The human body can be a fragile thing; it naturally breaks down over time, but one mistimed accident or the development of a disease can lead to a lifetime of medical problems.
While certain treatments can make life manageable, there is never a guarantee that you will be able to fully recover. That is why the scientific and medical communities are always hard at work trying to come up with new advances that can help people recuperate more fully and quickly. Luckily, a recent study shows that they may be on the right path.
New landmark research led by the University of New South Wales in Australia has found that a new stem cell therapy could potentially regenerate damaged human tissue caused by injury, disease, or aging. This includes problems like bone fractures, injured spinal discs, and even chronic neck or back pain. More impressive still is that this medical advancement could become accessible in the next few years.
Advancements in stem cells
The way in which this technique works is not totally unlike the regenerative abilities that can be observed in salamanders; these amphibians have the ability to grow back limbs if they are severed from the body. In much the same way, scientists believe that this new stem cell therapy could have the capability to regenerate human tissue by reprogramming bone and fat cells into induced multipotent stem cells (iMS).
iMS are extremely valuable because of their ability to regenerate multiple tissue types, a trait that adult stem cells do not possess. Embryonic stem cells have the ability to turn into different types of tissue, but research with them is limited because the medical community recognizes its potential to form tumors.
Generating stem cells can also be very tricky because it requires the use of a virus to transform cells into stem cells, a practice that has been deemed unacceptable by the medical community.
However, the new method developed by UNSW researchers does not have these problems. Instead, it takes human fat cells and treats it with a combination of a compound called AZA and a growth factor. After being treated, the new cell has increased plasticity, which allows it to be reprogrammed into iMS cells.
While there are no human trials scheduled for this technique in the immediate future, there is a possibility that it could happen as early as next year.
“We are currently assessing whether adult human fat cells reprogrammed into iMS cells can safely repair damaged tissue in mice, with human trials expected to begin in late 2017,” said John Pimanda, associate professor at UNSW.
If successful, this new technique could be monumental for treating many ailments that people all over the world deal with every day. Dr. Ralph Mobbs, who will lead human trials when the research moves to that stage, explains that the medical advantages could be huge.
“The therapy has enormous potential for treating back and neck pain, spinal disc injury, joint and muscle degeneration and could also speed up recovery following complex surgeries where bones and joints need to integrate with the body. . . This represents a potential huge leap forward for spinal and orthopaedic procedures,” he said.
The full study has been published the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciencesjournal.