Stem Cells in the News - June 2019
Tuesday, June 04, 2019 - 13:14
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.
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Researchers at the University of Wisconsin at Madison have combined current laboratory techniques with computational biology to enhance direct reprogramming of induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). This unique marriage of sciences provides a reprogramming method that is faster and more complete than current techniques. Using single cell RNA-seq and the developed algorithm, the teams were able to identify differences emerging during the reprogramming and tailor small molecule cocktails to be more effective. This technology has the potential to be effective in many other applications, and the development teams of computational scientists are hoping collaborations further enhance the speed of progress in the stem cell field. Need small molecules for direct reprogramming? Look no further than Tocris Biosciences!
In the first-of-its-kind clinical safety trial, iPSC-derived Natural Killer (NK) Cells are being tested in 64 patients with a variety of solid tumors in cancers including lymphomas, colorectal cancer, and breast cancer. The production of these NK cells is the product of a collaborative effort between Fate Therapeutics, the University of California San Diego, and the University of Minnesota. This is the first safety trial using iPSC-derived NK cells and the researchers are optimistic about the results, this could be the very first off-the-shelf immunotherapy to fight cancer. The trial began in February 2019 and is expected to report results by June 2020.
Producing beta cells from iPSCs is a growing field of research and a promising solution for Type 1 Diabetes patients. Researchers from Harvard University have utilized single-cell sequencing and physical separation techniques to enrich the population of functional beta cells for a potential stem cell therapy to treat Diabetes. Their improved protocol has enhanced the terminally differentiated population from 30% functional beta cells to as many as 80% functional beta cells. The team hopes this can provide less-invasive treatment options to diabetic patients and could potentially provide them with a cure in the future.
Researchers from Stanford University have published findings comparing the cartilage repair effectiveness of mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) when prepared as cell pellets versus single cell suspensions in hydrogels. This study also evaluated different MSC encapsulation sizes and four different hydrogels to assess the effects on MSC chondrogenesis. Their findings suggest an optimal size of MSC pellets are the most effective at cartilage repair in an in vitro model. The authors believe there is an ideal crosslinking event between the hydrogel and the MSC pellet that enhances thier functionality.
Researchers from the Icahn School of Medicine previously identified a set of stem cells from the placenta that have the potential to regenerate damaged heart tissue. These cells, dubbed Cdx2 cells, have demonstrated their heart muscle repair functionality in a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal. MSCs have so far been a popular stem cell choice for heart repair studies, but trials and results have been mixed so far. These Cdx2 cells could provide an alternate source of regeneration for cardiac tissues specifically. They have the potential to replace or enhance MSC therapies with further investigation.
It has been previously thought that cancer stem cells (CSCs) of solid tumors are characterized by specific surface markers that are fixed in development. A recent study from the Luxembourg Institute of Health shows that in glioblastomas, cancer stem cells, and their progeny demonstrate a high level of plasticity with less constraints on their phenotype than previously thought. The study shows how CSCs change their surface markers in response to stress in the microenvironment to evade detection and destruction. Identifying the plasticity of these cells is the first step in developing new therapeutic agents to attack the mechanisms controlling their ability to evade drugs and other therapies.
Researchers from the National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCCS) have published findings that may aid in a new mechanism to target the destruction of CSCs and limit drug resistant cancers. They sought out the nutrient preferences of CSCs in lung cancers and identified a key amino acid that these cells are particularly dependent on. When they blocked the uptake of the amino acid, methionine, they show a 94% reduction in tumor size in 48 hours. While a drug does not currently exist to block this nutrient uptake in humans, several clinical trials are already underway.
Vor Biopharma announced a proof of concept study showing hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs), engineered to downregulate expression of CD33, have an enhanced ability to engraft in the bone marrow and repopulate the entire hematopoietic system. This breakthrough stem cell therapy has the potential to allow CD33-targeted immunotherapies to be much more effective without destroying the patient’s immune system. The preclinical data they published is the first step in the commercialization of their therapy which could reduce toxicity and maximize the potency of CAR-T Therapies and Antibody-Drug Conjugates (ADCs) in the future.
After mounting pressure from the scientific community, the FDA has made a statement to both industry and the public that it will continue to protect patients from predatory clinics hawking unapproved stem cell therapies, which have led to unnecessary damage and deaths in the past few years. In the statement, they state these clinics pose a significant safety risk because these ‘therapies’ are unsafely manufactured and are being administered in a manner that puts patients at risk, for example directly into the bloodstream or central nervous system, without demonstrating any data that it will be effective, or at least do no harm. The agency will strive to take regulatory action on all clinics found operating in this manner.