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Stem Cell Research

Pioneers in life-saving research

Stem cells are often in the news. They might be mentioned in reports of groundbreaking research towards cures for major diseases. Sometimes they are a topic of controversy.

The remarkable quality of stem cells is that they can develop into any kind of cell in the human body. These “building block” cells can also renew, or replicate, themselves, over and over again, creating millions of new cells. Researchers see great promise in these traits. They hope that stem cells might one day replace diseased or damaged cells, curing illness and repairing the disease-damaged body.

The two most commonly discussed types of human stem cells are:

  • adult stem cells
  • embryonic stem cells

Adult stem cells

Every person has this type of stem cell. They are non-specialized cells found among cells in a tissue or organ. The main job of adult stem cells is to maintain and repair their home tissue. They are capable of this because they can renew themselves and evolve into the major specialized cell types of their tissue or organ.

It was thought that adult stem cells were limited in their potential because they would only develop into specialized cells associated with their particular tissue of origin. However, some evidence suggests that adult stem cells may have more capabilities of differentiation than previously thought, increasing the number of cell types a given adult stem cell can become.

The two key sources of adult stem cells are:

  • bone marrow donations
  • umbilical cord blood

Embryonic stem cells

As their name suggests, embryonic stem cells come from embryos. Embryonic stem cells can become all cell types of the body because they are completely unspecialized.

Researchers get these embryos when eggs fertilized in vitro—in an in vitro fertilization clinic—are donated for research purposes. They are not derived from eggs fertilized in a woman’s body. Human embryonic stem cells are typically derived from discarded 4-5 day old embryos after a couple decides they no longer have a need for them and give informed consent for them to be donated.

The debate

The controversy that is typically highlighted in reporting about stem cell research surrounds embryonic stem cells. The use of adult and cord blood stem cells in research, and in the treatment of patients, has been going on for decades, and is not a controversial topic.

Children’s Cancer Research Fund believes great promise exists within stem cell research. Support from our organization has only funded adult and cord blood stem cell research. Progress in this area has made a dramatic and positive impact on survival rates for both children and adults.

Children’s Cancer Research Fund supports pioneering research at the University of Minnesota Cancer Center to further medical understanding of Mesynchymal Stem Cells (MSC’s).

A cell with amazing potential

Stem cells are very rare cells with the potential to renew and mature into other cells that make up body tissues. Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) are found in marrow and hold remarkable potential for clinical use. MSCs are able to become tissues such as bone, cartilage, fat and, in some cases, neural tissue. MSCs also support the growth of blood cells and slow down immune reactions.

MSCs have potential for use in treating cancer and other conditions. MSCs are extremely versatile and they:

  • Serve as “nursing” cells to assist in the expansion of bone marrow and cord blood.
  • Decrease the time for recovery during bone marrow or cord blood transplantation.
  • Have a suppressive effect on the immune system.
  • May play a role in treating graft-vs-host disease (GVHD), a common complication of transplantation.
  • May have uses in treating bone disorders by making cartilage and bone.

Clinical therapies using MSCs are in the early stages of development. Treatments using MSCs are being honed for future clinical uses such as:

  • Tissue repair
  • Treatment of autoimmune diseases
  • Complications of bone marrow transplant

Children’s Cancer Research Fund: supporting breakthroughs

With funding from the Children’s Cancer Research Fund, the University of Minnesota was the first to:

  • Use mismatched and unmatched MSCs.
  • Transplant MSCs from an unmatched donor in an infant.
  • Use MSCs with the goal of repairing neurological injury in the setting of neurodegenerative diseases.

The University of Minnesota routinely cultures and expands MSC clinical use at its state-of-the-art Molecular and Cellular Therapeutics (MCT) facility. Few institutions have the capacity to perform basic research into the uses of MSCs as well as develop the clinical applications of these cells.

Support from Children’s Cancer Research Fund ensures that the University of Minnesota remains a leader in this field.

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