spinal injuries.


After a mere 3 weeks of therapy, Kris started showing signs of improvement, and within 2 months he could answer the phone, write his name and operate a wheelchair.  He had regained significant improvement in his motor functions; which are the transmissions of messages from the brain to muscle groups to create movement.

After seeing the results of stem cell therapy, Kris was bowled over, saying; “All I’ve wanted from the beginning was a fighting chance…But if there’s an opportunity for me to walk again, then heck yeah! I want to do anything possible to do that.”


Although doctors are not able to make any promises that Kris’s condition will further improve, they can keep experimenting with stem cell research to try and improve the likelihood of it working fully on paralysis.

So far, they have made huge steps forward and will hopefully continue to do so in their quest to solve paralysis, by teaming up with ‘associate faculty based in departments across KSOM and the University to study stem cell-driven new medicine‘, Dr. Liu and his team at USC are determined to keep researching stem cells and much more!

Stem cell research is ongoing and can be used in many ways other than paralysis; from Parkinson’s and diabetes to cancer.

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