It’s a provocative idea, but the reality is that, at least in part, this is already a commercial reality.
Researchers have been examining tissue engineering and cell therapy for roughly 30 years. While some products in some specialties (such as wound care) have reached market, many others are still in research and development stages. In recent years, large pharmaceutical and medical device companies have provided funding for smaller biotech companies in the hopes that some of these products and therapies will achieve a highly profitable, commercial status. In addition, some companies have been acquired by larger medical device and pharmaceutical companies looking to bring these technologies under their corporate umbrellas. Many of the remaining smaller companies received millions of privately funded dollars per year in research and development. In many cases it takes at least ten years to bring a product to the point where human clinical trials may be conducted. Because of the large amounts of capital to achieve this, several companies have presented promising technologies only to close their doors and/or sell the technology to a larger company due to lack of funds.
The goal of stem cell research is to develop therapies to treat human disease through methods other than medication. Key aspects of this research are to examine basic mechanisms of the cell cycle (including the expression of genes during the formation of embryos) as well as specialization and differentiation into human tissue, how and when the differentiation takes place and how differentiated cells may be coaxed to differentiate into a specific type of cell. In the differentiation process, stem cells are signaled to become a specific, specialized type of cell when internal signals controlled by a cellâ€™s genes are interspersed across long strands of DNA and carry coded instructions for all the structures and functions of a cell. In addition, cell differentiation may be caused externally by use of chemicals secreted by other cells, physical contact with neighboring cells and certain molecules in the microenvironment.
The end goal of stem cell research is to develop therapies that will allow the repair or reversal of diseases that previously were largely untreatable or incurable.. These therapies include treatment of neurological conditions such as Alzheimerâ€™s and Parkinsonâ€™s, repair or replacement of damaged organs such as the heart or liver, the growth of implants from autologous cells, and even regeneration of lost digits or limbs.
In a developing human embryo, a specific layer of cells normally become precursor cells to cells found only in the central nervous system or the digestive system or the skin, depending on the cell layer and the elements of the embryo that direct cell differentiation. Once differentiated, many of these cells can only become one kind of cell. However, researchers have discovered that adult body cells exist that are either stem cells or can be coaxed to become stem cells that have the ability to become virtually any type of human cell, thus paving the way to engineer adult stem cell that can bring about repair or regeneration of tissues or the reversal of previously incurable diseases.
Another unique characteristic of stem cells is that they are capable of self-division and self-renewal over long periods of time. Unlike muscle, blood or nerve cells, stem cells can proliferate many times. When exposed to ideal conditions in the laboratory, a relatively small sample of stem cells can eventually yield millions of cells.
There are five primary types of stem cells: totipotent early embryonic cells (which can differentiate into any kind of human cell); pluripotent blastocyst embryonic stem cells, which are found in an embryo seven days after fertilization and can become almost any kind of cell in the body; fetal stem cells, which appear after the eighth week of development; multipotent umbilical cord stem cells, which can only differentiate into a limited number of cell types; and unspecialized adult stem cells, which exist in already developed tissue (commonly nerves, blood, skin, bone and muscle) of any person after birth.
From Report #S520, “Tissue Engineering, Cell Therapy and Transplantation Worldwide, 2009-2018.”