Stem Cells Are Likely To Be Safe For Use In Regenerative Medicine

Credit: Tareq Salahuddin

Stem cells may have fantastic potential, but fears of safety and a lack of understanding have delayed their use in medicine. This may soon change, as new research confirms they're likely safer than we feared. 

A cautious tale

Both embryonic stem cells (ESCs) and induced pluripotent varieties (iPSCs) have shown incredible promise in experimental data, but we've made a lot of mistakes in the past, trialing new technology without fully understanding it. Many scientists are inherently cautious, and there were fears that these cells could integrate poorly or even cause tumours. The body has a limited capacity for regeneration however, so to achieve real biological rejuvenation we really have to get to grips with stem cells and confirm their safety. 

"Our study provides strong evidence to suggest that human stem cells will develop in a normal—and importantly, safe—way. This could be the news that the field of regenerative medicine has been waiting for"

In order to test how stem cells integrate, scientists transplanted them into an early stage embryo to observe its development. This obviously can't be done in a human embryo at this point, so for this research the cells were transplanted into a mouse embryo. Previous research has shown that human cells will incorporate and develop normally within a mouse embryo. 

Credit: Wellcome Images

Confirming iPSC viability

This new study confirms the validity of iPSCs as an alternative to embryonic varieties which are difficult to source both practically and ethically. The researchers found that human iPSCs would develop normally within a mouse embryo, but that they need to be implanted slightly later than embryonic varieties due to subtle differences. Once this was understood however, they integrated safely and effectively into the growing foetus - distributing themselves throughout the tissue.

"These results substantially strengthen the view that induced pluripotent stem cells from adult tissue are suitable for use in regenerative medicine—for example in attempts to repair damaged heart muscle after a heart attack"

This data is great news, and extremely encouraging for the industry. As stem cells move ever closer to the clinic and become more accepted, regenerative medicine's prospects are looking rosier than ever.

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