Boosting stem cells' reparing ability
With its strong research groups specialising in a variety of disease areas, Karolinska Institutet is one of the world’s leading universities in stem cell research and reparative medicine.
Much of this research is still being done at an experimental level as scientists search for the exact signals required for the body to grow the types of cells that must be replaced when disease strikes. One established and common stem cell treatment is for leukaemia, whereby sick blood cells are wiped out and replaced by fresh ones formed from stem cells in the transplanted bone marrow from a healthy donor.
We are rapidly approaching the clinical reality of having more patients and diseases treated with stem cell therapy. For example, trials are already under way on young patients with a serious congenital disorder of the liver. Whereas current treatments involve nothing short of a full liver transplantation, participating patients will instead receive stem cells that function as liver cells.
In other very promising research, stem cells are being used to replace the type of eye cell that suffers premature death in the blindness-causing condition macular degeneration. We are also researching how to replace the heart muscle cells that are destroyed by the lack of oxygen that occurs during a heart attack.
New cells are constantly being formed in our organs and body parts to replace those that have become old and worn out. The new cells are formed from a pool of less specialised cells called stem cells, which, upon receiving certain signals, adopt the properties of the type of cell to be replaced.
This ability gives medical research an incredible opportunity to develop new treatments for the many diseases caused by cell damage or early death. This field is called reparative or regenerative medicine.