Category: regenerative medicine

New Stem Cell Line Could Open New Doors in Medical Research and Treatment

A Fresh Start for Stem Cells

Researchers from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in the U.K. and their collaborators have developed what could potentially be a tabula rasa, or clean slate, for stem cells, which could allow any type of cells to grow and develop. This breakthrough study is published today in the journal Nature, and it shows how researchers, for the first time, created what’s known as Expanded Potential Stem Cells (EPSCs) in mice.

Prior to this breakthrough, stem cell lines existed in two basic types — embryonic stem cells (ES) and induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS). In theory, both stem cell lines can grow to a good number of cell types, and previous research has shown them to be the most effective in doing so. However, ES and iPS have limitations: they aren’t capable of growing into every type of cell, as they’re already limited to only particular cell lines right at the onset. On the other hand, EPSCs are able to form whatever type of cell because they possess features similar to that of the very first cells of their source organism’s embryo. In the case of this study, it was mice. The team is confident, however, that they can develop similar EPSCs from humans as well as other mammals.

To develop the mice EPSCs, the researchers cultured mice cells from their earliest stage of development — i.e., when the fertilized egg has divided into only 4 to 8 cells, each still able to grow into any cell type. In contrast, ES cells are usually taken from around the 100-cell stage in development. Additionally, the researchers developed mouse ES and iPS cells into this new condition and grow EPSCs from them. In short, they were able to turn back the development clock to the earliest type of cell.

Recharging Regenerative Medicine

Already, scientists have been able to achieve quite a lot using available ES and iPS cells. They’re now able to turn skin cells into motor neurons, treat baldness, and even slow aging in mice using stem cells. Indeed, the potential of stem cells in regenerative medicine is currently unprecedented. The new study’s EPSCs can push even further. Accordingly, these EPSCs are the first stem cells able to produce all three types of blastocyst stem cells — differentiated cells from a fertilized egg — which expands their potential for development.

“This is a fantastic achievement, by working with the very earliest cells, this study has created stem cell lines that can form both embryonic and all the extra-embryonic cells. The methods and insights from this study in mice could be used to help establish cultures of similar stem cells from other mammalian species, including those where no ES or iPS cell lines are available yet,” study co-author Hiro Nakauchi of Stanford University explained in a press release.

“The research also has great implications for human regenerative medicine as stem cells with improved development potential open up new opportunities. Further research in this area is vital, so that we can properly explore the potential of these cells,” he added.

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Scientists Have Uncovered a Way to Regenerate Human Bone and Tissue

Regenerative Medicine

A new method of regenerating human tissue has been discovered by researchers at the University of Birmingham. The method harnesses the body’s natural healing process to target cellular regeneration using particles called extracellular vesicles, encouraging them to regenerate more effectively. The team’s research can be found in the journal Scientific Reports.

The new process begins with the stimulation of cells to naturally produce nano-scale particles called vesicles. According to one of the researchers in a video produced by the University, Dr. Owen Davies, EPSRC E-TERM landscape fellow at the University of Birmingham and Loughborough University, “What we aim to do is to capture these vesicles, to purify them and then to exploit them as a regenerative tool.” The method opens up entirely new possibilities for the regeneration of bone, teeth, and cartilage.

An article on EurekAlert explains that current regenerative methods have definite limitations which this new technology will allow healthcare providers to circumvent. Grafts taken from patients have greater risks of morbidity and often cannot meet the demands posed by some circumstances, bone tissue transplants from donors run the risk of being rejected by the recipient, and other methods have possible serious side effects and prohibitive costs.

The extracellular vesicle method allows researchers to regenerate human tissue without running into these factors and others like the ethical concerns inherent in other developing solutions like stem cell therapies.

Growing Strong

Technology like this could eventually be a game changer for people with a degenerative bone disease like osteoarthritis. Still, the technology is in its infancy. It will be a long time before researchers are able to prove its effectiveness in humans and then get it through the regulatory process before it can be administered widely. As researcher Sophie Cox, Ph. D., from the School of Chemical Engineering explains, “Though we can never fully mimic the complexity of vesicles produced by cells in nature, this work describes a new pathway harnessing natural developmental processes to facilitate hard tissue repair.”

Bioprinting: How 3D Printing is Changing Medicine
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Developments allowing medical professionals to work at the nanoscale has created a new smorgasbord of possibilities for treating well-established issues in new and novel ways. Medical researchers are devising ways to repair blood vessels using “nanoneedles,” making gene editing easier with the addition of carbon nanotubes, and allowing for earlier cancer detection with nanobiotech chips.

Regenerative medicine will lead us into a new era of medical science. Diseases that were difficult to battle in the past, like osteoarthritis and multiple sclerosis (MS) may finally have definitive treatments so patients can start to see their bodies really regenerate. Long-term, and admittedly lofty (if not unreachable), goals of this emerging field could also see the beginnings of humanity finding the secrets to living longer, perhaps even indefinitely.

