Happy New Year! I know it’s a little late but I did have the flu. For my first post of 2018, here’s a quick round up of my favourite regenerative medicine stories from the past year:
Stem Cells Were Sent into Space!
How cool is that? Starting out with a literal highlight (cue sarcastic laughing), three types of stem cells from Dr Abba Zubair’s lab based at the Mayo Clinic in Florida were launched into space on a SpaceX rocket on 19th February and returned to earth a month later. Dr Zubair’s research aims to find out if microgravity can make stem cells grow faster.
20 Years of Dolly the Sheep
I know this isn’t exactly a big development that happened in 2017, but I think it’s worth reflecting on the legacy of that seminal work. Since 1997, scientists have successfully cloned a number of other mammals including cats, dogs and more oddly, camels. In 2006, Shinya Yamanaka published his ground breaking paper on induced pluripotent stem (IPS) cells and then in 2014 we saw that first clinical trial using an IPS cell therapy. The Economist has a fantastic infographic showing the progress in the field of cloning since Dolly the Sheep.
New Nanochip Device Might be able to Repair Damaged Organs and Tissues
This story definitely sounds like science fiction. Researchers from Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and College of Engineering have developed a device which can change skin cells into other cell types. Their technology, known as Tissue Nanotransfection (TNT), is made up of a chip that sits on the skin surface. When a small electrical pulses are applied, the “biological cargo” containing reprogramming factors is delivered into skin cells. In their paper, published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, the researchers describe how they used the technique to successfully reprogram skin cells to blood vessels in mice with limb ischaemia (lack of oxygen). This allowed blood flow to be returned and saved the limbs from amputation. If you’re super keen, you can read the paper here.
Stroke Stem Cell Clinical Trial Given the Green Light
Ok, I know I’m very biased because this is my field of research. ReNeuron, a British cell therapy company based in Bridgend, has been given FDA approval for a US clinical trial of their CTX cell therapy in chronic stroke. The phase IIb clinical trial, called PISCES III, will assess if neural stem cell transplantation can improve disability and dependence in 110 patients 6-12 months after their stroke. Back in December 2016, they announced that their phase II trial (PISCES II) was showing promise and leading to some improvements in stroke recovery.
Stem Cell Therapies Showing Potential for Treating Blindness
This is the news that stem cells are showing promise in clinical trial for the treatment of dry macular degeneration, a common cause of blindness in the elderly. As a bit of background, retinal pigment epithelial (RPE) cells support the retina (part of the eye that turns light into electrical messages which tells the brain what you can see) by supplying nutrients and removing waste. However, in macular degeneration these cells stop working or degenerate leading to a gradual loss of vision. In two early clinical trials led by Professor Eyal Banin from Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Center in Jerusalem, embryonic stem cells were turned into RPE cells and then injected behind the retina. As this is a very early clinical trial, it aimed to assess safety. A few weeks after the injection, the retina showed signs of healing and throughout the study, no patients experienced any side effects such as loss of vision. These results are definitely promising but as Dr Banin said in a press release, “this is just a first step in the long road towards making regenerative cell therapy a reality in macular and retinal degeneration”. Earlier in the year a group from Japan, including the previously mentioned Nobel laureate Shinya Yamanaka, published a paper showing an RPE cell therapy made from induced pluripotent stem cells was safe 1 year after transplantation.
2017 was a pretty good year for my science. After an epic battle with a formidable opponent (reviewer 3) my second stem cell paper got accepted just before the holidays! I also found out I was successful in my application for a Wellcome Trust ISSF public engagement grant to develop some hands on activities to explain my lab’s stroke research to the public. I spent a lot of time this weekend designing a giant board game for it but more on that later.