The Indiana University (IU) School of Medicine has just made a sizable investment in its Center for Regenerative Medicine and Engineering by recruiting one of the top researchers in the field. Scientist Chandan Sen and a team of 30 researchers will use the facilities and resources at IU to investigate a new way of using stem cells to treat disease.
Sen is one of the nation’s foremost authorities in regenerative medicine research. He and his team have been at the forefront of research designed to reprogram adult stem cells for a variety of treatments. Sen is confident that transferring his work to the new facility in Indiana will lead to a new and important technology being introduced to the market within a decade.
Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells
What Sen and his team are working on is a process known as nanotransfection. It is a process theoretically capable of generating induced pluripotent stem cells. If the team succeeds, they will greatly advance the cause of stem cell research in a way that transcends most of the currently available treatments.
Pluripotent stem cells are stem cells capable of differentiating into each of the body’s three germ layers. They are found in abundance in both embryos and umbilical cords. Unfortunately, they are also highly unpredictable in their natural state. It doesn’t take much for pluripotent stem cells to differentiate into cancer cells. As such, embryonic stem cell research has not made much progress in the last several decades.
So what is an induced pluripotent stem cell? It is an adult stem cell that starts out as multipotent, only to be coaxed into becoming pluripotent. For purposes of clarification, a multipotent stem cell can differentiate into different classes of cells within the same structure. It is confined to the specific germ layer it is associated with.
Generating induced pluripotent stem cells involves introducing some sort of stimulus to adult multipotent stem cells to cause them to transform their state. This is no easy task. But if it can be done successfully, you are left with adult stem cells that are simultaneously more stable and predictable.
Overcoming Current Limits
It is difficult to overestimate the importance of Sen’s research. Right now, stem cell therapy and its PRP cousin are both limited to some degree. A successful effort by Sen and his team could blow the door to marketable therapies wide open. That’s actually what the research is about.
As it currently stands, the two most commonly utilized stem cell treatments are bone marrow transplants for leukemia and stem cell injections for musculoskeletal injuries. Both procedures are limited inasmuch as they cannot be adapted for other uses, explains Utah-based Apex Biologix.
For example, a doctor who purchases a centrifuge and stem cell kits from Apex uses those supplies only on treatments for addressing things like osteoarthritis and sports injuries. He or she will not be able to apply the treatments to something like diabetes or heart disease.
The Future of Medicine
The goal of Sen’s research is to overcome the limits of multipotency. Being able to generate induced pluripotent stem cells by using a nanochip to inject genetic information into them would also mean being able to coax stem cells to differentiate into all kinds of tissue. It could mean revolutionary treatments for a whole host of conditions that we currently simply manage.
Is this the future of medicine? Perhaps. First however, scientists have to get a handle on the finer details of how stem cells work. That is what they will be doing at Indiana University in the coming years.