AND VICE VERSA. As many of our readers know, DrGeorge and I work in the field of regenerative medicine focusing on stem cell biology. Our work in dermatology arose from our work in diabetes. Our platform of choice these days is the mesenchymal stem cell, specifically those whose niche is the bone marrow compartment. Niche means they arise there, and live there, but these cells are not home bound (like e.g stem cells in the fat compartment). They travel to sites of injury, and do some really interesting things.
Now other scientists work with these cells in respect to their role in regenerating damaged organs other than skin (they aren’t obsessed with wrinkles like we are, I guess). I wanted to share with you this recent report on the growing evidence base that shows some remarkable effects of these mesenchymal stem cells (MSC’s) in repairing damage due to heart attacks. I’m cutting and pasting from a Science Daily article, the reference link for the whole thing is at the end of this excerpt. Their piece, in turn, is based on a Cochrane Collaboration study – they do meta-analyses of multiple studies on a particular therapeutic topic.
Stem Cell Treatments Improve Heart Function After Heart Attack
Science Daily (Feb. 14, 2012) Stem cell therapy moderately improves heart function after a heart attack, according to a systematic review published in The Cochrane Library. But the researchers behind the review say larger clinical trials are needed to establish whether this benefit translates to a longer life.
In a heart attack, the blood supply to parts of the heart is cut off by a blocked artery, causing damage to the heart tissue. The cells in the affected area start to die. This is called necrosis and in the days and weeks that follow, the necrotic area may grow, eventually leaving a large part of the heart unable to contract and increasing the risk of further heart problems. Stem cell therapy uses cells from the patient’s own bone marrow to try to repair and reduce this damage. Currently, the treatment is only available in facilities with links to scientific research.
The authors of the review drew together all the available evidence to ask whether adult bone marrow stem cells can effectively prevent and repair the damage caused by a heart attack. In 2008, a Cochrane review of 13 stem cell therapy clinical trials addressed the same question, but the new review adds 20 more recent trials, drawing its conclusions from all 33. By incorporating longer follow up, the later trials provide a better indication of the effects of the therapy several years after treatment.
The total number of patients involved in trials was 1,765. All had already undergone angioplasty, a conventional treatment that uses a balloon to open the blocked artery and reintroduce the blood supply. The review’s findings suggest that stem cell therapy using bone marrow-derived stem cells (BMSCs) can produce a moderate long-term improvement in heart function, which is sustained for up to five years.
Wiley-Blackwell. “Stem cell treatments improve heart function after heart attack.” ScienceDaily, 14 Feb. 2012. Web. 10 Mar. 2012.
There are a number of studies looking at the mechanism by which the heart improves after a heart attack when stem cells are gathered to the damaged tissue. While originally it was thought that the stem cells attached to the heart muscle and differentiated into new heart cells, it turns out that only a small portion of the benefit is due to that. The more important effect is the secretion of cytokines (paracrines, locally acting) that command and control heart tissue to stabilize function, coordinate healing, mop up damage, and regenerate new cells from stem cells that reside within the heart muscle itself.
So, what does this mean for skin? Well, it turns out that these same MSC’s respond to damage anywhere in the body. Not just the heart. Damaged tissues anywhere seem to send out distress signals with an address. A 911 call might be the chemical equivalent of “All units, solar fire at 222 Skin Street. DNA in danger of mutation. Proceed with caution”. MSC’s migrate from bone marrow to Skin Street with lights and sirens. Special bystander molecules at Skin Street essentially reach out and grab stem cells from the blood stream. They “adhere” to local tissues, set up command and control, and direct all the local “first responders” in coordinated would healing efforts. Very professional, these guys. True heroes.
Our work focuses on growing MSC’s under strict laboratory conditions, and learning the language ofcytokines. It’s fussy work, there are lots of them. They amplify one another, complex interactions. So we work with patterns, and use computers, applying principles of informatics, to glean insight into their natural healing ability.
We don’t work in isolation. At the stem cell institute at the university, we work side-by-side with scientists discovering new treatments for stroke, cancer, heart disease, lung disease; all the deadly ills known to man. We learn from them (thank you guys, you are awesome). We are humbled to be in their midst. We also hope to uncover secrets about “stem cell language” that they can use in their work.
You will be hearing a lot about MSC’s in the Years to come. Treatments for liver, brain, heart, kidneys, and pancreas. Our colleagues like to tease us. “Nobody ever died of old skin.” Our response is that skin is essential not just to life, but quality of life.
As one of our recent clinical trial subjects told us … “I don’t want to live to 100 if I have to look like a 100 year old”. So, first let’s cure wrinkles, then we can get to work on all those life threatening diseases (note tongue-in-cheek).