(DGIwire) – Stem cell research is often in the news these days. Keeping track of all the advances in this fast-evolving area requires knowing about the different types of stem cells and their current uses. And those uses cover a huge range: from a recent report in The Independent noting how stem cell therapy could offer insights on limb regeneration, to a Medical Daily piece on researchers using stem cells to create “mini retinas” in addressing blindness, to a CBS News report on stem cell therapy for heart failure patients, the rate of advances is astonishing. Here is a brief overview of four major stem cell types and how they are being implemented:
- Adult tissue stem cells: These stem cells make only the types of cells that belong in their own tissue, e.g., skin stem cells make only types of skin cells. According to research published in the journal Cell, studies of these cells are giving scientists better perspectives on a range of organs including the lung, liver and kidney. Adult blood-forming stem cells from bone marrow have been used in transplants for more than 40 years, the NIH reports.
- Umbilical cord stem cells: Stem cells from umbilical cord blood—once thought capable only of turning into blood cells—may be able to grow into other kinds of cells as well, according to research spotlighted in National Geographic. Today doctors use cord blood cells to treat about 70 diseases, mostly anemias or cancers of the blood, such as leukemias and lymphomas, the magazine reports.
- Mesenchymal stem cells: Originally identified in bone marrow, where they regulate key stages of blood cell production, these stem cells have since been identified in other anatomical locations, although their physiological roles remain unclear, according to research presented by Nature Reviews. The journal notes that under appropriate conditions, they can give rise to several cell types, including bone and fat precursors.
- Induced pluripotent stem cells: These are adult cells that have been genetically reprogrammed to an embryonic stem cell-like state, according to the NIH. Although additional research is needed, says the NIH, they are already useful tools for drug development and modeling of diseases, and scientists hope to use them in transplantation medicine.
“The dizzying array of stem cell types and their potential applications represent one of the most exciting frontiers in medical research today,” says Dr. Stephen Huhn, VP, Clinical Research and Chief Medical Officer of StemCells, Inc., a developer of stem cell therapy for spinal cord injury. “Clinical studies are being conducted to determine the extent to which patients can benefit from various types of stem cell therapies.”
For example, the Pathway Study, being conducted by StemCells, Inc. at various sites around the U.S and in Canada, is evaluating human neural stem cell transplantation as a potential therapy for those with cervical spinal cord injury. The purpose of the study is to evaluate the safety and potential benefit of an investigational product called human central nervous system stem cells (HuCNS-SC®) for people with this type of injury. To learn about eligibility for enrollment in the study, please visit www.sciresearchstudy.com.