Treating Baldness, Missing Teeth and Deafness with Stem Cells
Several clinical trials targeting heart disease have shown that adult stem cell therapy is safe and effective. Adult stem cell therapy for heart disease was commercially available on at least five continents at the last count (2007).
Haematopoiesis (blood cell formation)
In December 2004, a team of researchers led by Dr. Luc Douay at the University of Paris developed a method to produce large numbers of red blood cells. The Nature Biotechnology paper, entitled Ex vivo generation of fully mature human red blood cells, describes the process: precursor red blood cells, called hematopoietic stem cells, are grown together with stromal cells, creating an environment that mimics the conditions of bone marrow, the natural site of red blood cell growth.
Erythropoietin, a growth factor, is added, coaxing the stem cells to complete terminal differentiation into red blood cells. Further research into this technique should have potential benefits to gene therapy, blood transfusion, and topical medicine.
Hair follicles also contain stem cells, and some researchers predict research on these follicle stem cells may lead to successes in treating baldness through "hair multiplication", also known as "hair cloning", as early as 2007. This treatment is expected to work through taking stem cells from existing follicles, multiplying them in cultures, and implanting the new follicles into the scalp.
Later treatments may be able to simply signal follicle stem cells to give off chemical signals to nearby follicle cells which have shrunk during the aging process, which in turn respond to these signals by regenerating and once again making healthy hair. Hair Cloning Nears Reality as Baldness Cure (WebMD November 2004)
In 2004, scientists at King's College London discovered a way to cultivate a complete tooth in mice and were able to grow them stand-alone in the laboratory. Researchers are confident that this technology can be used to grow live teeth in human patients.
In theory, stem cells taken from the patient could be coaxed in the lab into turning into a tooth bud which, when implanted in the gums, will give rise to a new tooth, which would be expected to take two months to grow. It will fuse with the jawbone and release chemicals that encourage nerves and blood vessels to connect with it.
The process is similar to what happens when humans grow their original adult teeth. It's estimated that it may take until 2009 before the technology is widely available to the general public, but the genetic research scientist behind the technique,
Professor Paul Sharpe of King's College, estimates the method could be ready to test on patients by 2007. His startup company, Odontis, fully expects to offer tooth replacement therapy by the end of the decade.
In 2005, Cryopraxis a stem cell bank in Brazil, collected baby tooth stem cells and harvested different types of differentiated cell types including neurons. This technology may one day make baby teeth a good source of stem cells. In the next three years, Paul Sharpe hopes to identify more-accessible stem cells that may be able to form not only teeth, but also--and more importantly--roots.
There has been success in regrowing cochlea hair cells with the use of stem cells.
Blindness and vision impairment
Since 2003, researchers have successfully transplanted retinal stem cells into damaged eyes to restore vision. Using embryonic stem cells, scientists are able to grow a thin sheet of totipotent stem cells in the laboratory. When these sheets are transplanted over the damaged retina, the stem cells stimulate renewed repair, eventually restoring vision.
The latest such development was in June 2005, when researchers at the Queen Victoria Hospital of Sussex, England were able to restore the sight of forty patients using the same technique. The group, led by Dr. Sheraz Daya, was able to successfully use adult stem cells obtained from the patient, a relative, or even a cadaver. Further rounds of trials are ongoing.
In April 2005, doctors in the UK transplanted corneal stem cells from an organ donor to the cornea of Deborah Catlyn, a woman who was blinded in one eye when an acid was thrown in her eye at a nightclub. The cornea, which is the transparent window of the eye, is a particularly suitable site for transplants.
In fact, the first successful human transplant was carried out in 1905 on a cornea by Dr. Eduard Zirm. The recipient was Alois Gloger, a labourer who had been blinded in an accident. The cornea has the remarkable property that it does not contain any blood vessels, making it relatively easy to transplant.
The majority of corneal transplants carried out today are due to a degenerative disease called keratoconus which causes vision impairment and has no known cure even after corneal transplant. It is hoped that stem cell research will one day provide a cure to such debilitating corneal disorders.
The University Hospital of New Jersey claims a success rate growing the new cells from transplanted stem cells varies from 25 percent to 70 percent.