Stem Cell Progress to Fixing Deafness, Tooth Regeneration, Bone Marrow Therapy and Heart Injury

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1. A team led by Stefan Heller of Stanford University set out to elucidate basic principles of how the inner ear detects sound. But they also created batches of cells that can potentially replace damaged ones in the ear. Their findings are published in the May 14 issue of Cell.

To restore hearing, researchers still have to figure out how to produce millions of hair cells, prevent stem cells from forming tumors, and translate the work to human cells. “I’m very cautious about saying this will lead to a cure for deafness that is around the corner,” Heller said. A cure is at least a decade away, he said.

2. Geron Corp said data from a preclinical study showed its experimental stem-cell product for the treatment of chronic heart injury did not cause any abnormal electrical activity after it was transplanted in the site of the injury.

The product, GRNCM1, was tested in guinea pigs with chronic cardiac injury, to assess whether transplantation increases the incidence of cardiac arrhythmia, a safety concern for cardiac cellular therapies

3. A new technique pioneered in the Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine Laboratory at Columbia University can orchestrate the body’s stem cells to migrate to three-dimensional scaffold that is infused with growth factor. This can yield an anatomically correct tooth in as soon as nine weeks once implanted in the mouth.

“These findings represent the first report of regeneration of anatomically shaped tooth-like structures in vivo, and by cell homing without cell delivery,” Dr. Mao and his colleagues said in the paper.

“The potency of cell homing is substantiated not only by cell recruitment into scaffold microchannels, but also by regeneration of a putative periodontal ligaments newly formed alveolar bone.”

Dental implants usually consist of a cone-shaped titanium screw with a roughened or smooth surface and are placed in the jaw bone. While implant surgery may be performed as an outpatient procedure, healing times vary widely and successful implantation is a result of multiple visits to certified clinicians, including general dentists, oral surgeons, prosthodontists and periodontists.

Implant patients must allow two to six months for healing and if the implant is installed too soon, it is possible that the implant may move which results in failure. The subsequent time to heal, graft and eventually place a new implant may take up to 18 months.

The work of Dr. Mao and his laboratory, however, holds manifold promise: a more natural process, faster recovery times, and a harnessing of the body’s potential to regrow tissue that will not give out and could ultimately last the patient’s lifetime.

By homing stem cells to a scaffold made of natural materials and integrated in surrounding tissue, there is no need to use harvested stem cell lines, or create a an environment outside of the body (e.g., a Petri dish) where the tooth is grown and then implanted once it has matured.

The tooth instead can be grown “orthotopically,” or in the socket where the tooth will integrate with surrounding tissue in ways that are impossible with hard metals or other materials.

“A key consideration in tooth regeneration is finding a cost-effective approach that can translate into therapies for patients who cannot afford or who aren’t good candidates for dental implants,” Dr. Mao said. “Cell-homing-based tooth regeneration may provide a tangible pathway toward clinical translation.”

4. Mesoblast Ltd., an Australian developer of stem-cell therapies, aims to introduce its first product by 2012 after agreeing to buy the shares of Angioblast Systems Inc. it doesn’t already own.

Angioblast’s bone marrow treatment uses a type of stem cell called mesenchymal precursor cells to expand umbilical cord blood used in marrow transplants, while reducing the risk of the donor’s marrow attacking the patient, a potentially fatal complication.

In a trial of the technology in 18 patients last year, the stem cells expanded cord blood 40-fold. When transplanted, the marrow restored the number of infection-fighting white blood cells to normal levels in a median of 16 days and platelets in 38 days, compared with 30 days and 90 days in previously published reports of patients treated with unexpanded cord blood.

Mesoblast plans to study the treatment in the third and final stage of patient trials normally needed for U.S. regulatory approval later this year and is aiming to get approval in 2012, Itescu said.

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