Adult Stem Cell Therapies Are Filling the Pipeline
By all measures, we are quickly entering a new era in the treatment of disease and injury: the era of stem cell therapies. Progress in this field was initially slowed because embryonic stem cells raised serious ethical issues and often gave rise to cancer and other side-effects.
But since the discovery of adult stem cells, research has moved forward at an accelerated pace.
By the simplest definition, stem cells are undifferentiated cells that can turn into any number of cell types. There are two sources of adult stem cells:
- Scientists have developed methods for reprogramming body cells into stem cells that can differentiate, a characteristic known as pluripotency. There are technical hurdles to this approach, but great strides are being made.
- The discovery of a second source of adult stem cells has generated much excitement for the future of stem cell therapy. These cells can be found naturally among differentiated cells in a tissue or organ, where they are used to repair and maintain that part of the body. Experiments have shown that certain types of these adult stem cells can be coaxed to turn into different cell types. So they could potentially be used to heal tissues that are different than their tissue of origin.
Even a brief review of the many advances in stem cell therapy reveals the tremendous potential this field holds for the future. One study that has gotten a lot of attention recently highlighted a method that may even enable individuals to slow or halt the aging process itself.
The study was done at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine by Dr. Johnny Huard, director of the school’s stem cell research center, and Dr. Laura Niedernhofer, a molecular geneticist.1
The researchers were able to regenerate failing organs and dramatically slow the aging process in prematurely aging mice by injecting them with stem cell-like progenitor cells that were taken from the muscles of young, healthy mice.
Life spans of test subjects were doubled and in some cases tripled, while the overall health of the mice was increased. This work is based on three original and major conclusions about aging and potential
interventions to alter the aging process:
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