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There’s a $100 Million Plan to Make a Synthetic Spinal Cord to End Paralysis

A Bold Mission

Some say experience is the best teacher, and for Hugh Herr, that has definitely been the case. His experience with disability and subsequent need for prosthetics compelled him to develop what could be the world’s most advanced type of bionics.

Bionics: The Astonishing Future of the Human Body
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Now, the researcher and bionics expert is the co-director of the Center for Extreme Bionics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) — a unique research lab that began with the idea of taking prosthetics to the next level.

Since its creation in 2014, the center’s goal has been to treat a wide spectrum of disabilities through the development of advanced bionics. Now, the center is working on a $100 million, five-year project that focuses on treating paralysis, depression, amputation, epilepsy, and Parkinson’s disease through the development of bionic technologies.

Disability-Free World

The projects the researchers are pursuing are nothing short of cutting-edge.

While today’s prosthetics are useful and can give amputees a way to regain lost motor functions, Herr and his colleagues think they can improve upon these devices by combining them with advanced neural implants. This gives a person’s nerves and muscles a way to talk to a prosthetic, making it easier for the device to be controlled and function like a biological limb.

The MIT team sees neural implants being useful for far more prosthetics, though. The technology could also be used to alter brain functions to treat neurological or mental disorders.

Meanwhile, a digital nervous system (DNS) powered by optogenetics — a technique that uses light to control cells — could allow the researchers to treat paralysis and Parkinson’s disease by essentially replacing the biological nervous system. Eventually, the researchers think they many be able to engineer cells and tissues to grow organs that can repair or replace biological structures.

The World Health Organization estimates 40 to 80 cases of paralysis per million people, and that’s just one of the conditions being focused on at the Center for Extreme Bionics. If the center’s researchers are able to find ways to use technology to help all of those people, Herr’s dream of a world in which disability is no more may just come to fruition.

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New Stamp-Sized Tissue Patch Could Be Used to Regenerate Damaged Organs

No Surgery Required

A team of engineers at the University of Toronto have created a way to fix damaged organ tissue without surgery. The method involves a needle, a patch the size of the postage stamp, and a bit of time.

The patch itself has shape-memory capabilities, meaning it will always return to its default state when introduced to the right temperature. Once inserted into the needle and injected into the body, the patch unfolds and expands before proceeding to repair and replace missing tissue. Made using a biocompatible, biodegradable polymer, the patch will dissolve over time, and in its wake, leave behind newly-made tissue.

Biomedical engineering Professor Milica Radisic and her team have been working on the project for nearly three years, with a lot of their work devoted to creating a tissue patch that could work via injection. Miles Montgomery, a PhD candidate in Radisic’s group, finalized the patch’s design after a dozen attempts.

“At the beginning it was a real challenge; there was no template to base my design on and nothing I tried was working,” said Montgomery in an interview for Eureka Alert. “But I took these failures as an indication that I was working on a problem worth solving.”

Fixing More Than Hearts

The expanding tissue patch was initially made to treat those that have suffered from heart attacks, and could be used instead of open-heart surgery. And while it could have been an implant, Radisic explains that the risks outweigh the benefits. If the implant required surgery to be implemented, it wouldn’t be easily accessible to everyone that needed it. Since heart attacks are extremely traumatic on the human heart, leaving it in a vulnerable and precarious condition, surgery after the fact could risk the patient’s survival.

Going forward, Radisic and her team are working with researchers from the nearby Hospital for Sick Children. They intend to study the long-term benefits of the patches, as well as their stability. The patch has been tested on rats, to great success, but there is a long way to go before clinical trials. But if things pan out, the patch might also be used for other traditionally damaged organs, such as the liver. To buy more time for these studies, patents on their patch and the injection process have been applied for.

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3D Printed Ovaries Could Help Women Overcome Infertility

Ending Infertility

A new 3D printed prosthetic could be a huge boon to infertility treatment. Researchers from Northwestern University have created an artificial, 3D printed ovary which, when implanted, allowed previously infertile mice to give birth to healthy offspring.

The bioprosthesis is constructed by 3D printing a scaffold using specially formulated gelatin layered on a glass slide. Holes were then cut into the scaffold to accommodate the hormone-secreting cells or follicles. Within a week, the prosthesis had connected with the mice’s circulatory system which allowed the synthetic organ to release eggs as if it were a natural organ.

The mice implanted with the synthetic ovaries were allowed to mate, and three out of the seven ended up giving birth to healthy mice pups, according to a study the researchers recently published in Nature Communications. Another metric that shows the success of the transplant is that the mothers lactated normally, signaling that the implanted follicles were producing appropriate levels of hormones.

Cancer Survivors

This development is cause for great hope in the field of infertility. Still, there is a long road ahead before this treatment will be available for human infertility. Not only are human ovaries larger and more complex than those in mice, but getting adequate blood supply to the implanted organ would also be more difficult. Much more testing and development must occur before trials can begin in humans.

