So…last month I did a bit of a rant on climate change. I decided maybe I’d do something a bit more hopeful this time, and focus on future medicine. Medicine is one of the areas where the network effect works wonders and the speed of change is pretty phenomenal. Continue reading Futuristic Medicine: Stem Cells
Medical boffins looking for the best way to deliver therapeutic stem cell treatments to the brain have come up with something that sounds like a Spider Jerusalem habit: snorting stem cells into the nose like cheap speed.
Other options all have their drawbacks. Drilling through the skull and injecting the stem cells is painful and carries some risks. You can also inject them into the bloodstream but only a fraction reach their target due to the blood-brain barrier.
The nose, however, might be a viable alternative. In the upper reaches of the nasal cavity lies the cribriform plate, a bony roof that separates the nose from the brain. It is perforated with pin-size holes, which are plugged with nerve fibres and other connective tissue. Since proteins, bacteria and viruses can enter the brain this way, Lusine Danielyan at the University Hospital of Tübingen in Germany, and her colleagues, wondered if stem cells would also migrate into the brain through the cribriform plate.
When the researchers pre-treated the nasal membrane of the mice with an enzyme called hyaluronidase to loosen the junctions between epithelial cells, even more stem cells entered the brain through the nose.
Other researchers have shown that you can also deliver therapeutic proteins such as neural growth factor into the brain in this way. If the results of this study can be repeated in humans, snorting stem cells might be a way of getting large numbers of cells into the brain without surgery. Repeated doses could also be given in the form of nasal drops.
I seem to remember a band of musicians in William Gibson’s Bridge trilogy who injected fetal tissue for kicks; snorting it would have been just that little bit more rock’n’roll, don’t you think?
Still wondering whether there’s a down-to-earth application for stem cell science that doesn’t involve tabloid-rousing research ideas like chimeric embryos? Well, get this for a simple, elegant and incredibly useful deployment: wearing contact lenses primed with stem cells can restore eyesight in people with corneal damage.
The idea stemmed from the observation that stem cells from the cornea (the thin, transparent barrier at the front of the eye) stick to contact lenses. Employing three patients who were blind in one eye, the researchers obtained stem cells from their healthy eyes and cultured them in extended wear 1 day acuvue moist for astigmatism for ten days. The surfaces of the patients’ corneas were cleaned and the contact lenses inserted. Within 10 to 14 days the stem cells began to recolonize and repair the cornea.
“The procedure is totally simple and cheap,” said lead author of the study, UNSW’s Dr Nick Di Girolamo. “Unlike other techniques, it requires no foreign human or animal products, only the patient’s own serum, and is completely non-invasive.
Of the three patients, two were legally blind but can now read the big letters on an eye chart, while the third, who could previously read the top few rows of the chart, is now able to pass the vision test for a driver’s license. The research team isn’t getting over excited, still remaining unsure as to whether the correction will remain stable, but the fact that the three test patients have been enjoying restored sight for the last 18 months is definitely encouraging. The simplicity and low cost of the technique also means that it could be carried out in poorer countries.
Brilliant! Now, insert your own joke about George W Bush and myopia here. [image by peasap]
Still wondering what stem cell therapy might be good for? Wonder no more – a team from the University of Chicago have used stem cells to treat – and in some cases partially reverse – the effects of multiple sclerosis. The doctors…
… recruited 12 women and 11 men in the early relapsing-remitting stage of MS, who had not responded to treatment with the drug, interferon beta, after six months.
They removed stem cells from the patients’ bone marrow, and then used chemicals to destroy all existing immune cells in the body, before re-injecting the stem cells. These then developed into naïve immune cells that do not see myelin as alien, and hence do not attack it.
Three years later, 17 of the patients had improved by at least one point on a standard disability scale, while none of the patients had deteriorated.
Kinda like the biological equivalent of a complete oil change! Those are some pretty impressive results; I think we’re going to see a lot of awesome stuff come out of the stem cell field over the next decade, especially now there’s a US administration that isn’t actively hostile to it on moral grounds.
Looking further ahead, maybe the regenerative power of stem cells will eventually lead to the science fiction staple of rejuvenation treatments?
Another year, another “regrow your own body parts” story, this one coming from the ever popular domain of dentistry (a field which we have covered before on Futurismic). This time out, the Washington Post jovially informs us that wisdom teeth are a source of stem cells that could be used to regrow and replace missing teeth throughout our adult lives. [image by greefus groinks]
It’s a nuisance, but researchers are closing in on it. In fact, they think the tooth will probably be the first complex organ to be completely regenerated from stem cells. In part this is because teeth are easily accessible — say ahhhhh. So are adult stem cells, found abundantly in both wisdom and baby teeth — no embryos required, and your immune system won’t reject your own cells.
Nobody is predicting when the first whole tooth will be grown in a human, although five to 10 years is a common guess.
Only a decade to wait, then. But knowing dentists, they’ll probably still find a reason to assault your dignity, pain threshold and wallet all at once. Not that I’m bitter or anything. [via SlashDot]