Gene research

Urgent briefing requirement: Stem cells and regenerative medicine

Urgent briefing requirement: Stem cells and regenerative medicine

These issues are constantly in the news: the media never gives you enough background, but this video does that job and a great deal more

Video on Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine

I spent what seemed like forever scouring the Web, watching video after video, trying to find the best online introduction to stem cells and regenerative medicine and this is it.

It’s impeccably clearly presented by Jill Helms of Stanford University in a format aimed directly at those among us who find all of these new developments intriguing but frustratingly inaccessible due to either unintelligible jargon or patronising over-simplification.

She introduces every new term and concept in plain English as she goes through each of the extraordinary discoveries one at a time.

If you want to watch it, you’ll need to brace yourself for a long, breathtakingly exciting, roller-coaster ride through the unimaginably improbable series of revolutionary breakthroughs that there have been in these disciplines, many of which were as much due to luck as they were to hard work and brilliant insights, some of which have only very recently been announced and most of whose implications are still barely understood.

What happens when scientists make so many discoveries that they run out of serious-sounding names?

You will hear all about Sonic Hedgehog genes and proteins (and if that name doesn’t sound frivolous enough, there are even ones called Tiggywinkle)

Professor Jill Helms is based at the Stanford School of Medicine,

Here’s what she says about her work (don’t worry, all the unfamiliar technical terms used below are explained in the video!):

“Every adult tissue harbors stem cells, which potentially could be used to regenerate damaged or diseased tissues.

In my laboratory, one of our goals is to understand the regulatory pathways that control stem cell self-renewal, proliferation, and differentiation.

We have focused on two signaling pathways whose activities seem to be an essential feature of tissue healing.

Wnts and Hedgehog proteins [yes, as I said, this jargon will obviously all sound like gibberish to the uninitiated until she puts in to context: watch the video!] are both lipid-modified growth factors that have well documented and essential roles in embryonic development.

We have found that both pathways are active during the repair of bones, muscle, skin, heart, brain, and retina, and that repair of most or all of these tissues is impeded when these two pathways are blocked.

We have developed a novel packaging method whereby the biological activity of lipidated Wnt and Hedgehog proteins can be preserved in the in vivo wound environment.

Using these and other tools developed by our collaborator Roel Nusse, we have embarked on experiments to first understand the mechanisms of action of these growth factors in the healing wound, and second, to use this information in biomimetic strategies to accelerate tissue repair.“

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Image via Wikipedia

As well as the work described above, she is also actively involved in the teaching of both craniofacial and stem cell biology.

Prior to Stanford, she spent 8 years at the University of California at San Francisco, where she was the Director of the Molecular and Cellular Biology Laboratory in the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery.

She has a degree in dentistry from the University of Minnesota, and a Ph.D from the University of Connecticut Health Sciences Center.

This video is in a series offered as part of the Stanford Mini Med School.

This particular item in the series is part of the “Dynamics of human health” set of videos.


23 Responses to “Urgent briefing requirement: Stem cells and regenerative medicine”

  1. AflatoonS says:

    “Using these and other tools developed by our collaborator Roel Nusse, we have embarked on experiments to first understand the mechanisms of action of these growth factors in the healing wound, and second, to use this information in biomimetic strategies to accelerate tissue repair”
    Does this research also includes looking into down side of “accelerated tissue growth”, which if un-controlled, may result into cancer like problems?

  2. MaliniG says:

    After reading the article, the first thing I wanted to know was what a stem cell really is. I mean – everyone have heard about it, but do we actually know what it means? Looking at my favorite source wikipedia, I found this info:

    “Stem cells are cells found in all multi cellular organisms. They have the ability to renew themselves. In a developing embryo, stem cells can differentiate into all of the specialized embryonic tissues, while in adult organisms, stem cells act as a repair system for the body.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stem_cell

    But I also learned there is a controversy associated with stem cell research, “centered only on research involving the creation, usage and destruction of human embryos.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stem_cell_controversy

    Now if stem cell research can help dramatically change the treatment of human disease, then what this controversy is all about. Anyone there with some more info?

