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Recent Advances in Regenerative Medicine

Recent Advances in Regenerative Medicine

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Cooper Scullion
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Regenerative medicine has gained significant traction in the scientific community over the years. The driving force behind this surge in popularity is the break-neck speed with which regenerative medicine and stem cell research is advancing. Here we will break down the most exciting recent advances in regenerative medicine as of June 2021, including regenerating bone, hair and a trial therapy for Parkinson’s Disease.

Regenerating Your Bone With Stem Cells

The study: Characterization of a pluripotent stem cell-derived matrix with powerful osteoregenerative capabilities

Published on: Nature

What it says: This study took human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC) and engineered them to produce large amounts of a molecule that induces bone growth. The engineered cells were injected into mice with a critical bone damage that could not heal without medical intervention. 

Researchers found that the molecules (known as extracellular matrix or ECM) produced by these engineered cells significantly helped with the recovery of the bone structure in the mice. Researchers also identified the molecules causing the repair of the bone as collagen VI and collagen XII produced by the engineered cells. Research evidence found by this study demonstrates that this method of cell therapies is an “attractive” alternative to the current fracture interventions. 

Why is this significant: Non-healing fractures cause human suffering world wide. 10% of all fractures, or roughly 600,000 fractures a year in the U.S alone, do not heal properly. These fractures mainly comes from major accidents, disasters and more extreme cases of athletic injuries. Existing treatments for non-healing fractures are either effective but lethally dangerous, like injecting pro-inflammatory proteins, or just outright ineffective. Stem cells have always been seen as a potential alternative, but the conventional approach with adult allogeneic stem cells (Mesenchymal stem cell or MSC) have been difficult to procure due to limitations with donor compatibility. 

Induced pluripotent stem cells can be a solution to this all. Although induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) are difficult to engineer in a timely fashion, they can be generated from most adult cell sources.  And because they are highly malleable, scientists can make it even more effective than traditional adult stem cell treatment. The finding of this study essentially demonstrates that using induced pluripotent stem cells in bone regeneration therapy is viable, opening up a whole new path to fracture treatment. Although more follow up study is needed to verify this result, it's safe to say that, if this actually landed, it will revolutionize the way we approach improperly healing fractures and save countless human suffering. 

Let’s Grow Some Hair

The study: Use of human intra-tissue stem/progenitor cells and induced pluripotent stem cells for hair follicle regeneration

Published on: Springer Nature

What it says: For a long time, the challenges with regenerating hair follicles came from how quickly hair follicle stem cells lose their hair generating potential and how hard they were to extract. This study looked at a solution to these challenges by using human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). 

Although induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) are difficult to engineer in a timely fashion, they can be generated from most adult cell sources.  This inherently makes iPSCs the solution to inaccessibility of stem cells. This study found that by exposing the induced pluripotent stem cell to a set of certain chemicals, we are able to convert them to stable hair generating adult stem cells through the process called differentiation. These converted hair generating adult stem cells are shown to have a very high potential in generating the hair follicles. 

Why is it significant: If we are honest, no one really wants to experience balding. But more than 20% of us are experiencing balding at any given moment. In a world where appearances are valued, losing your hair can be very stressful.

One of the primary issues causing balding is the deterioration of hair follicles, and traditionally it is very hard to fix. This new approach of engineered hair follicles through iPSCs are on track to fix this stressful issue for many. In this study, researchers overcame the two main difficulties associated with regenerating hair follicles, namely keeping the stem cell potent and making the stem cell interact with the skin cell. If the result of this research could be commercialized, hair regeneration would change forever

But hey Acorn - don’t you store cells plucked from these precious hair follicles? We do but we make an explicit effort to take hair lower on the head, where balding rarely occurs.

Regenerative Therapy For Parkinson’s Disease

The study: Pre-clinical study of induced pluripotent stem cell-derived dopaminergic progenitor cells for Parkinson’s disease.

Published on: Nature 

What it says: This study took human induced pluripotent stem cells and generated a type of therapeutic neuron (dopaminergic progenitors neuron or DAP neuron) useful for treating Parkinson's Disease. The research team converted iPSCs into the DAP neuron, and successfully treated mice with parkinson’s disease by transplanting this neuron into their brain. 

The barrier with using this therapy on humans is mainly the potential safety risk and meeting the clinical regulation for applicability. This study is one of the first to verify both the viability and safety of using induced pluripotent stem cells to generate DAP neurons on a clinical level. They also verified the safety and efficacy of this kind of treatment toward Parkinson's disease. 

Why is it significant: There is no existing cure for Parkinson's disease, a lethal disease affecting more than 10 million people world wide at any given time and costing humanity $30 Billion each year. Yet it is the current state of reality for treating most neurodegenerative diseases. Regenerative medicine and stem cell therapies are opening up new possibilities for us to rethink this. 

In essence, Parkinson's disease is a progressive loss of neurons in the patient's brain. This causes the individual to progressively lose cognitive ability in the process. Until now, all treatment for Parkinson’s disease focused on masking or relieving the symptoms. Regenerative therapies, like the one proposed in this study, tackles the root cause of Parkinson’s disease and regenerates the neurons lost in the progression of the pathology. As the viabilities of similar approaches is verified further and further, we will likely see regenerative therapies of similar nature be used in treating other similar neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's disease and dementia. This study is significant as the technology it outlines has the potential to change the landscape for treating one of humanity's significant barriers to having a healthy old age. 

The Bottom Line

Regenerative medicine is a powerful contender to be the future of healthcare and medicine. It is nothing short of a miracle, a scientific miracle, to think how far we have come in the past decade with our understanding and ability to utilize and manipulate some of the more fundamental properties of the human body. We are now on the verge of treating some of the most deadly, destructive and far-reaching diseases afflicting humanity. One can only imagine, where we might be at the turn of the next decade. It is surely a future to prepare for.