The world-first procedure has been successfully used to regrow muscles in a mouse model, but it could be applied to all tissue-based illnesses in humans such as in the liver, pancreas or brain. Adult stem cells are given a gene that makes them resistant to chemotherapy, which is used to clean out damaged cells and allow the new stem cells to take hold.
While trials of the procedure are at the pre-clinical stage, researchers are looking to launch human trials treating specific forms of muscular dystrophy such as oculopharyngeal dystrophy within the next three to five years.
This method could also be used to allow stem cells with other genetic enhancements to take hold. Further enhancements to replacement muscle, liver or brain cells could be made before replacing old tissue. Gene therapy has been used to enhance the muscles in mice.
The procedure solves one of the major hurdles involving stem cell therapy – getting the cells to survive for more than an hour or so after inserting them into damaged tissue.