Updated: Nov 13
A Brief Overview
For this dive into the history of stem cells, we will be covering some history behind the following types of stem cells: 1. Embryonic Stem Cells, 2. Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells, and 3. Mesenchymal Stem Cells.
Most scientific discovery begins with curiosity. It’s in our nature be inquisitive. The search for answers brings forth new insights that redirects the scientific community onto new ventures. Therefore, when scientists in the early 1800’s began searching for cells they believed gave rise to all the others observed in living things, which they coined, ‘Ancestor Cells’, they inadvertently set off on a quest to discover the stem cell. Without realizing it, these scientists had conjured up the idea of stem cells before technology was ready to meet them.
Over a century later, when the atomic bombs were deployed over Nagasaki and Hiroshima, humans shockingly observed the effects of irradiation on a large population for the first time. Much of what we understand from the long-term impacts of radiation poisoning comes from this moment in history. It was during the immediate aftermath of these two bombing events that Japanese doctors began grafting bone marrow from healthy donors onto patients. Miraculously, many began recovering! Despite not knowing exactly how this process was helping patients get better, they knew they were onto something.
Bone marrow transplants are an effective treatment against certain cancers and blood and auto-immune disorders, and it is impressive that the doctor’s in 1945 were able to discover this without the knowledge that we have today. Bone marrow transplants afford the body access to hematopoietic stem cells. These stem cells give rise to blood cells like platelets and white and red blood cells. They are very effective in treating the blood related diseases, but not other illnesses caused by nerve, tissue or cell damage.
Embryonic Stem Cell
By the early 1980’s, we see these stem cells utilized by scientists experimenting on laboratory mice. These cells had absolute potential since they were in essence a blank slate. Embryonic stem cells begin as undifferentiated cells, then develop to become you. Every specialized cell in your body arose from this state of being. When James Thompson and his team from the University of Wisconsin first isolated and cultured human embryonic stem cells in 1998, they paved the way for the future of human stem cell development and research.
The idea that a seemingly insurmountable obstacle could be the driving force behind success is a reality we see play out every day. It’s not simply surviving. It’s crediting the darkness for shining light on the higher road ahead and shifting gears to greet it at its peak. In 2001, research into the health benefits of stem cell therapy hit its defining moment. George W. Bush’s administration put a broad restriction on embryonic stem cell research due to ethical concerns. And although at the time this seemed to be a damaging and disruptive turn of events, it resulted in the pursuit of alternative methods and sources. Without this divergence, scientists would never have been challenged to seek out new sources for stem cells.
Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells
In 2006, Japanese doctors Takahashi and Yamanaka became the first to create Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells (IPS). These adult derived stem cells could do virtually everything an embryonic stem cell could without the need for human embryos, eliminating the public’s ethical concerns. They were given a Nobel Prize for their groundbreaking work that has become the foundation for today’s adult stem cell technology. We can source and culture an almost limitless count of stem cells from anybody to make possible therapies for almost any purpose. Without the seeming setback a few years earlier, we may not have had this breakthrough to build upon today.
Mesenchymal Stem Cells
Research and development in this field of science looks much different than it did even just a decade ago. At Hope Biosciences, we exclusively focus on culturing, banking and administering Mesenchymal Stem Cells (MSCs). These stem cells are also pluripotent, but they are adipose (fat tissue) derived and from adult sources and have potential to treat a long list of auto-immune and neurological diseases, as well as chronic pain, brain injury, diabetes and possibly even deadly viruses like COVID-19. Our ability to culture and make ready thousands of treatments from one master cell bank has allowed us to pursue the proof of efficacy of these cells. We are actively working on several FDA cleared clinical trials as well as a full-scale banking operation for adults and newborns to store for future therapies.
Today, there are over 1,000 ongoing stem cell clinical trials in The United States alone. These trials are incredibly important as they represent the only current treatment use allowed for stem cells. As the medical community continues to embrace and support stem cell therapy options more and more each day, these trials will hopefully serve as indicators of the true potential waiting to be widely accessible for use. This is what Hope looks like.
* Written by Nader Lotfi - Edited by Danish Felipe