Stem cell research: It’s a relatively new science that is constantly progressing and bringing about new, radical changes in the medical community. While this realm of medical research has been around for some time now, it’s still considered to be revolutionary science, which is seen by many people to have far-off implications. However, thanks to a new discovery, the application of stem cell research could benefit society very soon — and that includes seniors, too.
The new discovery, which involves a new source of stem cells that is both readily available and abundant, has already been shown to help with the growth and creation of fat, nerve, bone, blood vessel, muscle, and liver cells in a lab setting. These cells have a wide application of usage, such as the ability to replace damaged cells from causes as varied as diabetes, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, and spinal cord injuries — all of which affect seniors.
So where do these stem cells come from? You may be surprised to hear that the source is the amniotic fluid that surrounds a developing embryo in a woman’s womb. With over four million births occurring annually in the United States alone, and the extraction process being relatively easy, this could mean that banking these cells for later use is an easy and abundant prospect. In fact, in order to cover the whole of the country, 100,000 specimens could supply about 99% of the population with stem cells that are an exact genetic match.
In a report on the findings, which were published in the medical journal Nature Biotechnology, senior researcher Anthony Atala said that the cells have the potential to be a valuable resource for both repairing damaged tissue and for engineered organs. These cells can be harvested both during amniocentesis, which is the procedure where a doctor examines cells during a prenatal diagnosis, and from the placenta and other membranes, which are expelled from a female’s body after birth.
According to Atala, “It has been known for decades that both the placenta and amniotic fluid contain multiple progenitor cell types from the developing embryo, including fat, bone, and muscle. We asked the question, ‘Is there a possibility that within this cell population we can capture true stem cells?’ The answer is yes.”
In the study, Atala and his colleagues discovered that about one percent of the stem cells that are found in amniotic fluid could result in the extraction of several specialized cell types that are found throughout the human body. These newly found stem cells have been dubbed “amniotic fluid- dervied stem cells” or AFS cells. These AFS cells are unique because they can be applied in stem cell work that is directly tied to adult cells, where they have markers that are consistent with both fetal and adult cell types.
This is important, as Atala explains during seven years of research, “It took this long to verify that we had a true stem cell. These cells are capable of extensive self-renewal, a defining property of stem cells. They also can be used to produce a broad range of cells that may be valuable for therapy.”
This exciting discovery could be helping seniors sooner rather than later. These cells can be used in seniors who have experienced various conditions and diseases to help replace damaged cells. We’ll keep you posted on any new developments as they happen.