Bioprinting: How 3D Printing is Changing Medicine
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Even so, the researchers are focused on a specific goal with this treatment. Teresa Woodruff, an author of the study, told The Guardian“The goal of the project is to be able to restore fertility and endocrine health to young cancer patients who have been sterilized by their cancer treatment.” Implanting the 3D printed organ in these patients can allow them to undergo puberty like other children and develop regularly operating reproductive systems. Additionally, the implant could improve some patients’ heart and bone health.

As for next steps, the researchers are planning to move from mice to mini-pigs. These animals could help narrow the gap between pre-clinical and clinical research, as the humans’ menstrual cycles are closer to pigs’ than those of mice. The capabilities of 3D printing are ever expanding and are quickly revolutionizing what’s possible for us to achieve.

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Breakthrough Initiative Will Grow Organs and Regenerate Human Tissue

Growing Good Health

Major strides are being made in the field of regenerative medicine. Developments have been made growing tissue and even organs in labs to help restore normal functionality in patients. Many of these regenerative therapies take advantage of the advancements made in stem cell research. There have already been breakthroughs that could potentially give us the ability to repair nerve damage or even grow entire organs and limbs.

A new initiative is seeking to speed up innovation in this area of medicine. The Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine (WFIRM) is leading the $20 million initiative to, according to a release from the hospital, “apply advanced manufacturing to regenerative medicine. The goal is to speed up the availability of replacement tissues and organs to patients.”

“We are excited to be at the forefront of this next frontier in regenerative medicine,” says Anthony Atala, M.D., director of WFIRM, who is looking forward to revolutionizing and invigorating this field of medicine. “Just like the invention of the moving assembly line reduced the cost of cars and made them commonplace, the field of regenerative medicine must develop standardized manufacturing processes to successfully make replacement tissues and organs more widely available.”

3D Printed Ear Scaffolds. Photo source: WFIRM
3D Printed Ear Scaffolds. Image Credit: WFIRM

Life-Saving Growth

According to the release, the initiative is focused on two main projects. The first aims to create standardized “bioinks” that can be used in the process of printing tissue and organs. The second project will focus on developing standardized liquids on which the printed cells can grow.

Standardizing materials and practices will lead to better treatments being developed at a quicker pace. On the regulatory side, it will also speed up the approval process so these lifesaving treatments can be used expediently.

Regenerative medicine will open up new possibilities in the medical field. There will be new options for patients in treatment that would have, until very recently, been thought of as only possible in science-fiction.

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Scientists Are Building Humanoid Robots Using Skin Grafts

Real Human Tissue

With all the advances being made in robotics in terms of capabilities, it was only a matter of time before researchers took it one step further, making robots look more human. That’s what a pair of biomedical researchers at the University of Oxford are hoping to do, anyway.

In a report published in Science Robotics, Pierre-Alexis Mouthuy and Andrew Carr assert that the time has come to begin building robots with real human tissue. Not just for looks, either: using humanoid robots would be ideal for advancing our understanding of muscle and tendon grafts, and refining the technology used to develop them.

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To engineer tissue, scientists use bioreactors filled with nutrients and chemicals that can grow sheets of cells. Cells in muscles and tendons, however, require the ability to be stretched and moved by the skeleton — a mechanical component that bioreactors are unable to mimic.

Because humanoid robots are capable of mimicking human movement, they would prove an excellent tool. They can essentially serve as a “humanoid-bioreactor system”, and the tissue could develop with a little structural help from the robots, more or less the same way it would on a human skeleton.

“The ability of humanoids to freely interact with their environment and real objects could be an advantage compared with desktop bioreactors. This may provide more realistic stresses to tissue constructs and eventually achieve grafts with better functionality or with tailored properties,” Mouthuy and Carr explain in Science Robotics.

Humanoid-Bioreactor System

In theory, a humanoid-bioreactor system can be built on top of the humanoid robot using muscles made with electroactive polymers. The developing muscles can essentially piggyback on the robot skeleton’s movement so the tissues get “exercised”. The robot skeleton would need to be covered in soft, stretchable sensors so that it can closely monitor the development of the tissues.

In their research, Mouthuy and Carr add that “[…] in aging populations, musculoskeletal tissue disorders and injuries are a growing health, social, and economic burden. Pain and lack of mobility are common problems due to failure of tissues, such as tendon, ligament, bone, and cartilage. A promising repair strategy is to engineer tissue grafts.”

This will lead to the creation of more “clinically relevant musculoskeletal tissue grafts and, in particular, allow for personalized tissue graft development by matching the robot’s morphology and mechanics to the patient’s needs.”

Following this method, it’s likely we will likely end up with a robot that looks like the Kenshiro robot developed in Tokyo, where its actuators closely copy human movements. In other words, a Terminator-like humanoid robot where a metal skeleton would be covered in human muscles, tendons, and skin.

The researchers assert that not only do we have the technology to make this happen, but that it likely will. Given that it would be scientifically relevant, and has numerous applications in regenerative medicine and other fields, it looks like we could be mingling with robot lookalikes sooner rather than later.

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