If you ask someone in the medical field when stem cells were first discovered, there’s no guarantee that you would receive the same answer twice.
In fact, determining exactly when they were first mentioned in research studies isn’t an easy task, and can be quite controversial.
For some people, Canadian scientists Dr. James Till and Ernest McCulloch are the true pioneers of stem cell discovery after publishing their high impact paper on hematopoietic stem cells in 1963.
Many will agree that this is where modern understanding of stem cells began, which lead on to developments into stem cell technology.
There is evidence to suggest, however, that stem cells were first thought of as a concept as far back as 1868 in a report by Ernst Haeckel.
Regardless of its fraught, confusing history, however, there is no denying the true impact stem cell technology has had on the medical industry as a whole.
One of the key discoveries that pioneered this change was by a team of researchers and a single mouse in 1992.
They set out to challenge a belief within the science industry that suggested stem cells could only become certain types of cells, limiting the functions they were able to carry out.
The main researcher in this study was Prof Rossant, who created an entire mouse out of stem cells in 1992, and went on to create many more baby mice that were also completely derived from stem cells grown in a petri dish.
This information was crucial in making people believe that human embryonic stem cells had the potential to make every cell type in the body.
There were ethical problems that arose at the time, after scientists used discarded embryos to gain the cells they needed to further stem cell research.
It was only in 2006, when Japanese researchers succeeded in taking skin cells from adult mice and reprogrammed them to behave like embryonic stem cells that scientists were able to avoid controversy and still develop a greater understanding of the use of stem cells in medical treatments.
Since then, advances in stem cell research have had a big impact on medical industry. One of these advances are IPS cells that test drugs effectiveness.
By using induced pluripotent stem cells (IPS), skin or blood cells that have been reprogrammed to enable the development of any human cell, to create human cells, pharmaceutical companies can test new drugs to determine their effectiveness.
This practice also allows the pharma industry to uncover potential side effects of the drug, as well as develop personalised medicines.
They have already done this with cystic fibrosis, where patients can have the same gene mutation and respond differently to the same drug.
By turning skin cells from cystic fibrosis patients into IPS cells and then into lung cells with the genetic mutation specific to each of them, treatment can be completely personalised to the individual.
Stem cells have also been used to treat a few different cancers: leukemia, multiple myeloma, and some types of lymphoma.
This is an effective treatment because the above cancers can prevent hematopoietic stem cells from developing normally, so replacing them with new, fully functioning stem cells can cure certain types of cancer.
This current treatment is only really used in patients with cancers affecting the blood, but that is all set with the news that Biotech raises $72 million to develop new cell therapy treatments.
This funding round was completed by SQZ, a cell therapy firm developing new treatments for many different therapeutic areas.
SQZ technology specifically targets killer T cells, which it triggers with the aim of seeking out and destroying tumours.
At the moment, its lead program is in the antigen-presenting cells in HPV-related tumor indications, like cervical cancer. They hope that, in the future, they will be able to address tumors of all cancer types.
Another example of advances in stem cell technology is in the treatment of cardiovascular problems.
Simon Stertzer is the chairman of the board at Biocardia, a biotech company that has developed the easiest, safest, and most effective device that will implant cells into the heart muscle without resorting to open chest operations.
The stem cells, hormones and other agents used in the technological device are currently under investigation to determine whether their use will eventually improve or reverse serious heart dysfunction.
If this goes ahead, the use of stem cells could lead to greater outcomes for patients with cardiovascular problems, with less recovery time for treatment due to less invasive procedures.
Stem cell treatments are also helping with efforts to cure diseases that have a catastrophic impact on those they affect.
This condition is absolutely debilitating for sufferers, causing memory loss, confusion, mood swings and eventual death through the deterioration of brain matter over the course of several months or years.
Stem cell technology is currently being used to create pluripotent stem cells, which grow neurons that have the same genetic background as those affected by Alzheimer’s Disease.
This will allow researchers to study the disease in more detail, and there are hopes that it will help to find new drugs that can reduce amyloid and tau, the proteins found to build up in clumps in the brain in Alzheimer’s patients, in the near future.
This research is also advancing the medical industry by helping to understand the condition in more detail by discovering which cells are responsible for which symptoms.
Knowing this will help researchers to identify disease signposts that can help diagnose patients with Alzheimer’s Disease earlier, giving the patient and their families more time to make valuable memories before the disease takes over.
As you can tell from what we have reported, stem cell technology has advanced a lot in the last two decades especially, and research studies suggest this is only going to continue as times goes on.
There has already been vast improvements in fields like oncology, cardiology and chronic diseases, but we could see stem cell technology advancing even further, into fields that have very been sparsely explored before.
I don’t know about you, but we cannot wait to see what the future of stem cell technology brings to the table.