Stem Cell Biology
STEM CELL THERAPY
The interest in stem cells has grown greatly over the last decade as their tremendous potential use to effectively treat a variety of major diseases is being realised. Regenerative medicine and tissue engineering is helping to realise the tremendous therapeutic value and potential of stem cells, in clinical and pre-clinical terms. Despite many breakthroughs, stem cell therapy is still largely experimental. The development of a worldwide platform in hindered by a number of factors such as the slow pace of clinical development, limited manufacturing capacity, a need for further research to address efficacy, mode of action and the development of quality systems and compliance. Stem cell therapy involves the transplantation of cells into patients, either through local delivery or systemic infusion.
WHAT ARE STEM CELLS?
Stem cells are the body’s natural reservoir – replenishing stocks of specialized cells that have been used up or damaged. We all have stem cells at work inside us. New cells are needed all the time, just to keep our body functioning. Some specialized cells, such as blood and muscle cells, are unable to make copies of themselves through cell division. Instead they are replenished from populations of stem cells.
Stem cells have the unique ability to produce both copies of themselves (self-renewal) and other more specialized cell types (differentiation) every time they divide. Stem cells, therefore, are essential to the maintenance of tissues such as blood, skin, and gut that undergo continuous turnover (cell replacement), and muscle, which can be built up according to the body's needs and is often damaged during physical exertion. Stem cells are unspecialized. Unlike a red blood cell, which carries oxygen through the blood stream or a muscle cell that works with other cells to produce movement, a stem cell does not have any specialized physiological properties.
Self-renewal is the defining property of stem cells. Specialized cells such as blood and muscle do not normally replicate themselves, which means that when they are seriously damaged by disease or injury, they cannot replace themselves. Stem cells from different tissues, and from different stages of development, vary in the number and types of cells that they can give rise to. According to the classical view, as an organism develops, the potential of a stem cell to produce any cell type in the body is gradually restricted.
Stem Cell Biology at REMEDI
Research programmes at REMEDI aim to focus on the behaviour of MSCs and refine techniques to isolate and grow them. More importantly, researchers will investigate the factors that induce or coax stem cells to differentiate into different cell types.
The therapeutic areas chosen, cardiovascular disease and arthritis, are areas of real clinical need, where new technology developments are likely to have a substantial impact. A central focus of REMEDI will be to bring the technologies of gene therapy and stem cell therapy together. For instance, stem cells may be used to deliver genetic material to cells (an example of a stem cell functioning as a delivery system or vector) or genetic material can be delivered to stem cells to alter their behaviour e.g. what cells they can become or where they go in the body. This initial research will take up to five years and will be followed by testing and clinical trials.
This is a long process and, as with much research, it could be some years before this research will result in treatment options for patients. However, hopes are high that REMEDI will significantly progress research in the applications of adult stem cells for cardiovascular, orthopaedic and neuronal diseases.