This week, the World Stem Cell Summit was in Baltimore and on Monday I was invited to check out the poster forum and to hear the opening lectures on Stem Cell Medicine.
In the poster forum area, every poster was an ambassador who could speak to the specific research in detail, or in my case, break it down to the simplest explanation! The posters were set up in rows covering different aspects like Alzheimer's, diabetes, leukemia, neuropathy, etc. It took no time for me to realize I needed a medical dictionary and I had no basic overview of stem cell research! At 10 am, the lecture Stem Cell Medicine 101 with Dr. Curt Civin and Dr. Larry Anderson from UMSOM began and gave the cursory explanations that I needed.
The history of stem cell research began in the mid 1800s with the discovery that some cells could create other cells. This research, at that time, included both animal and human stem cells.
Stem cells have three primary layers called ectoderm, mesoderm and endoderm, which form all tissues and organs of the body, and stem cells are classified into 3 types:
- Totipotent stem cells, which are derived from early embryos. These cells are capable of forming a complete organism. An example would be twins!
- Pluripotent stem cells are cells that are self-replicating and are derived from human embryos. The importance of pluripotent stem cells is that they can turn into almost any cell in the body.
- Multipotent stem cells are derived from fetal tissue, umbilical cord blood and adult stem cells. While many people prefer this form of research because it takes out the moral controversy, multipotent stem cells are more limited then pluripotent stem cells, but they have a successful in cell-based therapies.
A new cell was developed called IPS, Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells. These cells are developed from adult stem cells. Further work needs be done on both embryonic and IPS cells, side by side, to ensure that IPS cells can create the same affect as human embryonic stem cells.
Right now, there seem to be two big projects relevant to diabetes: the research using skin stem cells to develop pluripotent stem cells and "glow-in-the-dark red blood cell," also known as ErythRed Embryonic Stem Cell line. In a nut shell, when hemoglobin is switched on in the cells, the cells become florescent, this creates red blood cells!
For stem cell researchers, the red blood cell breakthrough is of great importance to understanding how to control differentiation of stem cells. This means it brings scientists closer to understanding the pathways these stem cells take to develop into organs and other tissues of the body.
Dr. Civin talked about his concerns that stem cell research is being rushed to human trial. Many countries are already doing human trials using stem cell science, but the US is far behind! What has slowed us? Some of it is a political maneuver to stop the research, but another reason, is that US researchers are concerned that the use stem cells is still underdeveloped to think about human trials.
Because scientists have not learned how to control these cells enough, the development of the cells is rapid and, therefore, unwieldy, so there is a chance that stems cells will turn into cancer cells. A story Dr. Civin used to support their desire for restraint was an Israeli boy, who had a brain defect and Russian researchers felt they could cure it using stem cell therapy. After treatment, the boy quickly developed a brain tumor and died.
Work on stem cell technology is needed and US researchers want the support of the FDA to help control the process for reaching successful human trials. For me, this was an eye opening experience, because we have some research leaving this country to build stem cell trials in other countries!
For many, this is research they cannot support, but I learned basic knowledge for the research and it showed me what has been left out of the press, and offered a glimpse for what might lead us to something we have long waited for - a cure.
Tomorrow, September 23, is Stem Cell Awareness Day! to honor this, here are some links to Stem Cell information:
Published On: September 22, 2009