In the Guardian, an article about a UK biotech firm that has new procedures to help regrow significant amounts of lost bone. They believe they can make it work for other tissues, as well.
The key to this technique lies with the fact that our bones are covered in a layer of stem cells. We inject our material under that layer and that wakes up those stem cells. They start to multiply and produce lots of new bone. Then you can take that bone and move it somewhere else in a person’s body, a place where they have suffered a severe loss of bone – where they suffered an injury suffered after a car accident, for example…And when you think about it, that makes sense. The best place to grow tissue for yourself is in your own body, after all.
So far, we have been able to generate huge amounts of bone in our experiments using these techniques. In addition, the bone that was made this way was well organised. It had blood vessels and a proper architecture. That allows it to be really strong.
We also have developed other materials [to] use this directly at the affected site…There would be no transplant involved. Essentially, it would help a person grow a new jawbone if theirs had been removed after a cancer operation.
Both these techniques involve the regeneration of bone, but we are also working heart muscle and cartilage cells…We envisage making gels that you could inject into the miocardium which is damaged after a person has had a heart attack. This could help the heart to repair itself.
From the Royal Society of Chemistry:
Scientists in Japan believe they have revealed one of the key molecular targets that binds to the drug thalidomide to cause birth defects. The finding could enable new drugs to be developed that are similar to thalidomide – which is effective in treating certain cancers and leprosy – but without the catastrophic side effects on the developing embryo.
They found that one particular protein, called cereblon, bound to the thalidomide. Cereblon’s activity is particularly important in limb development.
Stem cell research has translated into a real and exciting practical medical application. From ScienceDaily:
The first tissue-engineered trachea (windpipe), utilising the patient’s own stem cells, has been successfully transplanted into a young woman with a failing airway. The bioengineered trachea immediately provided the patient with a normally functioning airway, thereby saving her life.
A seven-centimetre tracheal segment was donated by a 51-year-old transplant donor who had who had died of cerebral haemorrhage…Using a new technique developed in Padua University, the trachea was decellularised over a six-week period so that no donor cells remained.
Stem cells were obtained from the recipient’s own bone marrow, grown into a large population in Professor Martin Birchall’s lab at the University of Bristol, and matured into cartilage cells (chondrocytes)…The donor trachea was then seeded with chondrocytes on the outside…allowing them to migrate into the tissue.
Four days after seeding, the graft was used to replace the patient’s left main bronchus. The operation was performed in June 2008 at the Hospital Clinic, Barcelona, by Professor Paolo Macchiarini of the University of Barcelona.