Monday, 3 February 2014

Regrowing Damaged Organs Takes a Step Closer.

We have commented several times in this blog on the potential uses for stem cells, ranging from repair of damaged tissue to the growth of entire organs that may one day be used for transplant.

Stem cells are able to growth and form all of the different tissues that make up a body. Some can only form  a single type of tissue while other, rarer stem cells can form any tissue. Recent research has enabled us to isolate many of the stem cells that can grow to form lungs or kidneys for example (also spine, liver and heart) and they are grown and used to treat some forms of cancer via bone marrow transplants.

Much work has been carried out on adult stem cells as they have a few advantages over embryonic stem cells i.e.

  • they are less controversial with no destruction of embryo's 
  • if it becomes possible to generate viable organs that can be transplanted into a patient then they will cause far fewer problems of tissue rejection if the stems cells used came from the patient.
However adult stem cells are difficult to find. Isolation of them is laborious and slow and in a few cases there are risks to the patient. What is needed is a simple, quick, cheap method to produce adult stems cells that would enable far more labs to carry our more research and thus lead more rapidly to successful treatments.

Dr Obokata

It seems that this has been achieved after a major breakthrough in Japan by Dr Haruko Obokata who discovered that all we need to do to transform ordinary cells from an adult into stems is incubate ordinary cells in slightly acidic growth medium for 30 mins! This discovery is remarkable and a reminder that sometimes the simplest solutions may well be the best.

Dr Obokata describes her discovery in this article on the BBC website, and her american co-authors (Charles Vacanti) also discuss the implications of this work in the video below:




Further work is needed to work out how to control the growth of stem cells such that full size organs can be grown or to allow stem cells to be injected into a human patient so as to promote regrowth of a damaged organ, but one great barrier may well have been removed thanks to this work.



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