STEM CELL PHYSIOLOGY
There are many cell of blood and immune body are continuously produced throughout life from hemopoietic stem cells residing in the bone marrow.
The ability of these cells to perform this function is why bone-marrow transplants can be used to treat leukemia and other blood or immune disorders.
Researchers in the Stem Cell Physiology Research Unit, located at The Biomedical Research Centre at UBC, are studying the biology of bone marrow stem cells and the immune system.
They are focusing on understanding the molecular mechanisms that control how bone-marrow stem cells self-renew and how they differentiate into and function as specific types of blood cells.
Their long-term goal is to understand how defence, repair, and regeneration are regulated and how this knowledge can be exploited to benefit health and offer new treatments for disease.
The Biomedical Research Centre’s researchers recently made important discoveries about the ways bone marrow stem cells differentiate into various types of cells that can fuse with cells in other tissues – such as brain or muscle – to contribute genes.
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Mesenchymal stem cells: the ‘other’ bone marrow stem cells
20 Jun 2012
Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) can make several types of cells belonging to our skeletal tissues, such as cartilage, bone and fat. Scientists are investigating how MSCs might be used to treat bone and cartilage diseases. Some MSC research is also exploring therapies for other diseases, but the scientific basis for these applications has not yet been established or widely accepted.
Did you know?
Mesenchymal stem cells make up about 0.001-0.01% of all the cells in your bone marrow
What can mesenchymal stem cells do?
Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) are an example of tissue or ‘adult’ stem cells. They are ‘multipotent’, meaning they can produce more than one type of specialized cell of the body, but not all types. MSCs make the different specialized cells found in the skeletal tissues. For example, they can differentiate − or specialize − into cartilage cells (chondrocytes), bone cells (osteoblasts) and fat cells (adipocytes). These specialized cells each have their own characteristic shapes, structures and functions, and each belongs in a particular tissue.
Some early research suggested that MSCs might also differentiate into many different types of cells that do not belong to the skeletal tissues, such as nerve cells, heart muscle cells, liver cells and endothelial cells, which form the inner layer of blood vessels. These results have not been confirmed to date. In some cases, it appears that the MSCs fused together with existing specialized cells, leading to false conclusions about the ability of MSCs to produce certain cell types. In other cases, the results were an artificial effect caused by chemicals used to grow the cells in the lab.
Mesenchymal stem cell differentiation: MSCs can make fat, cartilage and bone cells. They have not been proven to make other types of cells of the body.
Where are mesenchymal stem cells found?
MSCs were originally found in the bone marrow. There have since been many claims that they also exist in a wide variety of other tissues, such as umbilical cord blood, adipose (fat) tissue and muscle. It has not yet been established whether the cells taken from these other tissues are really the same as, or similar to, the mesenchymal stem cells of the bone marrow.
The bone marrow contains many different types of cells. Among them are blood stem cells (also called hematopoietic stem cells; HSCs) and a variety of different types of cells belonging to a group called ‘mesenchymal’ cells. Only about 0.001-0.01% of the cells in the bone marrow are mesenchymal stem cells.
It is fairly easy to obtain a mixture of different mesenchymal cell types from adult bone marrow for research. But isolating the tiny fraction of cells that are mesenchymal stem cells is more complicated. Some of the cells in the mixture may be able to form bone or fat tissues, for example, but still do not have all the properties of mesenchymal stem cells. The challenge is to identify and pick out the cells that can both self-renew (produce more of themselves) and can differentiate into three cell types – bone, cartilage and fat. Scientists have not yet reached a consensus about the best way to do this.
Developing new treatments using mesenchymal stem cells
No treatments using MSCs are yet available. However, several possibilities for their use in the clinic are currently being explored.
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