Following is an in depth exploration of stem cells.
Stem cells are cells that have not yet differentiated, that is have not yet become specific types like muscle, skin or nerve cells. In an early stage embryo, called a blastocyst, they have the potential to become any type of cell, and will eventually form all body parts.
Adults have stem cells in their bodies as well. In some adult tissues, such as bone marrow, muscle, and brain, certain populations of adult stem cells naturally generate replacements for cells that are lost through normal wear and tear, injury, or disease.
To understand and master the natural process, scientists first created animal embryonic stem cells in the laboratory. They formed an embryo by removing the nucleus from an animalâ€™s egg cell. They then removed the nucleus (every cellâ€™s nucleus has all of an organismâ€™s genetic material in it) from an adult animalâ€™s cell, usually a skin cell, and introduced that nucleus into the de-nucleated egg cell. The new â€œfertilized eggâ€� was next put into a chemical bath and zapped with an electric shock. The created fertilized egg then started dividing, forming an embryo.
If the embryo was placed into an appropriate female animal of the same species as the precursors, it resulted in a cloned animal -- the most famous of which was Dolly the sheep. (Human embryonic stem cells are more difficult to work with and nobody, hopefully, will want to clone a human in any case. But created human stem cells can be extraordinarily helpful.)
So, in effect the egg cell and the accompanying process brought that adult cell nucleus, taken from a grown or even older animal, and brought it back in time, making it so young it was at the beginning of its life once again!
At its very early stage an embryo is called a blastocyst. If the top part of a blastocyst, the section that will become the placenta is removed, the stem cells remain, cells that can still become any body part. The above discoveries allowed researchers to work with, and study, stem cells themselves.
Later, by figuring out what makes a stem cell pluripotent (able to form any type of cell), biologists were able to create stem cells from adult cells simply by turning on certain genes -- these cells are named â€œinduced pluripotent stem cellsâ€� or IPS.
This was possible because every cell has a complete set of genes. Some of the genes in nature get switched on to make that cell into a particular type of cell. Biologists are now able to control that process in many areas.
Embryonic stem cell research still may have much value and continues in some places. But with IPS the scientists are able to control the switching on of genes. They can now make and use stem cells without first creating, then taking apart a human blastocyst (about six days old and 100 cells big), which caused some controversy. They are also able to use adult stem cells already existing naturally in the body for a number of procedures.
Stem cell research can lead to creation of new body parts since stem cells can be induced to go in a particular direction. And it already has led to repair and rejuvenation of diseased or damaged body parts, since after injecting stem cells into, say, a compromised heart, they can become new heart cells. The research and its applications are not yet perfected, but it is clear that they are of paramount importance and have fantastic potential.
The procedure has to be done several days after a patient's heart attack. A onetime infusion of a patient's own stem cells is pumped into the heart muscle that was recently damaged by a heart attack.
"These cells are infused to the damaged area of the heart," said Dr. Iwaoka. "They will hone into that area, take up actual residence, stay in that area of damage and start recruiting other cells to help in the repair process."
So far, the trial has proven to give heart attack victims a second chance in repairing their muscle. For Melvin [patient who received the procedure] it has offered him relief. "I was at the point of death and they helped me."
Right now doctors are in phase 2 of the clinical trial. If it shows positive data, researchers will launch a phase 3 trial and push for FDA approval. Doctors say because the patient's own stem cells are used, you avoid transplant rejection and it eliminates ethical issues.
[Actress/writer Suzanne Somers had a breast cancer operation in 2001. In 2011 she underwent a pioneering procedure using stem cells to restore her breast. BF is Bill Faloon of The Life Extension Foundation and SS is, of course, Suzanne Somers.]
BF: Where did you first learn about the use of stem cells in growing new breast tissue?
SS: â€¦..While Dr. Smith made it perfectly clear that there were no current US FDA-approved therapies for [natural and living] breast reconstruction, as an optimist I banked my stem cells with the Neostem Company in 2009, hoping on being able to use these cells one day in the future for this procedure. [The FDA did not allow Suzanne to use these particular stored stem cells in her breast reconstruction, so stem cells from her body were used and the banked stem cells â€“ see below â€“ were used later for other purposes.].....
SS: I agreed to work with Dr. Joel Aronowitz, a famous surgeon in Los Angeles with expertise in adult stem cell technology and breast rejuvenation, and together we successfully were able to perform this advanced procedure using enriched adipose-derived stem cells [taken from her own body]. Other doctors around the country are doing autologous fat transplantation for cosmetic breast surgery, but I am the first to have Dr. Yoshimura's advanced technique utilized, legally, using only my fat enriched with adipose-derived stem cells.
BF: Were you able to use your stem cells to regenerate any other areas of your body?
SS: â€¦..improve the appearance of the skin on my neck by regenerating the skin, giving me, in essence, a stem cell neck lift, using my fetal banked stem cells. This mix of cells which contain VSELS (very small embryonic-like stem cells) have many regenerative properties. The result is natural new smooth skin, not requiring surgery. These are all great advancements, the best use of scientific breakthroughs, a modern approach to beauty and safer and less invasive than cosmetic surgeryâ€¦â€¦
SS: The important thing for women to know is that if they are having a lumpectomy or a mastectomy (160,000 American women a year), it is crucial to maintain the skin and nipple. The mastectomies of yesteryear removed everything, skin and nipple included, so this procedure would not be possible. Today they approach it differently, and if there is no cancer in the nipple or skin it is left intact and that makes a regrowth possible.
BF: How would you compare your restored breast to the healthy one you had before the lumpectomy/radiation? [The entire original series of traditional treatments eventually destroyed Suzanneâ€™s breast so there was little left but the outer covering and nipple.]
SS: If I can brag a little, it is beautifulâ€”high and firm and real and soft and unscarred. Talk about reverse aging. My breasts look like they're from a young woman. I cannot tell you what this has done for me psychologically.
â€¦.Today, she says her new breast is very much like the one she had before her cancer. â€œItâ€™s beautiful, itâ€™s soft, it has full feeling. Itâ€™s all me,â€� she notes. â€œAnd thereâ€™s no foreign object, and thereâ€™s no scar.â€� Somers says she felt it was important for her to undergo the procedure not just for herself, but to help other women with breast cancer in this country. â€œI am the first woman to legally regrow a breast in the United States," she says.