New Stem Cell Research May Pave the Way for Greater Availability

Stem cells are stirring a revolution in the health-care industry by offering the promise of cures for a variety of stubborn human ailments: diabetes, cancer, spinal cord injuries.

But scientists have been encountering some significant hurdles in managing what had initially been viewed in research circles as the deliberately volatile and precarious nature of stem cells.

While stem cells are increasingly being viewed as microbiology’s miracle workers, they also have a reputation as trouble makers. Until now.  

Stanford University researchers may have discovered a type of gel that accommodates stem cell’s fickle side and allows scientists to help direct cell development to produce its intended objective:

“We just don’t know how to efficiently and effectively grow massive numbers of stem cells and keep them intheir regenerative state,” said Sarah Heilshorn, an associate professor of materials science and engineering at Stanford University. “This has prevented us from making more progress in creating therapies.”

A special gel may provide the key to taming stem cell’s wild side by allowing it to grow and remain preserved in a viably neural state to mature into different cell types.

The first hurdle required researchers overcome the need to develop adequate laboratory space to allow stem cells to grow in quantity, which involved obtaining costly and expansive laboratory settings and the resources to provide sufficient nutrients for stem cell growth.

The second hurdle involved the dividing of the stem cells in preparation for their development for use for other types of cells. Researchers discovered that maintaining the cells’ “stemness” – their isolated usability – requires they remain in touch with each other.

The Stanford team was using stem cells that would mature into neurons and other nervous system cells, which could be used as therapies to repair spinal cord injuries, reverse traumatic brain injuries and remedy severe nervous system disorders, such as Parkinson’s and Huntington’s diseases.

The Stem-Cell Solution

Heilshorn’s team developed polymer-based gels that allow stem cells to grow in three dimensions as opposed to two. The arrangement involves using less than 1 percent of the space used in current stem cell laboratories. The stem cell layers are a millimeter high, about the thickness of a dime, according to Stanford News.

“For a 3-D culture, we need only a 4-inch-by-4-inch plot of lab space, or about 16 square inches. A 2-D culture requires a plot four feet by four feet, or about 16 square feet,” more than 100-times the space, according to Chris Madl, a bioengineering doctoral graduate on Heilshorn’s team.

The biological structure requires fewer nutrients for the stem cells and less energy use. It also allows the stem cells’ long molecules to remain in contact with each other to preserve cell communication.

“The simple act of touching is key to communication between stem cells and to maintaining ‘stemness.’ If stem cells can’t remodel the gels, they can’t touch one another,” Madl said.

“The stem cells don’t exactly die if they can’t touch, but they lose that ability to regenerate that we really need for therapeutic success,” Heilshorn said.

Heilshorn wants to create gels to inject into patients’ bodies. “There’s this convergence of biological knowledge and engineering principles in stem cell research that has me hopeful we might finally actually solve some big problems,” she said.

AMI Provides Solutions

While we at Advanced Medical Integration don’t necessarily promote or advocate the use of stem cells for this purpose, we provide this information to chiropractors as a way of acknowledging the potential stem cells hold.

Contact us today to learn more about what the future holds for you.