Scientists at the University at Buffalo have engineered adult stem cells that can grow continuously in culture. Normal adult stem cells have a limited lifespan in the laboratory, which frustrates scientists who want to study them over the long term, but does not prevent their being grown and used for current adult stem cell transplants.
The scientists developed the new cell lines by genetically engineering mesenchymal stem cells, a type of adult stem cell from bone marrow that can form other cell types and repair various tissues. They named the new cells "MSC Universal". The new adult stem cells show no evidence of aging in culture, function as normal mesenchymal stem cells, and do not form tumors in animal testing (unlike embryonic stem cells).
According to the project leader, Dr. Techung Lee, an MSC-Universal cell line could be generated from any donor.
"Our stem cell research is application-driven. If you want to make stem cell therapies feasible, affordable and reproducible, we know you have to overcome a few hurdles. Part of the problem in our health care industry is that you have a treatment, but it often costs too much. In the case of stem cell treatments, isolating stem cells is very expensive. The cells we have engineered grow continuously in the laboratory, which brings down the price of treatments."
One of the mechanisms by which adult stem cells help regenerate or repair damaged tissues is by releasing growth factors that encourage existing cells in the human body to function and grow. Lee has previously published evidence showing that injecting adult stem cells into skeletal muscle can stimulate repair of the heart. More recently his lab has identified some of the factors involved in the stimulation of repair, published in the journal Heart and Circulatory Physiology.
The University of Buffalo has applied for a patent to protect Lee's discovery, so there is as yet no publication about the new cells.