Stem Cells in the News - Fall 2019
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 research team from the University of California, San Diego recently published findings demonstrating a new option to attack cancer stem cells (CSCs) in a mouse model of medulloblastoma. This drug, nilotinib, acts on the hedgehog signaling pathway via two mechanisms to dysregulate the maintenance of CSCs in this type of cancer. Traditionally, this drug is used to treat chronic myeloid leukemia, so the team is applying its functionality to a new disease. Because it is already an FDA-approved drug, with a known safety profile, this is a promising therapeutic candidate for the use in this cancer, as well as many other cancer types in the future.
A new small molecule may hold the key to halting recurrence of cancers. Researchers at the University of Toledo have recently published a study demonstrating the use of a novel small molecule that blocks the uptake of cystine specifically in cancer stem cells (CSCs). This offers a new option of therapeutic treatments to use in tandem with chemotherapies to fully eradicate a cancer. The research team not only received almost $500,000 for this work; they were also granted a patent late last year. This selective targeting could be a crucial step in the eradication of many types of cancer in the future. Explore all Small Molecules from Tocris Biosciences.
Sun Worshippers can rejoice as this proof of concept study demonstrates that exosomes from skin fibroblasts seem to be more effective at healing damaged skin from sunburns than mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs)-derived exosomes. The study compared 3D skin spheroids to test the skin repair efficacy in an in vitro model. Surprisingly, 30% more collagen and procollagen were produced from the skin cell-derived exosomes versus the MSC-derived exosomes. Not only does this hold promise for those fearing age-related skin changes, it is also a much more economical treatment option as donor exosomes can be used as well as exosomes from a bank.
Because of the complexities of advanced heart failure, stem cell-based therapies for treatment are a promising therapeutic option. Researchers out of Hong Kong have recently evaluated different cell cocktails for the regeneration of cardiac tissue and found a mix of mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) and iPSC-derived cardiomyocytes to be the most successful. This mixture of cells provides the muscular and vascular tissue support for repair of the heart in a mouse model. These promising findings will be applied to future studies in pigs that the team has planned for next year.
In a groundbreaking study out of the University of Michigan, researchers have created induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSCs)- derived colonies that mimic a newly implanted embryo. Building on previous research where the team to uncover a “black box” of embryo development from weeks 2-6 of gestation, this research utilized microfluidics to control signaling and development to make “embryoids” development very reproducible. This process could be used to eliminate the need for embryonic stem cells in research and provide a unique model of personalized development. Now, there are ethical concerns over this artificial modeling of development, but the research team is adhering to the strictest of guidelines to prevent this technology from crossing any boundaries into artificial reproduction.
In August 2019 a woman in Japan was the first to receive iPSC-derived corneal cells. The procedure was fast tracked by the Japanese government in hopes of demonstrating success in the field of Regenerative Medicine and motivating others to enter into the clinical trial space. Since her surgery, clinicians report that her vision has improved, and the cornea remains clear. This is a huge step in the field of cell therapy and the researchers hope it motivates the world to explore more iPSC-derived therapies in the future.
The EPA announced a plan to end all animal testing by 2035 and one University of California Riverside Research Team is already well on their way to developing a model system to replace it. The method utilizes induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) differentiated into bone cells. Testing chemicals and compounds on bone cells has the visual advantage of seeing reduced white color from calcium production by the cells. This allows the researchers to discern if calcium was produced properly after application. While this method can demonstrate bone damage from toxicity, other in vitro models will be needed before eliminating all animal studies. Additionally, toxicity after metabolism remains an unanswered question. Still, progress away from the suffering of animals is a positive move for the field of toxicology and should streamline and reduce costs in testing for the industry and government agencies. Download our eBook on Model Systems for Toxicology Studies!
Blood stem cells are often the most resilient cells in our bodies. Surviving everything from low level radiation to surges of viral infections that kill most other blood cells. A new study outlines just how hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) cheat death and the answer lies in their response to TNF-alpha. The presence of TNF-alpha activates a specific pathway in HSCs that shields them from necroptosis and changes protein expression inside the cells. This appears to be a unique mechanism for HSCs, and the team plans to explore this pathway in depth to determine if it can be exploited in different blood cancer mechanisms to eliminate cancer fully.
Less than 1 year ago, a Chinese man was the first to receive gene edited hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) to mimic a rare form of natural immunity to the virus. While he has not experienced any detectable side effects, the circulating HIV virus in his blood remains at detectable levels, although slightly reduced. The research team claims this was due to not enough gene-modified cells transplanted to affect the viral load in his body. 18 months after the procedure, 5-8% of his bone marrow stem cells are the gene edited cells implanted, but the researchers agree that they need to do better than 5%. This is a huge step in the field of gene-editing and cell therapies, proving that this can be safely done without detrimental effects sets the stage for additional trials in the future.
Researchers at the Duke Medical School have discovered the role of the protein complex CRL4 for the reactivation of neural stem cells (NSCs) in studies in Drosophila fruit flies. This complex downregulates another pathway to keep NSCs in a dormant state. When combined with a tumor suppressor protein, the complex binds and allows for NSC-reactivation. This finding, if applicable across species, provides an opportunity to reactive and repopulate neuronal networks in humans, providing a potential new treatment option for neuro-regeneration from Traumatic Brain Injury, Parkinson’s Disease, or Alzheimer’s Disease.
A research team out of the University of California at San Diego have detected simple brainwaves from brain organoids. Proposing, for the first time ever, that these clusters of cells are creating simple networks and firing in synchrony. Previously, it was thought this was not possible since organoids are clusters of cells and not tiny brains. This finding suggests that we can study phenomena such as pain or stress in an in vitro model. Their goal is to find a way to mass produce functional brain organoids without human manipulation in order to open the channels for many to study diseases of the brain, test new treatments, and better understand neurodevelopment and neurodegeneration.