Medical Edge: Stem Cell Research

Posted at: 12/11/2012 11:11 AM
Updated at: 12/11/2012 5:31 PM
By: Ellery McCardle

(ABC 6 NEWS) -- This month, experts from all over met at the World Stem Cell Summit. There they explored ideas about regenerative medicine.

As we hear more about stem cells in the media, what are the actual benefits?

The heart muscle cells that Dr. Tim Nelson looks at, show recent advances in regenerative medicine.

"The simplest way to explain that is it's the opposite of degeneration," said Dr. Nelson, of Mayo Clinic Internal Medicine.

Tissues in your heart, joints and other areas can break down with time or disease. Regeneration is the renewal of those tissues which is something the body does naturally.

"One strategy is to try to find ways to improve the healing of your body and another is to supplement or augment the stem cells in your body so that we can improve the healing by transplanting stem cells into it," said Dr. Nelson.

Dr. Nelson and his colleague Dr. Andrew Terzic use stem cells in their research to grow new tissue.

"Stem cells are seeds that can grow into many tissues," said Dr. Nelson.

They can come from a variety of places: embryos, umbilical cord blood, adult blood or adult bone marrow.

"The type of stem cell will dictate how many different types of tissues can emerge out of it," said Dr. Nelson.

Scientists can engineer stem cells into the type of cells they want. Cells call fibroblasts are removed from a patient's skin. They're reprogrammed into what are called pluripotent stem cells. Those cells can then be taught to become any type of healthy cells, such as heart cells.

The idea is the newly engineered healthy cells, when introduced to, say, those of a failing heart, will help restore or regenerate the function of the unhealthy cell.

"One cell that's contracting is working with many cells and that give the whole tissue the contracting pattern like a normal heart. It becomes much more real when you have a personal connection to a disease or an illness where we don't currently have good options and this is where people are asking more and more the questions, what about stem cells?" Said Dr. Nelson.

The answer is, researchers at Mayo Clinic push forward to make regenerative medicine a reality for patients searching for successful treatment and perhaps cures.

For years, stem cells have been used to treat blood cancers such as Leukemia. The hope is that as technology develops they will offer hope to many more patients struggling with an incurable disease.

For more information, go to www.mayoclinic.org