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Medicine Biotech Science

Increasing Stem Cell Production For Faster Healing 67

Posted by Soulskill
from the just-get-me-some-nanites-already dept.
Wandering Wombat tips a BBC story about researchers from Imperial College London who were able to stimulate stem cell production by a factor of 100 in the bone marrow of mice. Such stem cells are released by the marrow to help with the regeneration of damaged bone and tissue. "Techniques already exist to increase the numbers of blood cell producing stem cells from the bone marrow, but the study focuses on two other types — endothelial, which produce the cells which make up our blood vessels, and mesenchymal, which can become bone or cartilage cells." The scientists hope that the increased production rate could be used to greatly speed tissue repair and to allow recovery from wounds that would otherwise be too severe. "There are also hopes that the technique could help damp down autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, where the body's immune system attacks its own tissues. Mesenchymal stem cells are known to have the ability to damp down the immune system." The full research paper is available at Cell Stem Cell.
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Increasing Stem Cell Production For Faster Healing

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  • by mfh (56) on Saturday January 10, 2009 @01:44PM (#26399601) Homepage Journal

    I can recall this Star Trek episode where people on a planet never aged, but the horror of it was that because nobody died, the planet filled up with people so that no beauty could flourish.

    Medical discoveries like this one, by increasing the level of reproduction rates in stem cells by a factor of 100, remind me that eventually humanity will cure death. However, unlike that fateful society on that distant memory of a Star Trek episode, we have INFINITE stars and potential to flourish outside of our known universe, and therefore we should not fear immortality.

    • Uhhh....no. (Score:4, Insightful)

      by John Guilt (464909) on Saturday January 10, 2009 @01:50PM (#26399679)

      Just not having children is a much simpler solution---the absurd premise of "The Mark of Gideon" was that these people couldn't be sterilised, they healed so well. That's unlikely, with human beings---anyway, how is it that one has med tech good enough to create this sort of super-healing (which seems unlikely ab initio) but can't make it be contraceptive at the same time.

      Anyway, there is no evidence that enough of us can get into space fast enough to make a difference on Earth. See here [antipope.org] for an elaboration.

      Technically, there is no indication that there are an "infinite" number of stars, and even if you mean "planet" by "universe", no proof yet that we ca flourish off-world (I like my bone mass, especially around my spinal cord.)

      • "same time." --> "same time?"
        "ca " --> "can"
        "off-world " --> "off-world."

        Duh; too much caffeine, or not enough.

      • by Chris Burke (6130)

        Just not having children is a much simpler solution---the absurd premise of "The Mark of Gideon" was that these people couldn't be sterilised, they healed so well.

        Not just that, but they were also unwilling to use birth control like prophylactics... Space Catholics.

    • I recall a TNG episode where some admiral undergoes a procedure to reverse his aging. It works for awhile, but then he dies a horrible death. Then Piccard goes off on some diatribe about how we shouldn't be so damn vain and we should let nature take its course.

      There's another DS9 episode where this planet was like a giant prison and inhabitants' punishment was eternal life(never mind how that was accomplished as the plot was holier than CowboyNeal's chonies ^_^ ). Sounds like my idea of hell!
    • Re: (Score:1, Flamebait)

      by glitch23 (557124)

      Medical discoveries like this one, by increasing the level of reproduction rates in stem cells by a factor of 100, remind me that eventually humanity will cure death. However, unlike that fateful society on that distant memory of a Star Trek episode, we have INFINITE stars and potential to flourish outside of our known universe, and therefore we should not fear immortality.

      We won't cure death. We can't. We can't cure every disease that can kill us. New diseases will pop up (AIDS anyone?). Cancer prevalence is going higher it seems. You can't stop the normal aging process due to photons anyway. We are destined to die but remember it is only our earthly bodies which do so. I know I wouldn't want to stay on this planet, made wretched by evil people, any longer than I have to. Those who know they are going to a better place after Earth shouldn't fear death either. Why fear someth

      • After you die, you don't go anywhere. You stay here, your material will be recycled.
        The only parts of you what survives you are: your children, your books, the memories of you in other people.
        If you happen to die and your immortal soul survives, don't forget to phone back and tell us.

      • Man, someone trying to get flamed by implying we couldn't cure death. What a jerk. Good one, mods.

        • by mpeskett (1221084)

          The flamebait part was all the talk of "earthly bodies", going to "somewhere better" and escaping "evil people".

          He should know that Slashdot is exclusively for godless heathens, and hence that any post with religious overtones is liable to induce flames.

          Also questioning science's ability to do whatever it damn well pleases... that's pure flamebait.

