Stem Cells in the News - May 2019
Wednesday, May 01, 2019 - 12:56
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.
View All Products for Stem Cell Research
Researchers at Rutgers University have published findings demonstrating the essential role of Insulin-like growth factor II in the replenishment of adult stem cells in both the brain and the gut of a mouse model. They observed removal of the expression of this growth factor led to dramatic weight loss and death within a week. They suggest this is from the loss of the adult stem cell populations responsible for replenishing the gut lining. They also found compounding effects in the brains of these animals that caused memory deficits, anxiety, and loss of sense of smell. This growth factor was previously thought to have no effect on the adult stem cell populations of the gut and brain, but this study shows a role and potential for other deleterious effects in more organ’s adult stem cell populations.
In a genetic analysis of mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs), scientists from the University of Dusseldorf have uncovered a way to circumvent the limited expansion and early senescence of primary MSCs. They found that MSCs derived from induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) acquire more rejuvenation-associated genes that are not present in ESC-derived and primary MSCs. This finding could be a key workaround in a major roadblock of MSC therapies currently and lead to more promising therapies in the future.
In 2014 the Japanese government sought to fast-track their role in regenerative medicine and spur more innovation in the fieldA group of researchers from Sapporo Medical University have received market approval for mesenchymal stem cell (MSC) injections for the treatment of spinal cord injury. This approval was based only on 1 clinical trial with 13 patients that had no control group and for which the data is still unpublished. The therapy can be marketed to patients and the government is allowing them to run it for 7 years to demonstrate the therapy’s effectiveness. Without supportive data and a randomized controlled clinical trial, how do we know these therapies aren’t causing more harm than good? And with the rest of the world operating within the clinical trial requirements and timelines, how can companies continue to compete with this model? There is now a call for Japan to scale back this effort and introduce more safety measures to protect their researchers and the public and potentially avoid setting back the entire field.
Bone marrow transplants are becoming a more common strategy for the fight against cancers, but in approximately one-third of patients, the mobilization of hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) from the bone marrow is insufficient, and thus the transplant is much less effective. A new study out of Emory University suggests exploiting the stiffness genes in HSCs could help make transplants more reliably effective. The study centers around an enzyme, Ptpn21, that when removed, caused deformities in HSCs that made them squishier and more able to migrate through narrow pores in the bone marrow, enhancing mobilization. Notably, this induced-squishiness can be reversed with another protein, Septin1. While the team has not fully studied the systemic effects of this finding, it is a promising HSC modulation that could help patients with blood disorders and cancers in the future.
Researchers from Tel Aviv University have reported an engineered 3-D vascularized heart tissue derived from patients’ own cells has been successfully bioprinted, which is a major step in personalized medicine from induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). The method utilizes fatty tissue from patients as the tissue source for reprogramming with an extracellular matrix to create personalized hydrogels to print the desired structures and differentiate cells. Importantly, the team demonstrates the presence of both cardiac and endothelial cells in the engineered tissue, the first time this has successfully been done. Looking ahead, the research team now hopes to study the ability of these engineered, vascularized tissues to pump effectively and to study the different cell types and regions of these hearts in hopes they can get them to work together, as a truly functional heart.
While overall rates of cancer deaths are falling, colorectal cancer deaths in people under 55 are on the rise. Researchers from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute have published findings suggesting that high fat diets play a key role in this uptick by influencing cancer stem cells (CSCs) in the intestinal tract. They report that high fat diets disrupt the ability of intestinal stem cells to replenish the lining of the gut as well as promote tumor initiating potential of CSCs. At the molecular center of this is the FXR receptor, which is thought to control homeostasis throughout the gut-liver axis via the regulation of hormonal signaling. These findings open new doors for drug development to keep colon cancer at bay and reduce cancer-associated deaths in the future.
A iPSC-derived stem cell therapy to reduce the detrimental effects of Parkinson’s Disease has been tested in a patient in Japan. The therapy, developed out of Kyoto University, utilizes banked donor iPSCs differentiated into dopaminergic neuron precursor cells. These cells are injected directly into 12 sites in the brain known to be dopamine activity centers. The team injected 2.4 million dopamine precursor cells and the patient has shown no adverse effects so far. He will be monitored for 6 months, and then injected with another 2.4 million precursor cells, if still showing no negative effects. The researchers hope to treat 6 additional patients by the end of 2020 and demonstrate this technique’s safety and effectiveness in published findings to follow.
In the quest to reduce immune rejection of stem cell therapies in the future, a biotech company has licensed technology from Harvard University that creates hypoimmunogenic pluripotent stem cells. These iPSCs have been genetically modified to reduce gene expression of proteins that are known to provoke patient immune responses. These engineered stem cells have been shown to differentiate effectively into several different cell types. This technology could be the solution to commercializing “off-the-shelf” stem cell therapies, as the cell source would be less important because the modifications make them invisible to the host immune system.
CAR T cell therapies are a promising treatment option for many cancers but struggle to be effective in the treatment of solid tumors. A team of researchers in Boston are looking to change that with the help of “Nanobodies” - small antibodies isolated from llamas and alpacas - that can be engineered with CAR T cells to attack specific proteins on the solid tumor surface. The research team has so far shown some success in a mouse model of melanoma and colon cancer, demonstrating selective killing of tumor cells and slowed tumor growth. The team believes this technology can be easily integrated into a combination cancer therapy that may have a significant impact on reducing metastasis and tumor growth in these types of cancers in the future.
In a collaborative effort between researchers in Singapore and Korea, a fluorescent probe to detect and selectively kill cancer stem cells (CSCs) has been found. The researchers have dubbed their probe TiY – for tumor initiating cell probe yellow) which targets vimentin in the cytoskeleton. Vimentin is upregulated in cells undergoing Epithelial to Mesenchymal Transition in the gut and affects cell polarity. This probe will help researchers better identify this elusive cell population and may help in the development of more CSC-targeted tumor treatment options to eliminate cancer relapse and recurrence.