‘Game-changing’ stem cells may be trialled in humans by 2017

5 Apr 2016

Mesenchymal stem cells labeled with fluorescence molecules

Scientists in Australia have claimed to have developed a ‘game-changing’ stem cell programme that pushes forward regenerative treatment by years, with their novel technique to be trialled in humans from next year.

By taking fat cells from the human body, the team from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) switched off the cells’ memory and restarted them as induced multipotent stem cells (iMS). Then they simply implanted them at the location of injuries, where they grow and heal tissue.

Dr Vashe Chandrakanthan and his team extracted adult human fat cells and treated them with the compound 5-Azacytidine (AZA), along with platelet-derived growth factor-AB (PDGF-AB), before they were treated with the growth factor.

The resulting iMS cells are being tested on damaged tissue in mice, where UNSW Associate Professor John Pimanda said successful demonstrations have already taken place, with human trials “expected to begin in late 2017”.

The main beneficiaries, should iMS construction in this format prove successful, may be sufferers of spinal injuries, with one of the neurosurgeons working on the project noting “enormous potential” for neck and back pain.

Spinal implants, for example, could be entirely revolutionised. But, before then, further testing on mice and detailed investigations into whether iMS cells remain dormant after implant and can react on demand is needed.

Our muse, the salamander

The process replicates how salamanders naturally regenerate in the wild, and allow scientists to bypass two major obstacles in stem cell research in one swoop.

First up, there are various forms of stem cells. Embryonic stem cells (ES), for example, are formed during embryonic development and generate every type of cell in the human body. They can’t be used as a treatment, though, as they have a propensity to generate tumours.

The other obstacle is the need to use viruses to transform the likes of fat cells into stem cells, “which is clinically unacceptable”, said Chandrakanthan, who developed the technology.

Try to keep up

Medical science is absolutely flying at the moment, with countless innovative (and surprising) developments in the past few years.

Last month, researchers from the Mayo Clinic invented a strange, dehydrated sponge that could dramatically improve patients’ recovery.

Acting as a bone graft, it’s essentially a biodegradable (dissolvable) structure or scaffold, which when in place allows bone to grow in and around it after surgery.

Elsewhere, Australian researchers recently installed the first-ever 3D-printed prosthetic during spinal surgery. We’ve even seen 3D-printing pens used to repair knee injuries.

Stem cell image via Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic