The 1980s were a rough decade for stem cell researchers focusing their efforts on embryonic stem cells. The combination of a politically charged environment and less-than-optimal research results pretty much brought an end to widespread embryonic stem cell research by the early-to-mid 1990s. But now, there is new hope of bridging the gap between embryonic stem cells and their adult counterparts by way of technology that takes advantage of hospital waste.
That bridge is found in the human placenta, a temporary organ that is often discarded as medical waste. It turns out that the placenta is rich in stem cells that, at least in theory, can be used to generate all sorts of tissue and organs. Using placental stem cells solve the ethical questions faced in the 1980s while providing a source of stem cells that could be injected into virtually any person without fear of rejection.
Donors Create a Delicate Situation
Medical science has known about the function of stem cells for quite some time now. As such, researchers have dreamed of the day of being able to use stem cells donated as readily as blood to generate just about any form of tissue or organ a doctor might need to treat a patient. The problem is that donors create a delicate situation for recipients.
When a doctor purchases a PRP or stem cell kits from Utah-based Apex Biologix, he or she does so with the understanding that autologous material will be used for any treatments they offer. Autologous material is material taken directly from the person receiving the treatment. As such, there is no risk of rejection.
Unfortunately, autologous material is very limited in its use. To fully embrace the potential of stem cell therapy as a viable and widespread medical treatment, research has to get beyond autologous material. We have to get to a point in which stem cells from completely unrelated donors can be used without rejection or other complications. That’s where placental material comes in.
Placental Tissue in Cord Blood
Both the human placenta and umbilical cord blood are rich in hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs). As such, placental and cord blood banking has been around for more than a decade. More important to stem cell research though, is the fact that the human placenta is also rich in mesenchymal stem cells. These are the cells that have the ability to differentiate into virtually any kind of tissue.
The mesenchymal stem cells in the placenta are passed on to the baby in the womb before differentiating into multiple cell types including myocytes, osteoblasts, and even endothelial cells. This may not mean much unless you understand the importance of this kind of differentiation. Placental stem cells are stable enough to be used for regenerative medicine without the complications and rejection of donated adult stem cells.
Investing in the Regen Future
So, what is the actual potential of harvesting stem cells from discarded placentas for regenerative medicine purposes? It is bright enough that a company known as Celularity has already managed to raise hundreds of millions of dollars in funding to conduct multiple clinical trials based on placental stem cells.
According to the Futurism website, Celularity expects to have FDA approval for its procedures within the next year or so. Combine what they are doing with breakthrough research at the Mayo Clinic that has led to a new platform capable of multiplying stem cells by the millions, and it’s clear medical science could be on the verge of something as transformational as the polio vaccine and the development of antibiotics.