Artificial Vein Created Out of Stem Cells Saves A 10-Year Old Girl’s Life

The stem cell revolution is doing exactly what had been predicted of it – saving lives of patients with rare diseases. A 10-year old Swedish girl, suffering from a blockage of a vein in the liver (medically ‘extrahepatic portal vein blockage’), is the first recipient of a major vein replacement using stem cells.

Stem Cell (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Stem Cells are cells capable of specializing into cells with very specific functions. Stem cells can thus be used to regenerate any part of the body, proving invaluable to treatment of cancer – or even vein blockages.

The Operation

Associated Press reported the story saying that the vein replacement using stem cells was the alternative to a liver transplant. A 9-cm vein was taken from a dead man and stripped of all living cells. Only the protein remained, devoid of any genetic information. This was then grafted with the stem cells extracted and harvested from the girl’s bone marrow. The graft became a vein exactly identical to one made by the girl’s body within a period of two weeks of so. This was planted into the patients body after removing the offending blocked vein.

No post-operative complications

There have been no complications accompanying the surgery. The biggest fear remains that of rejection. If the body’s immune system recognises the grafted vein as a foreign object, it will attack it, causing severe complications and even death. This happens during the first few days immediately after surgery and immunosupressant are prescribed to prevent this hyperactivity of the immune system.

In this present case, no immunosuppression was required. A liver transplant requires lifelong dependance on immunosuppresants.

The doctors measured the blood flow through the new vein and found it to be normal. This was confirmed using ultrasound.

The whole operation has been funded by the Swedish government.

The report: http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(12)60633-3/fulltext

Eureka? Stem Cells Breakthrough Allows a Possible AIDS Cure

Stem Cells are the way forward for medicine and this is another confirmation of that. Just ahead of the upcoming World AIDS day, comes a wonderful piece of news – stem cells can be used to cure AIDS. This has been demonstrated the case of mice.

The T-cells

There are specific cells in the body’s defense system which can recognize HIV cells and kill HIV-infected cells, called cytotoxic T-lymphocytes. However, because HIV prevents the immune system from proliferating the WBC’s (white blood corpuscles- the soldier cells) during an infection, the T-cells aren’t produced in sufficient quantities. Now, scientists are using blood stem cells and ‘programming’ them to form mature T-corpuscles in sufficient number to attack the infection properly.

The tests were done in a lab in California University and the experiment subject was a humanized mouse. By humanized, it simply means that the progress of the HIV infection in the mouse mimics the progress in humans.

The experiment

The experimental subjects were observed for progress. Blood tests were done on the second week and sixth week. The scientists found that the T-cell count had increased and the HIV level decreased! Is this the long sought after cure?

Dr. Scott G Kitchen, lead scientist in this study, said:

We believe that this is the first step in developing a more aggressive approach in correcting the defects in the human T cell response that allow HIV to persist in infected people.

There are a lot more drug trials that need to be conducted before this can be thought of as a cure. Further, these have to be tested on human patients and their efficacy measured. The first step is a very promising one. It’s too early to say, but this can be the cure against AIDS.

The study appears here: http://www.plospathogens.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.ppat.1002649

Researchers Create Brain Tissue Using Skin Cells

A medical miracle has been achieved in Edinburgh’s Center for Regenerative Medicine, Scotland, just a few miles from Roslin Institute, where Dolly, the world’s first cloned sheep was created. Scientists have created brain cells from skin cells and this is to study patients suffering from schizophrenia and depression. Since, it is not possible to poke the brain and study the development and degeneration of brain cells in such patients, scientists have hoped for a workaround.

Brain network - an artist's impression

Using the Stem Cell Route

After long frustrating periods fraught with disappointing results, researchers finally made a breakthrough using skin cells to make stem cells, which can then be made into brain tissue. The main reason for this is that tissues degenerate soon after death. Furthermore, they get affected by lack of oxygen during death, medication and, of course, ultimate stages of the disease itself.

Royal Edinburgh Hospital’s Professor Andrew McIntosh, collaborating with the study, says:

That tissue is affected by whatever killed them and by the impact of the medication they had been taking for their condition, possibly for several decades. So having access to living brain cells is a significant development for the development of drugs for these conditions.

Controversy

Stem cells have been held up as a potential cure for many diseases, including cancer. Unfortunately, there has been opposition to the use of stem cells, especially when the stem cells need to be embryonic. Several religious groups have likened this to murder, as they believe that the soul enters the embryo when it is 10 days old and killing this fetus is equivalent to taking a life. Scientists around the world are strongly against this kind of reasoning, hailing stem cell research as the next big thing in medical sciences, a revolution potentially more impactful than even penicillin.

Embryonic Stem Cells (Courtesy: Scientific American)

As this pioneering experiment showed, it might be possible to generate tissues for other organs like lungs and heart. However, that is still some time away, even if funds and academic freedom are granted to scientists.