Researchers from the University of Toronto, Canada, reported Thursday that they have found a stem-cell based method to replace damaged cells with healthier ones and keep the latter long enough in the body to restore lost functions or repair helplessly damaged organs.
Scientists argue that they obtained enough relevant data during their mouse studies to support the effectiveness of their method. The most astonishing results were related to a series of tests involving a mouse that was genetically tweaked to be born blind. The animal gained eyesight after being injected with eyesight-restoring cells grown from stem cells.
Brian Ballios recalls that the animal’s pupil started to contract in bright light after its eye was injected with the artificially grown cells.
“That was thrilling. It showed not only that the cells were functioning, but that they were sending signals back to the brain,”
If the method shows similar result when applied to humans, regenerative medicine might enter a new era in which blindness can be cured and stroke survivors can get a second chance.
While Dr. Ballions did tests on mouse retinas, Michael Cooke tried to learn if the method had positive results in restoring lost or crippled brain functions in stroke patients. Although Dr. Cooke’s tests were also limited to mice, scientists believe that their method holds a great potential in stem-cell therapies. They also argued that their method could be employed “essentially for anything.”
They say that the hydrogel, which is the key ingredient of their method and the vehicle to carry the cells, has the texture of water but it becomes more rigid at body temperature and provides a firmer infrastructure which keeps the tissue-repairing cells from drifting away. Additionally, the hydrogel preserves cells and keep them alive long enough to do their job.
If fully functional, the new method is by far the most effective to date. Other methods of keeping stem cells in one place until they finish restoring damaged tissue included placing them on a synthetic sheet implanted in the body by surgical means. On the other hand, injecting a fluid is less invasive and more effective than previous methods.
Although some experts praised the new discovery, others said that the method needed serious improvements since only 9 percent of the cells managed to stay alive long enough to complete their task of repairing a damaged retina.
Researchers admitted that they were only able to make hundreds of cells to work but they were aiming to get tens of thousands going and soon use it for human treatment.
Image Source: Fraunhofer