Now, this is only in the lab phases, it’s very new, but it represents a very interesting direction into where the field is heading.
So, what are we doing with stem cells?
Here’s another audience participation. How many of you are affected by, or know someone who has been affected by, any of these diseases? Put up your hands. Stroke, burns, diabetes, injuries to joints.
Now look around. Every single one of us is affected by diseases that stem cells could potentially one day help treat. Just because we are putting stem cells into the first person in the first trial doesn’t mean these are a treatment, doesn’t mean it’s a regular accepted treatment.
As you can see here, it can take up to ten years or over to get through the clinical trials pipeline. Science is incremental, but the good news is we have a lot of treatments that have been in the pipeline for many years, that are just now starting to come out.
Furthermore, now more than ever before, scientists, clinicians, members of the public, policymakers, are all working together to streamline this process. That means we can get the best stem cell treatments out to the people who need them the most in the shortest amount of time.
So here you see these diseases are color-coded based on where they are on the pipeline. You can see that we have two current treatments using stem cells here in green. The first for bone and blood cancer you might know of as a bone marrow transplant, been used for decades.
The next stem cell product to come out of the pipeline is for burns and wound healing. This uses skin tissue and helps with vision burns as well. Today we’re going to focus on two major areas that we’re using stem cells in.
The first is stroke. This is my work in childhood brain injury. Did you know that cerebral palsy is more common than juvenile AIDS, childhood leukaemia, muscular dystrophy, and juvenile diabetes combined?
Cerebral palsy, which means problems sending signals from the brain to the muscles creating movement is the most common neurodevelopmental disability. What my work does, is we inject stem cells into the brain which are able to incorporate and turn into the types of cells that are lost in the most common forms of brain injury. They can enhance function and restore brain tissue.
And what my work in particular has been able to show is that we are able to functionally double the signal speed in the brains of animals. What could this mean for a child with cerebral palsy? This could mean the potential for normal movement, the ability to go out and run and jump, to play with their friends. Very exciting stuff.
Right now, these cells are being used in clinical trials only. There are trials in adults looking at stroke, and there are adult trials looking in spinal cord injury.
The same cells are lost in these models. Importantly, the first clinical trial using these types of cells has now started in children.
Next, I want to focus on a very interesting area that’s combining 3D bioprinting with stem cell regenerative medicine. This is in red, because it is only in the early stages, but I think it represents a very exciting avenue through which the field is heading.
With improvements in imaging software and technology, we are now able to make accurate 3D images and take scans of body structures inside the body.
Using AutoCAD and 3D software, we are able to make CAD designs which can be printed using 3D bioprinters. These bioprinters are kind of like the printers you have at home, only, instead of using ink, they use special biogels to create the structures that you have in the body.
After that, you can seed them with stem cells. Here you see a heart valve being printed which can then later be seeded, possibly with your own stem cells. There’s an image on the inset of the heart valve.
There’s also an image of an ear being seeded with stem cells which can be your own. Underneath, you see a 3D printed image of a trachea. On the bottom right, you see an interview that I recently did with CTV national news on the youngest ever transplant recipient of a trachea seeded with her own stem cells.
It’s important to note that while this is very exciting, it is still in its infancy. We cannot make complicated structures with multiple cell types, and right now, it is just very basic.
But think about where this can head. Think about whether we could use it in the future to print structures in the body and use our own cells for transplant. So this is a very exciting field, but as with every potentially game-changing technology, there are challenges.
This used to center around the use of embryonic drive stem cells, but, recently, with the advent of the induced pluripotent stem cells and direct lineage reprogramming, which can use your own adult consenting tissues, this conversation has become less and less relevant.
What we see, especially with the the increase of treatments coming out of the pipeline, is misrepresentation of stem cell strategies.
Here, some doctors are offering unproven treatments using stem cells for profit. Unproven – that means a) not proven to work, and b) not proven to be safe.
Recently, “Scientific American” had an article about a woman who went to a very fancy clinic in Beverly Hills and got the latest stem cell facelift that they were offering. The doctors took advantage of a loophole in the law, sucked out her fat, and put the stem cells in her face to make her rejuvenated, or healthier or something.