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Diabetes, Parkinson – A possible cure

Arnaud Jacobs

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Diabetes, Parkinson – A possible cure

Could this be the ultimate cure for diabetes? For years scientists have used stem cell research to come up with a cure. It appears a recent breakthrough may just be the key.

From a foreskin scientists have been able to cultivate versatile, safe stem cells for the very first time. The objective: transplants.

Here it is: the first ultra-versatile stem cell without increased risk of cancer, cultivated in the lab from a human foreskin. An embryo is no longer needed. No foreign genes have to be incorporated so the risk of cancer remains low.

For the past three years scientists have been searching for just such a type of problem-free stem cell. They want to use to cultivate spare parts for patients – i. e. heart muscle, brain tissue, skin and liver – or to make sick tissue to test medication.

In 1998 the American development biologist James Thomson was the first to cultivate the necessary stem cells from an embryo. However, these cells have always been an issue because the process required the use of human embryos.

In 2006 the Japanese Yamanaka came up with an alternative: he transformed an ordinary human cell into the same versatile stem cell as from the embryo by incorporating for additional genes. From an ethical point of view this was a solution, however, it may have a deregulating effect on the genetic material. This is the reason why they sometimes behave unexpectedly during experiments and they may even cause cancer in some patients.

Experts from the lab of – again – James Thomson have now been able to create a stem cell by only temporarily inserting four genes in a skin cell of a new born baby. The new DNA does not incorporate itself on a permanent basis; it only floats around like a loose ring (plasmid) through the cell. That way the cells remain genetically healthy.

Experts in the field of stem cell research have already commented by saying this is the huge break through everybody has been waiting for.

Further testing is needed to make sure the new cells can be cultivated into all 220 different tissue types. All stem cells look the same, but the new one might produce tissue cells with higher instability and this is something the scientists have to know for a fact.

The necessary checks will take a few years. During that time laboratory technicians can also attempt to standardise all cultivation methods in order curb the current proliferation in that area. Afterwards researches can move ahead at full throttle with implanting the cultivated tissue in test animals and patients.

Until that time the research in patients will take place using the old stem cells from embryos. Recently such a test was approved for patients with a transverse lesion in the US. In the case of elderly blindness there are plans in advanced stages of execution for a clinical application.

Curing diabetes, Parkinson and weakened heart muscles are also considered even though the latter is turning out to be more difficult than expected. This is due to the fact that when heart muscle cells are cultivated from stem cells and these are inserted into the heart they end up mixed up together causing them to contract in an uncoordinated manner. This does not help the patient in any way. One solution may be to cultivate the muscle cells in straight lines on a mould. This method is given serious consideration so there may well be a solution for this problem as well.


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