The Wide Applicability of Stem Cells
What a stem cell novice can pick up in only a few lectures
I have a confession to make. I’m not what most people would consider to be a typical neuroscientist. My BS is in Chemistry and I’m actually in the Toxicology department at the University of Maryland, Baltimore. My research is based in neurotoxicology and I have taken neuroscience courses to better understand the brain but before graduate school I was completely uninitiated with anything neuro. Therefore, I have taken it upon myself to attend symposiums here at SfN 2017 on topics about which I know very little, to try and expand my neuroscience base. I started with stem cells.
Photo courtesy of med.stanford.edu
First, advantages of stem cells quickly became obvious.
- You can transplant human organoids into other animal models.
- Often these cells can last a really long time (in some instances over a year!)
- The implantations will send axonal projections throughout the host brain (successful graft/host connectivity)
- Incredibly malleable, you can grow almost any neuronal subtype you want
- Can grow cells from human subjects with diseases to study and understand how those diseases arise during differentiation/development
- Can provide a model for disease that do not have representative animal models (such as Leigh Syndrome, a pediatric neurological mitochondria disorder)
- Can use CRISPR/Cas9 to induce different disease states (if the genetic causes/underpinnings are known)
All of these points show an exciting future for stem cell research, but what surprised me the most was the ability to co-culture induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) derived motor neurons and skeletal muscle cells to create a functioning neuromuscular junction. Advances of this nature are building blocks for the future of all medical research. If we are truly working to limit animal-use (a topic for a completely different discussion), then these studies may give us a glimpse into that very-distant future.
Talking with others around the conference there have been some skeptics around stem cells, mostly because we are in the infancy of that research. I would argue, however, that with anything related to the field of medicine you absolutely have to start somewhere. Even if issues may arise moving forward, particularly with the specificity in differentiation, we cannot understand and improve on those issues without pushing forward.
More information on stem cells is still ahead of us at this conference! The prestigious “14th Annual Christopher Reeve Hot Topics in Stem Cell Biology Evening of Data Blitzes” is TOMORROW NIGHT from 6.30p to 9.20p in Room 146 of the Washington Convention Center! Eleven speakers from around the field will discuss their latest work regarding stem cell biology. You do not have to register as it is an open event, so do not panic if you felt you missed out on these earlier symposiums! You can see a bigger description, as well as the full list of satellite events for the year, here.