Imagine going to see a doctor for a condition you’ve been suffering with for months. The doctor draws some blood, sends it to a lab, and tells you to check back in a couple of weeks. In the meantime, stem cells from your blood are studied to figure out what’s going on. Your doctor formulates a treatment plan based on the results.
Modern medicine already follows a similar model to some degree. For example, you might be subjected to a blood draw so that doctors can figure out if you have a thyroid condition. What is learned from that draw tells your doctor what to do next. However, such procedures are pretty basic. What researchers are hoping for is to take this concept to the next level by actually growing tissue using donated stem cells.
Research in Singapore
A team of researchers from NTU Singapore have managed to grow kidney organoids (think miniature kidneys) from stem cells harvested from a patient known to have polycystic kidney disease. This particular disease is one of the most common causes of kidney failure.
Harvesting the stem cells was partially intended to study the progress of the man’s disease. But in order to make the study worthwhile, researchers had to get pluripotent stem cells they knew they could coax into differentiating into kidney tissue. Just succeeding in this regard was revolutionary.
Once they had the cells, they coaxed them in the lab in order to create the kidney organoids. They then studied the organoids to learn how the man’s kidney disease progressed. They were also able to test a variety of drugs to figure out what would be the best treatment for him.
Not only do the researchers hope that their work leads to better treatments for kidney disease, they also hope to gain a better understanding of the kidneys themselves. Thus far they have been hampered by an inability to gain access to human kidneys by any other means.
A Personalized Approach to Medicine
Getting back to the proposition with which this post opened, imagine the possibilities of truly personalized medicine made possible by studying your stem cells. According to Apex Biologix, a Salt Lake City company involved in the regenerative medicine industry, the potential is there in theory.
Apex explains that we already know the power of pluripotent stem cells to differentiate into just about any kind of tissue. It stands to reason that mastering pluripotent stem cells in terms of coaxing them to become a particular kind of tissue should make it possible to study tissue on a patient-by-patient basis.
Researchers may one day be able to extract pluripotent stem cells from your body, use them to grow new tissue, and then learn from that tissue how to best treat you for some sort of condition you have been suffering with. Their research might indicate that a drug that works for another patient will not be as effective for you, leading them to recommend another drug more suitable to your biology.
The Future is Coming
Futurists have been dreaming of personalized medicine for decades. What they perceived as the future is now nearer than ever before. The future is coming thanks to cutting-edge research into the power of stem cells to heal. It is almost too exciting to imagine.
Personalized medicine may one day be the norm. Successful treatments for kidney disease, heart disease, and even cancer might already be on the doorstep. Who would have thought just 30 years ago that scientists would be looking at harvesting stem cells to grow new tissue for diagnostic purposes?