    • AflatoonS says:

      Malini, the controversy for me lies in present technology available for creating stem cells; it uses human embrios.

      The link referred by you at a later stage mentions the view point of those who oppose this technology ” They believe that embryonic stem cell research instrumentalizes and violates the sanctity of life and is tantamount to murder.The fundamental assertion of those who oppose embryonic stem cell research is the belief that human life is inviolable, combined with the fact that human life begins when a sperm cell fertilizes an egg cell to form a single cell.”

      • MaliniG says:

        Aflatoon S says, “the controversy for me lies in present technology available for creating stem cells; it uses human embrios”

        I do not think the stem cells are created using only human embryos.

        “Highly plastic adult stem cells from a variety of sources, including umbilical cord blood and bone marrow, are routinely used in medical therapies.”
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stem_cell

        What I feel that the objection is the use of embryonic stem cells.

        “The status of the human embryo and human embryonic stem cell research is a controversial issue as, with the present state of technology, the creation of a human embryonic stem cell line requires the destruction of a human embryo.”
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stem_cell_controversy#Viewpoints

        The issue of using embryonic stem cells is hotly debated on both sides. But we have to agree that adult stem cells have already produced therapies. And if any research benefits mankind, it should be encouraged.

    • Grzegorz Pietruczuk says:

      This is an ethical thing Malini, I think everyone has his own opinion on that. Some people would see it as a problem to take stem cells from human embryos, other’s would see it evil to take the cells from animals and so on. Where is the border we shouldn’t cross in our race to help humans?

      No one can answer that for years now. Artificial creation of cells and bodily organs? Maybe one day without above issues.

      • Rob Jara says:

        Personally Greg, I don’t think that we have to draw a line to where stem cell research may stop, as long as we are not endangering lives. Stem cell research in fact, creates more opportunities to help save lives and improve them.

        While researching on stem cell research, I came across a “world map” on stem cell research policy. This is certainly something that provides a lot of insight on how stem cell research stands globally today and its future prospects. Here’s the link:

        http://www.mbbnet.umn.edu/scmap.html

        • Grzegorz Pietruczuk says:

          Well Rob – that’s one of the borders we shouldn’t cross, endangering lives. Or other species for that matter.

          I agree that stem cell research creates a huge opportunity to mankind in our race for better healthcare and wellbeing. Thumbs up for the link Rob, really interesting, thanks.

  3. trishb says:

    Most people think that stem cell research may lead to cloning, particularly human cloning which carries a lot of ethical issues (not to mention it is illegal in most parts of the world), but it really is not.” See link for entire explanation. http://stemcells.nih.gov/info/basics/basics4.aspWhat if we use the knowledge to help improve small deformities in the body?  Click the link to find out about the wonders we have made for the body.

    http://ducknetweb.blogspot.com/2010/08/regenerative-medicinereprogramming-stem.html

    Wouldn’t it be nice to use your own cells instead of the plastic and metals we use to fix dental issues?

    • AflatoonS says:

      Trish, it would be great if all the research and development is used for betterment of society, but there is always a long standing debate and controversy on use of technology while it is still in research phase.

      Technology has nothing to do with good or bad, it’s we who use it for helping humanity or destroying humanity. Sometimes commercial interests of a few people use it as a tool to malign humanity.

      Here is an article that discusses possible misuse of stem cell technology for cloning.
      http://www.pugwash.org/reports/pic/pac256/WG6draft1.htm, “Another divisive issue is designer babies, achieved by adding (or deleting) specific genes to embryos to endow the born child with desired characteristics, such as greater physical strength, intellectual prowess, or artistic talent. There is already conjecture about new types of human species being developed by genetic engineering, significantly different from the species that has developed by the process of natural evolution. ”

      Does this mean that we shun all research and development merely because of risk of misuse of technology?

      • Grzegorz Pietruczuk says:

        Surely not Aflatoon, there is always this risk, just waiting around the corner. But playing God by creating human beings is not to be treated easily I think.

