This past holiday, my son and I decided to build a computer. Nowadays this is not a daunting task. It’s something even a biologist can accomplish. It started with a trip to the electronics store where we purchased the various components needed. The pieces are designed to work together and after a few hours, we had a functioning computer. This demonstrates the power of standardized components which allow you to build something complex, functional and sophisticated.
If only repairing tissues and growing human organs were this simple. Scientists have been experimenting with stem cells for many years and there have been some amazing advances. One of the major limitations is the lack of standardization in procedures for producing and manipulating stem cells. This can make it difficult to get the same results in different laboratories. Recent advances through the National Institutes of Health (NIH) are helping to resolve this issue.
Researchers have been producing stem cells in individual laboratories for many years. Through an initiative with the Common Fund’s Regenerative Medicine program, the NIH is now providing standardized stem cells directly for academic or commercial research or production. This standardization represents a huge step forward and will undoubtedly lead to new clinical innovations. Standardized and well-characterized cells provide consistency that will help advance research.
Two different types of stem cells are available. Clinical-grade stem cells are available for clinical research in humans, and laboratory-grade stem cells are available for basic and translational research in cell culture and animal models. Laboratory cells can be used to establish conditions that will allow stem cells to be induced to become neural cells, heart cells or pancreatic cells to repair tissues at those sites.
To produce the standardized cells, stem cells were isolated from human umbilical cord blood cells obtained during a normal delivery of a healthy baby. These cells were taken into a laboratory and induced back to a more primitive state of cell development. Early in the development of these blood cells, they were pluripotent stem cells. This means that they can develop into any type of cell in the body with the right stimulus, giving them huge potential in medicine.
The standardized stem cells were produced under Good Manufacturing Practices, which means that each batch of cells meets the quality and safety standards needed for clinical use. Another benefit of the standardization is that it assists in the FDA approval process, getting lifesaving therapy to patients quicker. According to Dr. James Anderson, the director of the NIH division that supported the research, “providing access to clinical-grade stem cells removes a significant barrier in the development of cell-based therapies.”
Stem cell therapies have shown incredible potential. In mice, stem cells have created insulin-producing cells reversing diabetes, restored limb function in animals with spinal cord injuries, and they may be able to treat Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and muscular dystrophy. Consider the implications if we can produce these results to help people. All these treatments and more are now within reach.
Medical Discovery News is hosted by professors Norbert Herzog at Quinnipiac University, and David Niesel of the University of Texas Medical Branch. Learn more at www.medicaldiscoverynews.com.