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The Cutting Edge of Stem Cell Research

written by: Robyn Broyles•edited by: Paul Arnold•updated: 3/20/2009

Find out the latest advances in stem cell research. Stem cell treatments for Parkinson's disease, bone injuries, and the side effects of cancer treatment are on the horizon.

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    Stem cell research is a fast-moving field, with many research teams making new discoveries. The state of our knowledge of stem cells is far more advanced than it was even one year ago. Stem cell research articles appear in a variety of journals; a few of the most recent are summarized here.

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    Adult Stem Cell Research: Parkinson's Disease

    In March 2009, a stem cell research article in the journal Cell (Soldner et al. 2009) announced that researchers had successfully created brain cells that may be able to treat Parkinson's disease, a devastating neurological disorder. The stem cells are induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells) derived from fibroblasts, a type of skin cell. The research team successfully converted these into neurons that produce dopamine, a neurotransmitter that is lacking in patients with Parkinson's disease. Notably, the iPS cells were free of genes from the viruses used to create them, known as transgenes. The presence of transgenes and their potential to cause cancer has been a stumbling block in iPS cell research, so this experiment represents a breakthrough in adult stem cell research.

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    Stem Cell Research: Bone Regeneration

    A stem cell article so new it has not yet been published in print at the time of this writing (Moreau & Xu 2009) shows that stem cells may soon be used to regenerate load-bearing bones. The breakthrough here is not on the stem cells themselves, but on how to create a strong scaffold for bone-producing stem cells (mesenchymal stem cells) to grow on. The experiment, conducted in rats, found a chemical makeup for the scaffold that is stronger than the material currently in use. The results may allow the use of bone-producing stem cells to regrow bones that bear loads, such as limb bones and jaw bones.

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    Adult Stem Cell Research: Cancer Treatment Side Effects

    Cancer is often treated with radiation, which causes damage to surrounding healthy tissue. Adult stem cells may one day be used to regenerate these damaged tissues, decreasing the side effects of radiation therapy for cancer. A review of the current state of this research (Coppes et al. 2009) concludes that several different types of adult stem cells have great potential in this area.

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    References

    • Rob P. Coppes, Annemieke van der Goot, and Isabelle M.A. Lombaert. "Stem Cell Therapy to Reduce Radiation-Induced Normal Tissue Damage." Radiation Oncology April 2009; 19(2):112-121. doi:10.1016/j.physletb.2003.10.071
    • Jennifer L. Moreau and Hockin H.K. Xu. "Mesenchymal stem cell proliferation and differentiation on an injectable calcium phosphate – Chitosan composite scaffold." Biomaterials May 2009; 30(14) 2675-2682. doi:10.1016/j.physletb.2003.10.071
    • Frank Soldner, Dirk Hockemeyer, Caroline Beard, Qing Gao, George W. Bell, Elizabeth G. Cook, Gunnar Hargus, Alexandra Blak, Oliver Cooper, Maisam Mitalipova, Ole Isacson, and Rudolf Jaenisch. "Parkinson's Disease Patient-Derived Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells Free of Viral Reprogramming Factors." Cell 6 March 2009; 136(5):964-977. doi:10.1016/j.physletb.2003.10.071