        There are some fields of technology and science that have to be controlled in every possible way, just to make sure it won’t get out of hand. Just like stem cell research and cloning is in my view.

      • Rob Jara says:

        I don’t think we should, on the contrary, more efforts must be put in technology, if only for the fact that there’s a chance it can be used maliciously. As for stem cell research, a lot can be said about it, both good and bad, it has actually been a polarizing topic even among leading scientists and other groups. But I believe we should give it a chance to developed further, and along with it have proper institutions placed to ensure checks and balances among research facilities and personnel. If that is ensured by our government, or any government for that matter, there’s a good chance that in the future, the dreaded cancer and other fatal diseases may not be regarded as such.

        • MaliniG says:

          I agree with Rob completely.

          A number of adult stem cell therapies already exist. Medical researchers anticipate being able to use technologies derived from stem cell research to treat including cancer, Parkinson’s disease, spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis, and muscle damage.

          All the technologies can be used in a good way or bad way, depending on how we use it. Nuclear bombs have been used to kill people, but who knows, they may be used to deflect a comet to save the earth.

  4. MaliniG says:

    A recent stem cell ruling has stunned the researchers.
    “The ruling by U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth effectively reimposed an eight-year-old ban on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. Research groups across the country have attacked the ruling.”
    http://buffalo.bizjournals.com/buffalo/stories/2010/09/06/story10.html?b=1283745600^3888251

    “Researchers say even if the majority of their work does not rely on embryonic stem cells, they still rely on previously established baselines from which to gauge their progress.”

    Such a decision will surely affect the ongoing research begun using previously created embryonic stem cell lines.

    “The Obama administration formally asked a federal court to allow federally-funded embryonic stem cell research to go forward while they appeal an adverse ruling on the matter.”

    http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5iWRiE0fW8pngYvooHf343jNaL_2Q

    It may mean the future research in the field will use only adult stem cells and not embryonic stem cells, thus putting a stop to the controversy.

    • AflatoonS says:

      There are a lot more ethical issues at stake besides use of embryonic cells in stem cell research, such as pointed out in this article:

      http://www.pugwash.org/reports/pic/pac256/WG6draft1.htm

      It discusses stem cell technology and regenerative medicine’s relation with longevity of human life

      “But research on ageing has indicated ways to overcome this limitation, thus raising the spectacle of people living much longer, to 200 years, perhaps forever. Apart from raising highly sensitive questions of a fundamental nature, all this is also likely to lead to a fateful polarization of human society, mainly resulting from the unequal access to the benefits of genetic engineering research. The technology required to achieve the advantages is very costly and thus available only to the very rich. The rich classes will not only indulge in luxuries; they will also live longer, enjoy better health, and produce offspring – either clones of themselves or purpose designed – with the qualities of Superman. Are we heading towards a new structure of society with two classes of citizen: the patricians and the plebs, in their modern equivalent?”

      While there is already a great difference in lifestyles of the rich and the poor, what does this technology, if availed by the rich only, offer to make a difference?

  5. Grzegorz Pietruczuk says:

    If the ban will be still in place after Obama’s government appeal, Malini.

    Federally owned projects might be a way to go, with greater control over them in long term. The problem would be money and scientists’ time wasted on those cancelled projects, shouldn’t those be continued and researched to the end? And surely, many of tese projects are not only related to embryo stem cells, but any other methods, but still would have to be shut down. Shame to see so much of potential discoveries axed so easily.

    • Rob Jara says:

      I agree Greg. These scientists toiled sweat, blood and tears for these projects I’m sure, given that the prospects for stem cell research are quite promising. And yeah, government should really take an aggressive initiative over stem cell research development, and ensure that no group or individual solely benefits from the fruits of stem cell research. Great measures must be in place for stem cell research to benefit all.

  6. Quora says:

    Regenerative Medicine…

    Where can I see a video of a detailed introduction to this subject given by an experienced practitioner? Answer: The Innovation investment Journal has an article with a link to a superb talk given by renowned Professor Jill Helms at Stanford University…

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