Earlier in January, we examined about the myriad of stem cells in existence, from controversial embryonic stem cells, to therapeutic adipose derived stem cells, and the unfamiliar cord blood stem cells.
One type of stem cell we didn't divulge into are the 'other' stem cells or, mesenchymal stem cells (MSC).
These multipotent stem cells - meaning they share the same ability as embryonic stem cells & adult stem cells to differentiate into other cell types - are most commonly found in bone marrow. So it's no surprise they primarily belong to our skeletal tissues, like cartilage, bone, and fat.
Unlike members of the stem cell community, scientists are still learning & understanding how MSCs can best be utilized, particularly in treatment for bone or cartilage disease. It's the only stem cell type that has no scientific basis for its potential applications; nothing has been established, and no research has been 'widely accepted'.
And that begs the question - why should we care about these 'other' stem cells?
As we mentioned, mesenchymal stem cells are multipotent, are found in bone marrow, and are vital in the production & repair of skeletal tissues. They're nicknamed the 'other' stem cells, both because their applications in furthering medicine, science, and biology are unclear, and because haematopoietic stem cells (blood stem cells) are also found in bone marrow.
And while MSCs are present in our bones, they're barely there at the same time - they make up just 0.001-0.01% of the cells in our bone marrow. This impossibly low percentage makes it difficult for researchers to isolate MSCs so they can be studied in-depth, adding to their mystery & intrigue.
The latest studies do suggest that MSCs are influential in constructing a niche environment for blood stem cells in bone marrow, but again, most research is unproven or unestablished.
Unsurprisingly, MSCs treatments are being tested within their domestic residence - bone & cartilage. Scientists are primarily assessing how they can repair & rebuild the skeletal tissues, which can help with injuries to the knee meniscus, or even long-term damage that leads to osteoarthritis.
In a broader scope, there have been studies outside the realm of bones: other studies suggest MSCs may help new blood vessels form in damaged, non-skeletal tissues. Researchers say this could have game-breaking results in terms of fixing tissue damaged by heart attacks or disease.
Finally, mesenchymal stem cells are also being tested as a conduit to reduce inflammation, which could have applications in slowing the progression of autoimmune diseases, too.
Like the initial stages of embryonic stem cell testing or adult stem cell research, the early trials involving MSCs have been complicated, intricate, slow, and trying. Findings conflict from one study to the next, similar to many early stem cell trials.
Because of the dearth of information & research done on these scarce stem cells, the uncertainty of how MSCs can be successfully utilized is still a concern. For the most part, transplanted MSCs have been rapidly removed from the body upon injection, which seemingly caps their potential as a compatible treatment. So the top obstacle scientists are trying to overcome is devising a way for the MSCs to hold still long enough to encourage the facilitation of new cartilage or bone.
With MSC research still in its infancy, current studies are thin at best.
What we know is, if they do find a purpose, they'll be employed to generate skeletal tissue, or direct the function of hematopoietic or vascular cells.
But, the amount of work to do is vast: scientists still don't know how the cells can be controlled, how they'll behave upon transplantation into the human body, how they can be delivered to the right place, and the list goes on.
Hopefully, researchers manage to isolate the limited traces of MSCs for further study. If their hypothesis' are true, and they can play a positive role in autoimmune disease, it'll bring new hope to people suffering from Crohn's disease, multiple sclerosis, systemic lupus erythematosus, systemic sclerosis, as well as other osteo-diseases.
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|Tags: Stem Cell Research|