28 March 2017
Stem Cells: Immense Future Potential
stem cell research
In an article published online both in Videnskab.dk and in ScienceNordic.com, DanStem scientists Anne Grapin-Botton and Josh Brickman are describing the current phase of stem cell research and answering some interesting questions regarding possible future therapy.
The natural property of stem cells to multiply and generate organs can be exploited not only to make cells for transplantation but also to generate miniature versions of organs in vitro, so-called organoids*.
Culture conditions have been developed to seed stem cells in vitro in three-dimensional cultures where they self-organize in space and specialize to form a miniature organ.
Just as embryoid bodies are an imperfect recapitulation of embryogenesis, these structures have many elements of the future organ, but are not perfect. And while these organ avatars are lacking features such as blood vessels, they have been used in specific cases to develop personalized medicine.
The remarkable properties of stem cells to organize themselves into structures even approximating an embryo or an organ is edging closer to becoming a reality.
Understanding how cells interpret instructions, when they access these instructions, and how they communicate, has led scientists to think that cells can actually be “taught” to rediscover stem cell programs and be transformed into stem cells.
Providing a cell with the right information means that they can now be induced to take on a new stem cell role, renewing organs, and replacing defective cell types.
There are still many questions to answer:
- how is this transformation triggered?
- How do stem cells interact with each other and other cells to maintain equilibria? and
- how do cells find new equilibria when their instructional genetic material is distorted by cancer?
Understanding the answers to these questions will lead to new approaches to degenerative diseases and new therapies for cancer and other life threatening diseases.
Today, stem cells can be organized into approximations of real organs that can be used to test medicines. But they are still small, imperfectly structured, and lack essential components such as circulating blood. Therefore, transplantation should not be considered before these issues are solved.
*SPECIAL ISSUE ON ORGANOIDS, published on the research journal Development, March 2017