          (btw I'm a godless heathen too, I think the guy's ridiculous and more than a little offensive, but unfortunately there is no "-1 Stupid" moderation)

    • by tloh (451585)
      I, too, would feel inclined to go all futuristic and philosophical over this news. However, I'm also excited for more practical reasons. As the BBC article stated, we are many years away from attempting this on humans as a medical therapy. But this still represents significant progress in the R&D efforts that will make it easier to harvest and work with stem cells in the laboratory. I worked part time as a lab aide for the biotechnology program [ccsf.edu] at CCSF in 2007 before I joined Genentech. In the corn
    • Imortality isn't likely, our chromosomes have telomeres on the chromosomes which shorten with each cell division,

      The telomerase shortening mechanism normally limits cells to a fixed number of divisions, and animal studies suggest that this is responsible for aging on the cellular level and sets a limit on lifespans. Telomeres protect a cell's chromosomes from fusing with each other or rearranging - abnormalities which can lead to cancer - and so cells are normally destroyed when their telomeres are consumed

      • by mpeskett (1221084)

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Telomerase

        Doing it in a controlled, non-cancer-like way might be more difficult.

  • Cancer? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by TerranFury (726743) on Saturday January 10, 2009 @01:53PM (#26399703)

    This is awesome. Biology is doing amazing things.

    I do have one worry, though: Stem cells, some research is starting to indicate, are a double-edged sword. On the one hand, they allow new tissue to grow, but on the other, that new growth may end up being cancerous. One wonders whether the fact that we don't naturally produce stem cells at this rate reflects the optimal balance that evolution has found.

    If we could control and cure (or prevent?) cancer reliably, however, this sort of technology would be great.

    • Re:Cancer? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by h4rr4r (612664) on Saturday January 10, 2009 @02:13PM (#26399869)

      There is no "optimal balance" with evolution. It does not work that way. Traits that lead to reproductive success are continued those that do not are not. This is it.

      You getting cancer at 80 has zero impact on the odds that your offspring will succeed or not, therefore they is no selective pressure for or against it.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        In fact, if the social mechanisms for inheritance of worldly wealth have been in place long enough (and IIRC the sumerians made wills), there might be advantages to your offspring for you to die, but not so young you haven't accumulated a bunch of stuff to give to them.

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by nospam007 (722110) *

          "... there might be advantages to your offspring for you to die, but not so young you haven't accumulated a bunch of stuff to give to them."

          There's always Soylent Green.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by TerranFury (726743)

        There is no "optimal balance" with evolution. It does not work that way. Traits that lead to reproductive success are continued those that do not are not. This is it.

        A good point, which I understand. I "get" what view you're trying to combat. There's a tendency first to anthropomorphize "evolution," and also to attribute motives to animals to evolve -- as though it is a change undergone by an individual, and as though it is that individual's conscious decision. Of course it's all just shorthand to make talking about these things easier, but it can be very misleading if you're not constantly "translating" -- which is something that the public at large probably doesn't

        • by Moraelin (679338) on Saturday January 10, 2009 @04:53PM (#26401321) Journal

          Menopause is actually a more complex thing, and actually had _zero_ impact on human evolution back when it mattered.

          The problem is that all mammal females are born with a finite number of "eggs". Usually more than enough for an average life span. Again, it's actually controlled by evolution, or rather natural selection. If you have too few it's a handicap, so nature tends to select those with more. But here's the important part: enough for your expected life span. If a cat lives for, say, 3 years outside, there's no evolutionary pressure to have enough ovules for 30 years. If an ape lives for an average 20 years, there is no evolutionary pressure to pre-produce enough ovules for 300 years.

          So basically all you really see there is that the life span of our ancestors was _much_ shorter, back when we evolved into humans.

          As late as the Old Kingdom period in Egypt -- and that's already talking about 5000 years ago, out of 200,000 that Homo Sapiens existed for, or the _millions_ leading to Homo Sapiens -- if you got past the high infant mortality, the median age for death was in the mid-20's for women. (And mid-30's for men.)

          And just to stress it, I'm not talking about "life expectancy at birth" (which would include the dead babies), but the actual second peak of the age-at-death curve. We have a ton of records (plaques, scrolls, etc) detailing when someone died, and if you plot X = age, Y = number of such records dead at that age, you get a scary spike in the first 3 years of age, then a second peak in the mid 20's for women, and mid-30's for men.

          So that was the number of years that you needed ovules for. The average women got married at 12 and died at, say, 24. That's 12 years of being fertile. That's all the ovules it needed. Having enough of them until the age of 60 is already a _massive_ margin for the case she lived longer. It's having 4 times more than the average will ever need.

          (Actually, even more. Ovulation is inhibited while you're pregnant or have someone sucking milk out of your breast, as a safety. So someone making an average of, say, a child every 2 years and nursing each for a year, would use up only a fraction of what a modern woman uses.)

          At any rate, an ultra-tiny minority lived long enough to reach menopause. There was _no_ evolutionary pressure to push it until later.

          What you see is a relatively modern age phenomenon. The life expectancy has risen so dramatically, that the women actually get to reach the end of that counter. What was once a 300% margin, now is actually less than enough.

          In computer terms: it's a buffer overflow error. Literally.

          But the same modern age all but stopped evolution. And nobody makes a child every 2 years any more. People stop at a much lower number, menopause or not. There is no natural selection to change that any more.

          • But other primates don't experience menopause. So if the fact that humans do undergo menopause has no impact on our evolutionary fitness, then you're saying it's just a random mutation that happened not to matter? Genetic drift?

