Wednesday, August 6, 2014


By: Andrew J. Rochman

2014 has been an incredible year for stem cell research with researchers reporting amazing results that have the potential of altering conventional modes of treatment completely. From heart cells being grown on chip to patient specific therapies for type 1 diabetes to changing adult stem cells into pluripotent stem cells by changing their environment, it has been a fruitful year for stem cell research worldwide.

Development Of Heart-Disease On A Chip

In a collaborative effort by scientists from the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, Boston Children's Hospital, the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and Harvard Medical School, stem cell and organ-on-a chip technologies have been merged to develop  functioning human heart tissue that carry inherited cardiovascular disease (Barth syndrome).
Barth syndrome is a disease caused by a mutation of the TAZ gene linked to the X chromosome and occurs primarily in boys. It is yet untreatable. Researchers used tissue  samples taken from two patients with this disease and reverted the heart cells from the tissue to stem cells that carried TAZ mutations. However, instead of growing on a plain chip, these cells were grown on a chip having extracellular matrix proteins which provided a base for the cells to grow in, mimicking the natural environment of the cell. The cells joined together to form a diseased muscle group that provided weak contractions just like in patients with Barth’s syndrome.  They then delivered the product of unmutated TAZ protein which corrected the contractile defect.  They plan to test different drugs using this technology to find a cure for Barth's syndrome.

Development Of Stem Cell Line For Type 1 Diabetes Patients

In research done by teams of scientists from the New York Stem Cell Foundation Research Institute and Columbia University Medical Center, pluripotent lines of stem cells have been developed that can be used to develop beta cells responsible for making insulin in type 1 diabetes patients. 
This research, which was started in 2006, aimed to develop stem cell lines that can differentiate into beta cells that can be incorporated inside type 1 diabetes patients whose bodies are unable to make insulin on their own. 
The process used to achieve this goal is called somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT). It involves the transfer of skin cell nuclei to unfertilized egg cell (oocytes).  Initially, when this process was done, it developed stem cell lines having tree chromosomes which could not be used for treatment. However, this problem has been overcome as in the next stage of the project scientists will be looking for ways to stop the triggering of the immune response that would prevent newly implanted beta cells from being attacked.

Development Of New Techniques For Reverting Adult Stem Cells To Pluripotent Ones

Researchers from Japan, Harvard and RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology have developed a method for reverting adult stem cells to pluripotent stem cells that have the ability form different cells in the body. This process was initially done by making changes in the nucleus of the cells. However, this study employs different environmental stressors such as low pH, acidic solution for five minutes and applied physical pressure to revert the cells. This process can be considered a major breakthrough as it can be used for therapy due to no involvement of genetic manipulation. However, researchers advise that further research must be done to understand the mechanism of reversion further.   


 McNamee, D. and David, V. (2014). Stem cell breakthrough: patient-specific therapies for type 1 diabetes. [online] Medical News Today. Available at: [Accessed 15 May. 2014].
 Pamintuan-Lamorena, M. (2014). New advances in stem cell research could become a game changer - The Japan Daily Press. [online] Available at: [Accessed 15 May. 2014].
Medical News Today, (2014). New possibilities for personalized medicine: patient stem cells used to make 'heart disease-on-a-chip'. [online] Available at: [Accessed 15 May. 2014].

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