As the shock-absorbing cartilage discs between our vertebrae degenerate due to aging, accidents or overuse, severe back pain can result. While some scientists have developed purely synthetic replacement discs, a recent test on goats indicates that bioengineered discs may be a better way to go.
Spinal injuries can be like downed power lines – even if everything on either side of the injury is perfectly functional, the break can effectively shut down the whole system. Now, researchers at the University of Minnesota have designed a device that could link everything back together again. A silicone guide, covered in 3D-printed neuronal stem cells, can be implanted into the injury site, where it grows new connections between remaining nerves to let patients regain some motor control.
For the first time ever, blood-producing stem cells have been generated in a lab. Two separate teams of researchers have come up with differing ground-breaking methods to generate these important blood-forming cells, paving the way for the development of treatments for a variety of blood diseases and also offering a clear path towards an unlimited supply of lab-made blood for transfusions.
Using stem cells to create insulin-producing beta cells that could be transplanted into diabetics is being investigated as a possible cure for type 1 diabetes and treatment for type 2, but new research suggests that a special diet could reprogram cells in the pancreas to do the same thing.
The deadly ‘mother cells’ that drive the growth of tumors have been pinpointed for the first time – a breakthrough which could help in the development of a ‘real cure’, scientists say.
In three separate studies on different cancers, researchers have shown the growth and life of a tumor to be dependent on one small group of cells.
They are believed to be resistant to radiotherapy and chemotherapy and so to be to blame for cancers coming back after treatment.
But, until now, no one had proved them to exist in tumors.
The breakthrough, reported simultaneously in the prestigious journals Nature and Science, raises the prospect of better treatments for cancer.
Some scientists liken the killing of cancer stem cells to pulling dandelions out by the roots, rather than merely removing their heads.
Ben Simons, of Cancer Research UK’s Cambridge Research Institute, said that knowing just which cells to target ‘might be a much better strategy to effect a real cure and prevent relapse’.
Professor Simons’s study tracked the development of skin cancer in mice. By tracking individual cells, it showed a small number of them drive the growth of the tumor.
A second study identified a group of cells that allow the most common type of brain tumor to regrow after chemotherapy.
University of Texas researcher Luis Parada showed that killing the stem cells, with the help of genetic wizardry, stopped the brain tumors from growing any further in mice.
The third study showed the importance of cancer stem cells in early-stage stomach cancer.
The experiments are important because they tracked the progress of individual cells in tumors as they appeared. This makes the results more reliable than those of previous experiments, which have used more artificial scenarios.
In time, the work could lead to new drugs that home in on and destroy the ‘mother cells’. Options could include combining these with standard therapies to mop up cancer cells left behind by traditional treatment.
However, the work is still in the early stages and any patient benefits are likely to be many years away.
Hurdles include finding a drug that kills cancer stem cells without harming essential healthy stem cells.
Dr Michaela Frye, a Cancer Research UK scientist based at the University of Cambridge, said: ‘Their results add even more weight to the theory that cancers are driven by a distinct group of cells called cancer stem cells.’
Attribution: Mail Online
The world’s first test-tube burger will be ready to eat within months.
It will look, feel and, it is hoped, taste, like a regular quarter-pounder, its creator Mark Post told the world’s premier science conference.
The ‘ethical meat’ will would be kinder to the environment than the real thing, reduce animal suffering and help feed the world’s burgeoning population.
But it will be far from cheap with the prototype burger costing £220,000 ($350,000) to produce.
Professor Post says that ‘everyone’ will want to eat the burgers, which, despite their vast initial cost could eventually be priced to match that of real meat.
However, it remains to be seen whether a public that likes to think of its chops, steaks and sausages as having their roots in nature will take to meat made in test-tubes.
The Maastricht University professor has spent the last six years trying to turn stem cells – ‘master cells’ with the power to turn into all other cell types – into meat.
A four-step technique is used to turn stem cells from animal flesh into a burger.
First, the stem cells are stripped from the cow’s muscle.
Next, they are incubated in a nutrient broth until they multiply many times over, creating a sticky tissue with the consistency of an undercooked egg.
This ‘wasted muscle’ is then bulked up through the laboratory equivalent of exercise – it is anchored to Velcro and stretched.
Finally, 3,000 strips of the lab-grown meat are minced, and, along with 200 pieces of lab-grown animal fat, formed into a burger.
Yesterday, Professor Post told the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual conference in Vancouver that he has so far made a strip of beef measuring 3cm (1-3/16″) by 1.5cm (9/16″) by 0.5cm (3/16″).
This beef is ‘pinkish to yellow’ in colour – but he is confident of having a full-sized and properly coloured burger by the autumn.
The professor, who is funded by an anonymous but highly-successful benefactor, said: ‘It’s not quite ready, it’s going to be presented in October.
‘We are going to provide a proof of concept, showing that out of stem cells you can produce a product that looks like and feels like and hopefully tastes like meat.
‘Seeing and tasting is believing.’ Sausages and other processed meat products could swiftly follow, although pork chops and sirloin steaks will be much more problematic.
Meats could also be made extra-healthy by boosting their content of ‘good’ fats.
Far fewer animals would have to be kept to satisfy the appetite for meat.
The stem cell’s extraordinary ability to grow and multiply means that a cells taken from a single cow could produce a million times more burgers than if the animal was slaughtered for meat.
Researchers say they realise that many will find the idea of eating lab-grown meat unnatural – but point out that the livestock eaten at the moment is often kept in cramped conditions and dosed with chemicals or antibiotics.
However, the fact that the source material comes from animals who will likely have slaughtered means that not all vegetarians will be happy with the product.
The fledgling technology was highlighted in discussion paper about current and future demands on livestock production published recently by the Royal Society, Britain’s most prestigious scientific body.
The paper’s author, Professor Philip Thornton, of the International Livestock Research Institute in Edinburgh, wrote: ‘This is one example of something that could happen in the future that could have a very big impact on agriculture and livestock production.
‘There are some advantages to the idea. For example, you could reduce the number of live animals substantially and that would reduce greenhouse gas production.
‘There might be human health benefits because the health and safety issues associated with meat could be much better controlled.
Cautioning about the economic impact on farmers, the professor said: ‘If you are talking about large-scale reductions in numbers of livestock, there are large-scale implications and we’d have to look very carefully to see if the benefits would outweigh some of the problems that might arise.’
It will be at least ten years before the artificial meat is produced on an industrial scale and has satisfied the safety testing necessary for it be placed on supermarket shelves.
Attribution: Daily Mail