Stem Cell Research Evolving Quickly Print E-mail
By Peter DePalma   
Monday, 28 December 2009 01:35
Chemists are developing new insights and techniques in an effort to expand the therapeutic potential of stem cells, which includes possible treatments for Parkinson's disease, diabetes, spinal cord injury and other devastating conditions. This according to one report from Science Daily.

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Embryonic stem cells are the most versatile stem cells, capable of being transformed into any other cell type, depending on their desired therapeutic use.

Now, researchers at Northwestern University have found new evidence that hematopoietic stem cells, a type of adult stem cell derived from the bone marrow that gives rise to blood cells, are capable of undergoing more diverse transformations than previously thought and could be transformed into a wide variety of tissue types, not just blood cells.

In recent laboratory tests, human megakaryocytes (bone marrow cells that produce blood platelets that are responsible for blood clotting) derived from adult hematopoietic stem cells were, for the first time, reprogrammed into neutrophil-like cells similar to the white blood cells that are responsible for fighting infections.

It looks like the stem cell sector is heating up again, with story after story of new breakthroughs and amazing reports like the one seen last week on CBS' 60 Minutes, featuring Morley Safer reporting on the emerging technology of growing body parts from human cells taken directly from patients, providing new hope for amputees and patients on organ-transplant lists (see it on right).

Then there was a report from Reuters filed by Julie Gordon in which Scientists have found a way to produce new skin from embryonic stem cells, which could not only improve burn victims lives, but even save them.

Weeks ago, scientists announced that they discovered a new type of stem cell in the skin that acts surprisingly like certain stem cells found in embryos: both can generate fat, bone, cartilage, and even nerve cells. These newly-described dermal stem cells may one day prove useful for treating neurological disorders and persistent wounds, such as diabetic ulcers. Like other stem cells, these cells can self-renew and, under the right conditions, they can grow into the cell types that constitute the skin's dermal layer, which lies under the surface epidermal layer.

"Stem cell researchers like to talk about building organs in a dish," said Freda Miller, a professor at the University of Toronto and a senior scientist in the department of developmental biology at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. "You can imagine, if you have all the right players -- dermal stem cells and epidermal stem cells -- working together, you could do that with skin in a very real way."

Health officials, earlier this month, gave the green light to federally funded research on 13 human embryonic stem cell lines, the first approved since the Bush administration imposed limits eight years ago.

"What we are announcing today is just the beginning," Francis Collins, National Institutes of Health director, said Wednesday. Approval was "open and shut," he said, because the lines met requirements of new Obama administration guidelines for informed consent of embryo donors.

An embryonic stem cell line is a colony of cells grown from one embryo which is destroyed in the process. The cells can grow into every type of body tissue. Collins and others propose using the cells to study embryonic development, screen drugs and perhaps grow rejection-free replacement organs.

It's safe to say that stem cell stocks are going to pick up more interest as these developments continue to make their way from the lab into various human trials and beyond. For now, investors are keeping a keen eye out for companies that may have the keys to monetizing some of these new innovations. They are also looking for biotech firms that may provide some long term potential and longevity by providing complementary services in the field of regenerative medicine. Chord blood and stem cell banking companies stand out since they are among the only stem cell sector peers actually generating revenues today.

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