In 1989, three researchers created the first “‘knockout”’ mouse, a mouse that was bred without certain specific genes. University of Utah's Mario Capecchi, University of Cardiff's Martin Evans and Oliver Smithies of the University of North Carolina created the unique breed of mice in order to assist scientists in determining which genes are linked to specific diseases. By omitting a particular gene, a form of a disease present in humans develops in the mice. The innovative work of these researchers allowed scientists to gain a better understanding of the formation of diseases, the symptoms that follow and treatment practices. The research was so profound that the three men received the 2007 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.
Though a controversial subject, stem cell research has provided invaluable breakthroughs in medicine for the benefit of humanity. In recent years, several promising new medical procedures under development are due to recent advancements in stem cell research. Here are some of the most promising projects:
In 2016, Dr. Jo Mountford of the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service and the University of Glasgow began leading a team of researchers in a project with the intent to use stem cells to create red blood cells. If successful, this could mean an infinite supply of clean blood for use in transfusions. These developments mean that those who lose blood during surgery or due to injury would not have to worry about the availability of specific blood type inventory. New blood can simply be made.
The biotech company Samumed is exploring new treatments designed to reverse or stall the symptoms of aging. Samumed is working with $300 million in investment funding and has been using stem cells to engineer treatments for everything from cosmetic issues such as wrinkles to life-threatening issues like heart disease.
Though most projects are still in the initial phases, the Samumed company has released some details. The treatment for regrowing hair for those with androgenetic alopecia is in phase II trials now for regrowing hair. The treatment of osteoarthritis that allows the patient to regrow cartilage in their knees is now in phase III trials. Seven more drugs are in phase II testing with more coming to the table this year.
Stem cells have also contributed to breakthroughs in autism research. A treatment that involves the injection of stem cells from cord blood into the stomachs of children with autism has noticed the "calming" of the elevated immune response found in autistic children. This newborn cord blood has anti-inflammatory properties meaning that cells have the ability to control inflammation caused by neurologic injury. Cord blood cells also reportedly create a "bystander effect" — the cord blood cells use paracrine signaling to the subject's own body repair mechanism to get to work in the tissue that surrounds them. Along with this treatment, the practice of cord blood banking has developed a way for parents to store the cord blood of their newborn child and access it later for cord blood treatments for that child if it is needed in the future.
Though not everyone can agree on the ethics of using stem cells, the research results of such trials are hard to argue. The development of creation of new blood, as well as treatments for osteoarthritis and autism, will change the medical world forever.