Stem Cells in the News - December 2017
We have captured this month's most interesting, innovative, and maybe some of the strangest examples of stem cells in the news from around the world.
A team of researchers at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center have identified a single, specific subset of adult stem cells that are responsible for the repopulation of blood cells and immune cells following transplantation. It has been previously thought the repopulation was a mechanism involving several types of blood stem cells, but their findings show that this subset does it all. This has the potential to revolutionize treatments of blood disorders and opens new avenues for cell and gene therapies.
Duke University researchers have found that injections of a child’s own cord blood have an effect on brain connectivity in children with cerebral palsy. The study found that children injected with cord blood saw improvements in motor function compared to non-treated children over the course of 1 year. Cord blood is rich in blood stem cells and other therapeutic cells that researchers believe contribute to the formation of new neural connections in these children. Though some improvements observed in the study are minor, even small improvements can make a huge difference in the quality of life for a child with cerebral palsy.
This study has found that freshly isolated bone marrow cells show promising results in preterm babies with lung injuries. These cells are shown to differentiate into endothelial precursor cells in vitro and promote lung recovery after hyperoxia-induced injury. The authors also found that culturing the bone marrow cells prior to injection actually reduced their ability to promote injury recovery and resulted in an increase in unwanted tissue growth.
In a joint effort between the University of Michigan and Georgia Tech, researchers have created a fully defined, synthetic hydrogel for the 3D culturing and adherence of organoids. The hydrogel, initially developed with intestinal tissue, provides support for the growth of intestinal organoids without animal products, a necessity for future use in cell therapies. It also helps organoids stick into place in diseased tissues, such as Inflammatory Bowel Disease. The team of scientists claim the hydrogel can be easily adapted for other organs, and their sights are set on the kidney and lungs for future testing.
A 7-year-old Syrian boy with Epidermolysis Bullosa received a transgenic skin stem cell graft on over 80% of his body in 2016. His care team is now reporting that much of the skin has regenerated and is healthy. The skin stem cells were edited using a retroviral vector to correct for a mutation in the Laminin b3 gene. This groundbreaking case study has not only provided researchers with novel insights into the way keratinocytes regenerate, it has also demonstrated that the edited cells did not contain cancer-causing mutations, which is a concern with retroviral-mediated gene editing.
Scientists from the Harvard Medical School recently discovered that expression of PD-L1 on hematopoietic stem progenitor cells (HSPCs) is naturally low, and that raising PD-L1 expression in these cells can help prevent hyperglycemia in diabetic mice. This study shows that HSPCs suppress inflammatory T cells in the body and reduce immuno-targeting of β-cells in the pancreas. This potential treatment could lead to long term restoration of normal blood glucose levels in type 1 diabetic patients. While this study has shown promising results in mice, similar results must be shown in human trials.
Cincinnati Children’s Hospital is now launching the Center for Stem Cell and Organoid Medicine (CuSTOM) with the goal of fast-tracking the transfer of stem cell and organoid treatments and technologies into clinical tools. The hospital has already invested $13 million into the center to expand staff, fund projects, and enhance the on-site GMP facilities. Their goal is to produce clinical-grade human tissues with the potential use for transplantation. The center will strive to facilitate more cross-industry collaborations and to improve the translation to patient care pipeline.
Numerate, in collaboration with the Mayo Clinic, will investigate drug options to improve the integration of orthopedic bone implants in patients. The team at the Mayo Clinic have previously identified the epigenetic enzyme ‘Enhancer of Zeste homolog ‘ or EZH2, and its role in promoting skeletal development and the osteoblast differentiation. The funded study will focus on coating compounds that will stimulate the osteogenic pathway in mesenchymal stem cells. If successful, this new technology has the potential to reduce implant complications and impact treatments for bone disorders such as osteoporosis.
Hematopoietic stem cells (HSC) are responsible for the life-long production and replenishment of all blood cells. As we age so do our HSCs. Over time they lose their ability to self-renew and regenerate, which can increase the likelihood of disease and blood disorders. This review article analyzes our current knowledge of the HSC aging process as well as highlighting theories and strategies that can influence the reversal of aging process. The ability to intervene in this process could have strong clinical significance for hematological disorders.
Scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have published a method for culturing liver cancer cells in a 3D format using fibronectin, hCAM and supportive endothelial cells. Generating 3D culture models of liver cancer has been a challenge and this method now allows them to be studied in a more realistic biological environment for use in drug discovery research. This method can be scaled up for screening purposes and holds potential in the development of “labs-on-a-chip” in the future.
Using iPSCs to model Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in vitro, research teams from University of California – San Diego and the University of Sao Paulo, are the first to uncover that abnormalities in astrocytes contribute to the neuronal pathologies of the disorder. From their study, they found that adding healthy astrocytes to iPSC-derived neurons from ASD patients improved the structural complexity of the neurons. Conversely, they found that adding iPSC-derived astrocytes from ASD patients had the opposite effect on healthy neurons. They propose that IL-6, produced by astrocytes may be the culprit. Reducing the levels of IL-6 expression in astrocytes may be a novel treatment option in the future of ASD.