Regenerative medicine is a field of research concerned with the process of replacing diseased, dying, or dead cells with the intent of restoring structure and function. In its most basic form, regenerative medicine seeks to regrow cells that were lost or damaged due to injury or condition. Examples of regenerative medicine applications include restoring heart cells after a heart attack, repairing brain cells in Alzheimer’s disease or after stroke, or regenerating T-cells in HIV/AIDS. The potential applications of regenerative medicine are virtually limitless.
Adipose-derived stem cells hold great promise in the field of regenerative medicine. The stem cells are multipotent, which means they can become any number of cell types. For example, adipose-derived stem cells can become osteocytes (bone cells), neural cells (nerve cells), vascular endothelial cells (cells that make up blood vessels), cardiomyocytes (heart muscle cells), pancreatic β-cells (cells that produce insulin), and hepatocytes (liver cells).
Adipose- or fat-derived stem cells have one obvious advantage over bone marrow cells: they are much easier to obtain. Bone marrow stem cells require an uncomfortable/painful procedure to extract them from the center of the bone. Fat-derived stem cells, on the other hand, can be taken from fat pockets in any number of places just under the skin. This essentially combines a sort of liposuction with stem cell transplantation.
Adipose-derived stem cells are the subject of nearly 200 clinical trials worldwide. Even now, fat-derived stem cells are proving useful in several clinical conditions. Adipose-derived stem cells were shown to help people after they suffered from a heart attack, by reducing the size of the damaged heart and helping to restore heart function.
Another advantage of adipose-derived stem cells is that they present possess a tri-germ lineage differentiation potential, meaning they can differentiate into all three germ layers. In other words, they have the remarkable potential to become virtually any cell in the body. This means they can be applied to more than one disease state. In neurodegenerative diseases, such as post-stroke, adipose-derived stem cells could be used to create nerve cells (neurons) and the other main type of brain cell, called glia. Both cell types are destroyed during a stroke, and both are important for proper brain function.
As more results are published from dozens of clinical trials, we will get a clearer picture of the therapeutic potential of adipose-derived stem cells. Indeed, the future of regenerative medicine is very bright.
Melatonin has long been hailed for its health benefits, and the more researchers study the hormone, the more its broad range of abilities is revealed. Known as “the sleep hormone,” the power of melatonin goes far beyond simply regulating sleep patterns. Scientists believe it could also play a role in managing chronic conditions like heart disease and diabetes, and that it may even promote bone health and reduce obesity. Most recently, it has been discovered that melatonin could help safeguard genetic material and protect against age-related disease and health decline. Here, we take a closer look at how the hormone works to boost wellness.
A Disease-Fighting Hormone
Free radicals are chemically reactive molecules which are linked to a host of diseases, including Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and cancer. We encounter them on a daily basis, as they are found in everything from the air we breathe to medications and foods. Reducing the volume of free radicals in the body is therefore critical to preventing and managing diseases. One of the ways the body fights off free radicals is through antioxidants, the substances that counteract them.
According to research, melatonin is a potent agent in antioxidative defense. It can enter any bodily fluid or cell and actively scavenge free radicals, and it also has the ability to influence circulation. In addition to fighting free radicals, melatonin can reduce the generation of these dangerous molecules and simultaneously protect critical functions of the cells.
Melatonin was first discovered as a hormone of the pineal gland, but it is also produced elsewhere in the body. Specifically, the gastrointestinal (GI) tract is a rich source of the hormone, with its tissues holding 10-100 times as much of the hormone than the blood. The GI tract also has at least 400 times more melatonin than the pineal gland.
Certain types of food are also natural sources of melatonin, including ginger, rice, bananas, barley, sweet corn, and Morello cherries. Additionally, over-the-counter melatonin supplements are available, but it is recommended that anyone considering a supplement regimen consult their doctor. Certain individuals, including women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, may not be advised to take the supplement.
Scientists have now shown that combining human stem cells with a specific protein can help the stem cells turn into neurons, thereby reversing brain damage associated with stroke. The research team, led by Berislav Zlokovic at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California, published their findings in Nature Medicine in August.
The protein, 3K3A-APC is a variant of a protein normally found in the human body called activated protein C (APC). APC has both cell signaling activity and anticoagulant activity that minimizing bleeding. The 3K3A-APC variant maintains the cell signaling capacity but minimizes the anticoagulation associated with APC. This variant has been demonstrated to improve a number of health-related problems, including a number of pathologies related to the brain. Brain trauma and multiple sclerosis, for instance, have been improved through the use of 3K3A-APC.
One week after inducing stroke in a group of mice, Zlokovic and his colleagues administered put human neural stem cells in the area of the brain that had been damaged. Over the course of seven days, they then administered 3K3A-APC to one group of mice and a placebo solution to second group. The mice who received the protein in addition to the stem cells had 16 times more stem-cell derived neurons than those who received the stem cells alone.
Even more promising than the growth of neurons was that the neurons became functional, connecting with other parts of the nervous system, just as the neurons that were lost due to stroke would have, and restoring motor and sensorimotor performance in these mice. Performance on tasks such as walking on a rotating rod and removing tape from the forepaw was significantly better in the mice who received the protein than in those that did not. To ensure that the recovered functioning was a result of the stem cells, the scientists employed a toxin that rid the brain of neurons that were derived from the stem cells and saw that the improvements were then reversed.
The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has already approved the use of the APC protein in clinical stroke studies, and it is currently being used in a Phase II clinical trial at the National Institutes of Health. In the trial, the protein is being used in patients who have suffered from an ischemic stroke in the past few hours. Zlokovic and his colleagues are hoping to initiate a similar trial to test the effects of the stem cell 3K3A-APC combination in patients who have suffered from stroke. The work Zlokovic has already completed, as well as related work by others, signals that there is great potential for stem cell therapy to restore brain tissue as well as normal functioning in stroke patients.
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