05 Dec Medical College team seeks stem cell patent
Wauwatosa, Wis. – A Medical College of Wisconsin research team has applied for a patent on its work to isolate, grow, and identify a new type of adult stem cell that, much like embryonic stem cells, appears to have the potential for diversification.
The readily-available adult stem cells are found in the bulge of hair follicles.
According to the Medical College, the team recently identified the “molecular signature” of epidermal neural crest stem cells in mice, and its research shows that the cells are different from other types of skin-resident stem cells. Its work might not only resolve conflicting scientific opinions, it could provide a valuable resource for future mouse neural crest stem cell research.
Research that led to the finding was outlined in a recent issue of Stem Cells: The International Journal of Cell Differentiation and Proliferation. The research was conducted in the laboratory of Dr. Maya Sieber-Blum, and the article was co-authored by Yao Fei Hu and Zhi-Jian Zhang, both researchers in cell biology, neurobiology, and anatomy at the Medical College.
Sieber-Blum, a professor of cell biology, neurobiology, and anatomy, said epidermal neural crest stem cells have characteristics that combine some advantages of embryonic and adult stem cells. They are similar to embryonic stem cells in that they have a high degree of plasticity, they can be isolated at high levels of purity, and they can be expanded in culture. In addition, they are similar to other types of adult stem cells because they are readily accessible through a minimally invasive procedure, and their discovery could lead to using a patient’s own hair as a source for therapy.
This potentially could avoid the social controversy generated by the practice of extracting stem cells from human embryos, killing embryos in the process.
“We see the potential for cell replacement therapy in which patients can be their own donors, which would avoid ethical issues and reduce the possibility of tissue incompatibility,” Sieber-Blum said in a release.
The Medical College team recently collaborated with Prof. Martin Schwab, director of the Brain Research Institute of the University of Zürich, to inject these cells in mice with spinal cord injuries. When grafted into the spine, the cells not only survived, they demonstrated desirable characteristics that could lead to local nerve replacement and re-myelination, or restoration of nerve pathways.
According to the Medical College, neural crest stem cells generate a variety of cell types and tissues, and they trigger the autonomic and enteric nervous systems along with endocrine cells, bone, and smooth muscle cells. The cells can be isolated from the hair follicle bulge as multipotent stem cells, and then be expanded in culture into millions of cells without losing stem cell markers.
Sieber-Blum said the team grafted the cells into mice that have spinal cord injuries, and the cells survived and integrated into the spinal cord, remaining at the site of transplantation and, significantly, not forming tumors.
According to Sieber-Blum, subsets of the epidermal neural crest stem cells express markers for the nerve-supporting cells that are essential for proper neuron function. They also may be useful to treat Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, Hirschsprung’s disease, stroke, peripheral neuropathies, and ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis).
Specific defects of the heart, and bone defects like degeneration and craniofacial birth defects, also could also be treated through neural crest stem cell replacement therapy, she added.
These conditions affect more than 11 million people in the United States, and annually cost an estimated $170 billion or more.
Not taken for granted
To determine, in collaboration with Brian Schmit, associate professor of biomedical engineering at Marquette University, whether the grafts lead to an improvement of spinal reflexes in the injured spinal cord of mice, Sieber-Blum’s work is supported by a grant from the Biomedical Technology Alliance. The alliance is a Milwaukee inter-institutional research group.
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