Testing The Use of Human Embryonic Stem Cells in Tissue Regeneration

One of the institute's research goals is to explore the potential of using embryonic stem cells to better understand and treat disease. Unlike adult stem cells, embryonic , or pluripotent, stem cells are not restricted to any particular tissue or organ and are capable of producing all cell types. By studying how these cells develop into mature cells, such as those that make up our bone, blood and skin, researchers can learn how those cells function and what goes wrong when they are diseased.

With this understanding, researchers aim to develop new medical strategies capable of extending the capacity for growth and healing present in embryos into later stages of life. Such strategies would regenerate or replenish tissues or specialized cells damaged by Alzheimer's, cancer and other chronic, debilitating and often fatal diseases.

At Stanford, pluripotent stem cells have already been used experimentally to treat mice with diabetes. Researchers found a set of growth factors that induced pluripotent stem cells to develop into insulin-producing cells normally found in the pancreas. When they implanted these cells into diabetic mice that have lost the ability to produce insulin, the implanted cells produced insulin in a biologically normal way and treated the diabetes. This work is still in the early stages of being tested in animals, but could one day lead to new ways of treating diabetes in people.

Pluripotent stem cells, like adult brain stem cells, might also replace nerves damaged in spinal cord injuries or cells lost in neurodegenerative diseases. For any of these treatments to work, researchers have to first learn how to grow the stem cells in a lab so they take on the characteristics of the cells they are meant to replace. At this time it isn't clear whether pluripotent or adult stem cells will be best in this type of therapy.