            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              by Moraelin (679338)

              The other animals don't live long enough to reach it, simply put. They also don't get another ovulation every 4 weeks, so they don't run through eggs anywhere _near_ as fast as humans.

              As I was saying, 99.9% of all the Homo Sapiens women who ever lived, never experienced menopause either. Overflowing that buffer is a very recent thing. Too recent to matter either way at evolution scales.

          • by tabrnaker (741668)
            finite eggs was proven false, like set number of neurons in the brain.
          • So that was the number of years that you needed ovules for. The average women got married at 12 and died at, say, 24. That's 12 years of being fertile. That's all the ovules it needed.

            You might want to rethink that, a few searches seem to indicate that the onset of puberty was later than 12 as recently as a few hundred years ago, so you have a very short breeding life, particularly given that some if not all of the spike in mortality in the mid-20s is probably due to childbirth.

            Just looking at clothes from the civil war era, dresses don't seem to be cut for much if any bust until adult height (maybe age 16-17). I found this information [infoforhealth.org] to support that idea. A few hundred years isn't enou

    • by Chris Burke (6130)

      I do have one worry, though: Stem cells, some research is starting to indicate, are a double-edged sword. On the one hand, they allow new tissue to grow, but on the other, that new growth may end up being cancerous. One wonders whether the fact that we don't naturally produce stem cells at this rate reflects the optimal balance that evolution has found.

      It is an interesting question, since our natural healing ability is pretty complex and sophisticated so obviously being able to recover from injuries well is

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by philspear (1142299)

      do have one worry, though: Stem cells, some research is starting to indicate, are a double-edged sword. On the one hand, they allow new tissue to grow, but on the other, that new growth may end up being cancerous. One wonders whether the fact that we don't naturally produce stem cells at this rate reflects the optimal balance that evolution has found.

      That's great insight, assuming you didn't read it in an article. That's very close to the actual explanation the field has come up with. Adult stem cells generally divide comparatively slowly, the thinking is that each time a cell divides, there's an increased frequency of errors, and increased chances for it to turn cancerous in other words. Stem cells have the ability to renew themselves, that translates into they are missing a major check against cancer right off the bat. The thinking is that by havi

    • by sjames (1099)

      Of course that balance will include pressure towards using less energy as well since until recently, food was universally a scarcity. While it still is in parts of the world, in others it's clearly not an issue.

      I wouldn't be at all surprised if cancer is a significant risk with some of this, but in a situation where fatality is 100% without treatment, it's still worth the risk. Any cancers that happen will be at the low end of the mortality figures for it's type since it will be watched for vigilantly rathe

  • It's like Xi Sui Jing, without the decades of practice required.
  • I'm not a biologist, but wouldn't this shorten your life span?

    I remember reading about Telomeres [wikipedia.org] and how they shorten as you age (and this is why you age).

    Would this accelerated growth/generation cause these to shorten at a more rapid pace?

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by T Murphy (1054674)
      There is a chemical, telomerase, which has been linked to embryonic stem cell's ability to reproduce limitlessly. If we find out how to activate it in other types of stem cells, telomeres may no longer be a problem.
      • by Sublmnl (868393)
        Wouldn't Human Growth Hormones speed the production of stem cells? And yes I'm no biologist but I play one on /.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mauthbaux (652274)

      I'm not a biologist, but wouldn't this shorten your life span?

      I remember reading about Telomeres [wikipedia.org] and how they shorten as you age (and this is why you age).

      Would this accelerated growth/generation cause these to shorten at a more rapid pace?

      Short answer: probably not. Telomere shortening does occur, and it does limit the number of divisions that certain cells can undergo. However, as I understand it, it's not the primary cause of aging symptoms. In fact, the lengthening of telomeres is associated with many kinds of cancer - not eternal youth. One gene that may be at least partially responsible for aging is Klotho. [wikipedia.org] Experiments have been done in mice doing both knockdown expression and upregulation of the gene. Also, this is the gene that was

    • by sjames (1099)

      As I recall, the shortening telomeres happen in the differentiated cells rather than the stem cells. So more stem cells released will result in a higher population of youthful cells.

  • This is the perfect scenario for a remake of 'The Blob'

  • Now, you too can have larger and more firm breasts in only days! Simply dial 1-888-BIG-BOOBZ in the next ten minutes to learn how you can have the latest in all natural breast enhancement, regardless of sex or age!
  • Yeah, soon, soon we'll be able to become splicers!

  • . . . city halls across the U.S. are flooded with request from men wanting to change their name to Wolverine.
  • I haven't even RTFA (this *is* /., right?), but my father is selling an herbal product called "Stem Enhance" [stemcells777.com] that's supposed to do exactly what's described in the summary.

    I haven't tried it myself yet, personally, but he's sold it to quite a few people who he says have seen incredible results. Personally, I wouldn't vouch for something like this without having seen the results myself, but thought I'd share in case anyone here found it interesting.

  • I wonder if this offers faster or better recovery from burns? Currently severe burns require grafts because dermal tissue regenerates poorly or not at all. Even if this could only help speed growth of auto-graft tissue production it would be a benefit.

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