A victory for medicine was won recently on the racetrack at Santa Anita by a horse named Lukimbi. After sustaining a potentially career-ending injury, Lukimbi was able to return to race readiness with a revolutionary stem cell treatment. Researchers at the University of California, Davis Veterinary Stem Cell Regeneration Medicine Group injected Lukimbi's own stem cells that were harvested from the bone marrow into a torn tendon. These stems cells eventually helped to repair and regenerate strong tendon tissue that could hold up to the rigors of racing. This success story offers hope to animals and humans alike who become disabled by tendon, ligament, and cartilage injuries. Additionally, stem cell treatment offers hope to those with joint deterioration who need some regenerative repair.
Some may not be comfortable with stem cell research because they are under the misimpression that stem cells must come from embryo. On the contrary, these stems cells came from the same animal that used them. When the donor and recipient are one in the same individual, this means that the harvested tissue is autologous. For example, if one were to bank his/her own blood to use during a future surgery, this would be called an autologous blood donation. Only in this case, the cells that are being harvested and banked are stem cells from the bone marrow. Umbilical cords are other places where stem cells are located. Stem cells are so special that more people and animal owners will be looking for ways to put some in the bank in case regenerative treatment is necessary in the future.
What makes a stem cell so special? Well, the particular stem cells used in Lukimbi are called Mesenchymal Stem Cells (MSC). Stem cells are really blank cells which possess the ability to become many different types of cells. Mesenchymal cells have the unique ability to differentiate into muscle cells, tendon cells, ligament cells, or bone cells. Biomedical engineers are finding ways to direct the differentiation process. With careful selection, scientists can now grow cartilage and ligaments in the lab. Additionally, stem cells injected into an injured area are also able to accelerate the healing process by sending messages to the surrounding cells.
These messages help to control inflammation, scar tissue formation, blood vessel formation and cell regeneration. With these special powers, stem cells really are the fountain of youth.
Unlocking the powers of this fountain of youth is a big deal. Just imagine, damaged knee cartilage can be replaced by an identical matching one created in the lab. Torn ligaments can be repaired or replaced by identical strong tissue. Even fractured bones could heal faster with stem cell technology. Of course, spinal cord injuries and brain injuries are incessant problems just waiting for a miraculous cure that can only come from the fountain of youth, a stem cell.
But before you go searching for ways to harvest your stem cells, a few things need to be worked out. Scientists need to learn about treatment timing, frequency, and dose. Scientists also need to learn how to control the local environment around the treatment site in order to maximize the stem cell usefulness. Because of the collaborative efforts of teams like the one found at the UCD Veterinary Regenerative Medicine and Human Stem Cell Program and Institute for Regenerative Cures at the UCD School of Medicine, the horserace for harnessing the power of the might stem cells is just beginning to heat up.