Lawson scientist participates in international stem cell research

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An international team of some of the world’s leading stem cell scientists is set to launch a research study using the body’s own stem cells in the brain and pancreas to regenerate areas of damaged tissue. The University of Birmingham in England, in collaboration with other partners including Dr. David Hill, Scientific Director of The Lawson Health Research Institute, is leading a three year study with the aim of helping stroke, Parkinson’s disease and diabetes patients.

Stem cell research offers enormous potential for treating a host of diseases for which there are no cures. Scientists have found adult stem cells in many more tissues than they once thought possible and realizing their potential provides the basis for $1 million dollars in funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Science Research Council and the Medical Research Council in England.

An adult stem cell is an undifferentiated cell found among differentiated cells in a tissue or organ. A stem cell can renew itself, and can differentiate to yield the major specialized cell types of the tissue or organ. Stem cells are thought to reside in a specific area of each tissue where they may remain quiescent (non-dividing) for many years until they are activated by disease or tissue injury. The primary roles of adult stem cells in a living organism are to maintain and repair the tissue in which they are found. Certain kinds of adult stem cells seem to have the ability to differentiate into a number of different cell types, given the right conditions. If this differentiation of adult stem cells can be controlled in the laboratory, these cells may become the basis of therapies for many serious common diseases.

Trial leader, Dr. Ann Logan, Professor of Molecular Neuroscience at the University of Birmingham says, “This is fundamental research exploring the versatility of adult stem cells, but it will help us assess the possibility of using the patients own stem cells to repair damaged tissues in diseases such as stroke, Parkinson’s disease and diabetes.”

The study will enable scientists to further examine pancreatic stem cells and those in the brain, which appear to share a lineage and have similar characteristics. “There is the possibility that stem cells from one tissue may give rise to cell types of a completely different tissue which is known as plasticity,” explains Dr. Hill. “Only a few stem cells can be harvested from any one organ. In the case of diabetes, using similar stem cells from two organs would allow us to have a bigger repertoire of adult stem cells in an attempt to reverse the disease.”

Dr. Stephen Minger, Professor of Biomolecular Sciences, Kings College, London, England believes “there is no such thing as the perfect stem cell population, but rather that each disease condition dictates the cell population that will have the most therapeutic relevance.”

It is hoped these stem cells from adult tissues can be “retrained” to repair tissue damage in other parts of the body. The use of the patient’s own adult stem cells would mean that the cells would not be rejected by the immune system.