Researchers at the Texas Biomedical Research Institute have engineered another breakthrough in stem cell research by manufacturing an artery from stem cells derived from a baboon.
The Stem Cell Buzz
The huge buzz around stem cell research (including the much deserved Nobel prize in Medicine in 2012) is due to the immense potential of stem cells to form any cell in the body. So far, however, stem cells have been an invaluable tool in research but their clinical applications are still in a nascent stage. In an ideal world, any damaged tissue in the body could be replaced with stem-cell derived tissue. This result is significant because it represents a step towards realizing this possibility.
How Did They Do It?
The research team first extracted embryonic stem cells from a baboon and converted it into a secondary type of progenitor cells called endothelial progenitor cells (EPCs)—the progenitor cells for the inner lining of arteries—the blood vessels carrying oxygenated blood to all parts of the body. To test if these EPCs could repair arteries, the team removed the inner lining of a baboon’s arterial segment, and transplanted these EPCs into these ‘denuded’ segments. On placing these segments inside a bioreactor (an instrument that sets conditions amenable to cell growth), they noticed that the EPCs differentiated to regenerate the complex structure of the inner arterial wall within 14 days. They performed a variety of tests on this regenerated segment testing for normal protein function, and found that it behaved like a healthy functional artery. In contrast, a segment of artery without these stem cells inserted could not regenerate itself.
Baboons are physiologically similar to humans, and this study indicates the possibility of a similar approach to human tissue. “The vision of the future is, for example, for a patient with a pancreas damaged because of diabetes, doctors could take skin cells, induce them to become stem cells, and then grow a new pancreas that is just like the one before disease developed,” said John VandeBerg, head of Texas Biomedical Research Institute.
You can read about this research here.