Stem Cell Research Goes Nano
Doctors who undergo training at the Advanced Regenerative Medicine Institute (ARMI) in Utah learn how to utilize platelet-rich plasma (PRP) and stem cell injections to treat a range of maladies and conditions including osteoarthritis and sports injuries. But there is a lot more to stem cells than meets the eye. Researchers are confident in the potential of stem cell therapies to completely revolutionize medical care.
Even now, stem cell research has delved into the arena of nanoscience. Nanoscience is science conducted on the nanoscale – that is to say sizes that are measured in nanometers. For example, the diameter of a human hair is roughly 80,000 to 100,000 nm.
You might be wondering if size really matters when it comes to stem cell research. Yes and no. It matters when you are talking about nanoparticles developed by researchers at Texas A&M University, nanoparticles capable of directing stem cells to differentiate into various forms of tissue.
Stem Cell Differentiation and Tumors
Researchers have already demonstrated they can take mesenchymal stem cells and encourage them to differentiate by using specialized protein molecules. These protein molecules are called growth factors in medical science. But despite this capability, there is an inherent weakness to manipulating stem cells in this way.
Stem cells exposed to the growth factors begin to differentiate and self-renew. But after just a couple of cycles, the risk of some of those stem cells becoming tumors greatly increases. This is one of the reasons more commercial stem cell treatments have not made it to market. The risk of cancer is just too high.
This problem has baffled researchers for decades. Back in the 1980s it was believed that science could overcome the problem by using embryonic stem cells. That line of research eventually proved to be equally futile. Enter the research being conducted at Texas A&M.
Encouraging Differentiation with Nanoparticles
The Texas A&M researchers wondered if there was a way they could encourage stem cell differentiation without using growth factors. They decided to work on cultivating a two-dimensional nanoparticle to do the job. They eventually got what they were after: a nanoparticle about 10 million times smaller than a flaxseed.
The nanoparticles themselves are not effective unless they are programmed with certain information. So researchers took the biomedical equivalent of a high def RNA sequence photo and used it to supply the nanoparticles with the needed information.
The nanoparticles then went to work, directing stem cells to differentiate into specific kinds of tissue. Researchers were able to grow bone and cartilage tissue. Future research will look at the possibility of transplanting the tissue into human recipients with minimal risk of rejection or other competitions.
Better Treatment for Osteoarthritis
Understanding the potential of the nanoparticle research is no more difficult than comparing what Texas A&M researchers have done with what doctors trained by ARMI do for osteoarthritis patients. ARMI-trained doctors utilize stem cells and PRP treatments to encourage the patient’s body to self-heal. It works well for many patients, but not all.
The Texas A&M procedure actually grows new tissue that could replace lost or damaged tissue. Their procedure enhances the potential of what the ARMI-trained doctors have learned to do and greatly increases the potential for full and complete recovery.
Let’s assume for one moment the Texas A&M procedure eventually becomes mainstream medicine. It is quite possible that osteoarthritis could become a thing of the past. People could be given stem cell injections at the first sign of disease, thereby replacing any tissue that is already damaged or lost and preventing further damage.
That’s amazing by any measure.