Tag Archives: stem cell research

Direct Conversion Technology

Using Direct Conversion Technology to Transform Blood Cells into Nerve Cells as a Major Prognostic Tool for Neurological Diseases

Blood, skin, and tissue biopsy samples are easily attained for study but not so much from the human nervous system, which is a complex and delicate arrangement of neural wiring. With a new patented direct conversion technology developed by stem cell scientists at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, blood cells (derived from a simple routine blood draw) can be transformed into neurons. This new advancement has strong implications in determining the likelihood of a patient with a certain disease to develop neurodegenerative disorders, such as diabetic neuropathy, and possibly create better drugs and treatments to combat such debilitating conditions.

The human nervous system has two main branches: the central nervous system (CNS), comprised of the brain and spinal cord, and the peripheral nervous system (PNS)—the rest of the body—which feeds information to the CNS about pain, itchiness, and temperature from nerve receptors from different parts of the body.

Direct conversion technology uses a patient’s blood sample to generate one million sensory nerve cells that serve as a snapshot of that patient’s PNS, and can be used to uniquely predict how the patient’s nerve cells will react and respond to stimuli. The new method can also generate CNS cells as the conversion technology can create neural stem cells as a precursor to the sensory nerves that make up the PNS.

In the future, diabetics can know in advance if they will develop neuropathy characterized by shooting or burning pain in hands and feet, numbness, weakness, or tingling due to PNS damage from an underlying medical condition, e.g. diabetes. A focused treatment tailored to combat pain is key in effectively remedying the condition. Current pain medications, such as opioids, only systemically mask the perception of pain by way of the CNS. With their new direct conversion technology in hand, McMaster scientists plan to target PNS pain without affecting the CNS that can often cause unwanted side effects, such as addictive behavior associated with narcotics use.

First Transfusion with Artificial Blood Not Far Off

The Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service (SNBTS), in conjunction with various other medical research institutions in the United Kingdom and Ireland, have created artificial blood in the form of type O negative, otherwise known as the “universal donor,” a rare blood type that all other blood types can receive without the potential of severe, life-threatening immunological reactions occurring. The first transfusion with the new artificial blood is expected to occur late 2016.

Artificial blood, namely red blood cells, are produced by dedifferentiating fibroblasts—cells that generate connective tissue in the body, such as blood, bone, and cartilage—from an adult donor and reprogramming them into induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). The iPSCs are then cultured for a month in a bone marrow-like environment, where mature red blood cells with their characteristic lack of nuclei are extracted.

Currently, non-blood volume expanders are available as an alternative to blood transfusions, which serves as a viable option for patients who have certain religious beliefs, such as Jehovah witnesses, who cannot accept animal products. Dextran, hetastarch, pentastarch, and normal saline or Lactated Ringer’s solution can be used to maintain blood volume and pressure. But they do not increase the blood’s oxygen-carrying capacity, which is the sole responsibility of red blood cells—namely hemoglobin, a metalloprotein that contains iron.

Even though 107 million blood donations are collected annually, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), blood is still in demand, particularly in developing nations. And despite of strict regulations regarding blood collection, storage, and release of its use, the risk of incompatibility reactions and transmitting diseases to recipients still exist.

With artificial blood, the constant need for blood donations is addressed, along with not worrying about infecting a patient with contaminated blood or other potential adverse reactions. Artificial blood is also a culturally sensitive solution to blood loss.

Prolific Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells from a Single Drop of Blood

Researchers at A*STAR’s Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology (IMCB) in Singapore have discovered a technique to produce induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) from a single drop of blood. Current methods for harvesting stem cells are invasive, which are generally collected from bone marrow or skin, and may put off potential donors. Other methods require large quantities of blood. Scientists at IMCB demonstrated the efficiency of their stem cell harvesting technique by converting cells from a drop of blood into functional cardiac cells.

Stem cells are essentially “blank slates” that can specialize into any type of cell, when given specific cellular “instructions,” and serve the organ or organ system it was “destined” to service. As a result of their nonspecific nature, stem cells have high regenerative properties. Majority of stem cells exist in 3-5 day old embryos called blastocysts that differentiate into specialized tissues that make up the body. In adults, bone marrow, muscle, and brain tissue have cells that can replace damaged cells that have been lost through everyday wear and tear, injury, or disease.

Induced pluripotent stem cells are genetically reprogrammed to imitate a stem cell-like state. A sample of one drop of blood from a finger stick is stable for 48 hours and lasts up to 12 days in culture. The finger stick does not have to be performed in a medical facility but at the comfort of home and then sent to a laboratory for reprograming.

Stem cells have the potential to shed light on a variety of diseases and are currently being used in regenerative medicine. New drugs to effectively combat chronic disorders, like diabetes and heart disease, can be discovered with stem cell research.

Currently, human and animal, such as those derived from mice, embryonic stem cell research is sanctioned in most countries, but they are not very accessible. Several induced pluripotent stem cell bank initiatives have arisen in Japan, UK, US to make iPSCs available for research and medical studies. With the finger-stick method, IMCB scientists are hoping stem cell research will break scientific barriers and endorse exciting new discoveries.

Revolutionizing Orthopedic Surgery with BioPen: Stem Cell 3D Printing

According to the playwright Oscar Wilde, “life imitates art,” as opposed to the other way around. Such is the case of the development of BioPen by Australian scientists at the University of Wollongong—a handheld 3D printing surgical device that ejects cell material onto injured bone and cartilage enabling them to heal faster. Similar gadgets, like the SwissPen and 3Doodler, are on the market as artist tools that are filled with plastic filament to create 3D art renditions either on paper or as freestanding models.

The “ink cartridge” on the BioPen contains stem cells fixed into alginate (gel-like seaweed extract), a biopolymer carrier, that is surrounded by another layer of gel material. Surgeon then “draws” with the BioPen which squeezes the two gel layers as cell material is delivered onto impaired bone surface. An ultraviolet (UV) light that is attached to the device cures each layer before another is placed, so that a stable 3D scaffold is erected.

The stem cells are expected to multiply and differentiate into nerve, muscle or bone cells and conglomerate into new working tissue. Growth factors and medications can be combined with cell material in the BioPen to assist with bone and cartilage regeneration. The BioPen is ideal for acute bone and cartilage injuries with healthy tissue still intact, such as those sustained in sporting incidents or motor vehicle accidents.

Depending on the severity of bone injuries, healing with the aid of immobilization equipment and traditional surgery can take several months to years. With the BioPen, regeneration time can be drastically shortened. The portable device also gives surgeons control and precision on where to deliver the stem cells cutting surgery time and the risk of post-operative complications.