Stem Cells in the News - January 2018
Wednesday, January 03, 2018 - 09:58
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 Japanese research group form Kumamoto University’s Institute of Molecular Embryology and Genetics (IMG) have developed a method to recreate higher order kidney structures involving ureteric buds along with a previously described method for nephron progenitor cells. The findings of this study show promise for the future of kidney organ regeneration as well as a continued understanding of the processes for organogenesis.
Researchers from the University of North Carolina are reporting that a cluster of proteins required for the unwinding of DNA during S-phase of the cell cycle play a crucial role in maintaining stem cells in an immature state. These proteins, called the minichromosome maintenance (MCM) complex, are thought to have more DNA loading sites in stem cells than mature, differentiated cells. The researchers show that induction of slower loading of MCM complexes causes stem cells to differentiate quicker. This finding, and future studies planned from this team of scientists, may help us better understand how cancer cells undergo rapid cell division without high levels of apoptosis.
In Toronto, Canada, a new facility is under development to begin automated, large-scale production of commercialized stem cells and their therapeutic differentiated cells. The process of differentiating stem cells into therapeutic cells, such as CAR-T cells, is currently a long and manual process. Toronto’s Centre for Commercialization of Regenerative Medicine (CCRM) is looking to own the stem cell manufacturing space with a blueprint that utilizes robotics, instrumentation, and human researchers to cut down on time and cost of developing these cells in large quantities.
In a collaboration between several institutions, including Stanford University and Columbia University, researchers are reporting that inhibition of the TOR signaling pathway prevents the loss of stem cells in aging organs. They demonstrate this in muscle, trachea, and intestines of mice in their published study. They believe the inhibition of this pathway increases the asymmetrical differentiation of stem cells, allowing the stem cell pool within the organ to be maintained. These findings hold promise as an aid in regenerating organs damaged by disease and aging.
Announced at the beginning of December 2017, Dr. Anthony Oro has been awarded almost 6 million dollars to scale up production of genetically-modified pluripotent stem cells (PSCs) in patients suffering from a rare blistering skin disease. His work has already shown early-stage success, and he hopes to develop a robust treatment that can be applied to other unmet medical needs in the future.
St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital has been working on a gene therapy to provide broad protection and increase survivability in infants with X-linked severe combined immunodeficiency disorder (XSCID). The disorder wipes out the immune system of affected patients and results of this study show that over 70% of treated patients develop some aspects of a functional immune system and no longer require protective isolation. IL2RG, the target of this gene therapy study, has not yet shown any development of leukemia in patients treated. These results are promising, but also very preliminary; the study will continue for up to 6 years with these patients, with future studies already planned.
A Post Doc from the University of Michigan Medical School has developed a technique that increases survival rates and simplifies gene editing in induced PSCs. The technique, developed in the lab of Jack Parent, combines transfection with CRISPR-Cas9 components to streamline the production of iPSCs with epilepsy-associated mutations. His procedures have also been found to better preserve the genomic integrity of stem cells. Researchers outside of the University of Michigan have already tested and adopted the method.
How hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) recover from stress-induced activation has remained a mystery. In a study published in Cell Stem Cell in December 2017, researchers at the Baylor School of Medicine demonstrate a pathway that restores HSCs back to quiescence following activation from inflammation. This pathway is histamine-dependent and, through further studies, could be a target of blood disorder therapies as well as aging and immunity.
Using SMAD2 and SMAD3 may speed up the production of iPSCs for therapeutic use. Researchers at the University of Edinburgh have demonstrated the use of SMAD2 and SMAD3 for direct transformation of adult skin cells into brain cells. In their multiple sclerosis research, use of SMAD2 and SMAD3 has reduced the time needed to generate brain cells from 50 days to 25 days. The researchers also believe these molecules can be applied to other differentiation protocols and will start to explore the method in different cell types in early 2018.
Two small pharmaceutical companies are starting to enter final stage trials to evaluate the use of stem cells for the treatment of heart failure and stroke. Athersys and Mesoblast have developed off-the-shelf cell therapy targeted to expand the treatment window in stroke patients and change treatment strategy for advanced heart failure, respectively. Both are seeking to reduce the fatality rate, cost burdens, and disabilities associated with these conditions. These two companies are far more advanced in the process of FDA-approval compared to their competition and these therapies may be mainstream sooner than you think.
A team of scientists from Tel Aviv University have reported success in a spinal cord injury study in rats, showing restored mobility and sensory perception in over 40% of their subjects. The method utilized oral stem cells and a biodegradable scaffold placed at the site of injury in acute cases of spinal cord trauma. These results are exciting, as they could lead to an effective treatment in humans, but further research needs to be done to move toward the clinic.