Science, Science and Tech

Advances in stem cell technology

Scientists have been able to make personalised stem cells out of a patient’s blood, which could in theory be used to treat a whole host of diseases and disorders within that patient.

Many experts believe stem cells to be the next step in the progression of medical practise. One of their key properties is the ability to differentiate into any other type of specialised cell in the body.

The usual source for stem cells is human embryos; however, this practice is not without its flaws. The transplanted cells could be rejected by the body in much the same way as an organ transplant, meaning the patient would have to take various immunosuppressant drugs to counteract this. The removal of stem cells from embryos also asks a huge ethical question, which has many experts and opposition to the technology divided.

In previous studies, scientists have been able to turn differentiated adult skin cells into personalised stem cells, which the body should recognise as it’s own, and therefore not reject.

The team at the University of Cambridge took blood samples and isolated a specific type of blood cell usually implicated in the repair of blood vessels around the body. Once isolated, these cells were then reverted into stem cells using various techniques.

The scientists say that using blood samples rather than skin biopsies is favourable for most patients, from whom blood samples are the norm. Skin biopsies on children and the elderly are particularly challenging.

The team at Cambridge were able to produce stable stem cells, which is a highly promising prospect in terms of stem cell technology. However, other experts have commented saying although these results look very good, they are still at a very early stage of development and need much more extensive research.

The next step is to create clinical grade cells and begin testing these techniques in the clinic for the first time. This, however, could take years to become a reality.

04/12/2012

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michaelbolton



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