Understanding the potential applications of stem cell research

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To mark Stem Cell Awareness Day on October 12, 2022, COST is highlighting a network of researchers working to foster greater understanding about stem cell research and potential applications for millions of people suffering from incurable diseases and injury. Stem cells have changed the way we know the human body, its development, and associated diseases.

The CorEuStem COST Action which stands for the European Network for Stem Cell Core Facilities aims at promoting the standardization and harmonization across a range of activities, key to the advancement of stem cell biology and clinical translation.The use of pluripotent stem cells in biomedical research has established these cells as key players in disease modeling, embryology, and novel regenerative therapeutic approaches that are now in clinical trials.

Why are stem cells so important?

Stem cells are the cells in our body which are essentially responsible for maintaining tissues throughout our lives. In recent times the use of stem cells for cell-based models and regenerative medicine has advanced rapidly.

A stem cell is a special type of cell that is not yet committed to being a particular cell of the body. If we can identify or artificially produce this type of cell, we can isolate it and manipulate it to become any type of cell in the body. Essentially, it is the raw material within all of us capable of building body parts (tissues, organs). There are different types of stem cells, each of them holds a particular potential to become (differentiate into) specific cell types. Stem cells with the highest capacity to generate different cell types are called pluripotent stem cells, which means that they are able to self-renew (PSC).

Pluripotent stem cells can become all of the cell types of the body (except the placenta). This unique characteristic can be utilized in a wide range of applications in biomedical research. Examples of applications of stem cells in research are systems to model organogenesis and disease. Recently pluripotent stem cells have entered clinical trials. The application of these cells to treat disease and damage to the human body, form the basis for future regenerative medicine using stem cells.

A major break-through

In 2006 Prof Shinya Yamanaka made a big breakthrough that caused a paradigm shift in the application of pluripotent stem cells.

Prof Yamanaka discovered that it was possible to obtain pluripotent stem cells without the need to use preimplantation embryos. He created pluripotent stem cells from fibroblasts, a terminally differentiated cell type. He achieved this, using four protein factors to reset the adult somatic cell, inducing the cell to become pluripotent. These induced pluripotent stem cells, iPSCs, share the same differentiation potential as the Inner Cell Mass (ICM) of preimplantation embryos, they have the capacity to generate all the cell types of the organism (except the placenta). The huge impact of this discovery was acknowledged immediately by the scientific community, and Prof Yamanaka shared the 2012 Nobel Prize in Medicine with Sir John B. Gurdon.

Human Pluripotent Stem Cell technologies have advanced rapidly over the past 20 years. Currently, in Europe, core facilities and laboratories with expertise in these technologies are concentrated in a few countries. It is predicted that in the next few years, most of the European countries will establish laboratories and core facilities focused on iPSC technologies.

Today's challenges

One of the major challenges for core facilities is to keep track of, evaluate, and implement cutting-edge technologies. Therefore, there is a need to link core facilities and laboratories to develop consensus methodologies to be adopted as best practice by the stem cell community. This will increase the overall reproducibility and comparability of outputs from laboratories in Europe.

With this in mind, this collaborative team of experts in stem cell, differentiation, organoids, and gene editing technologies was set up in October 2021 gathering experts from 38 European countries. CorEuStem aims to become a pan-European hub for stem cell technologies, especially pluripotent stem cells and their application. This will be achieved through the provision of consensus evidence-based information, harmonized procedures, and training.

The Action comprises six working groups that have been established to tackle the wide array of questions around stem cells and to deliver solutions to challenges.

They have joined forces to explore the knowledge in this key area of science to deliver robust scientific platforms within Europe. This network of scientists will ensure the dissemination and adoption of best practice and the exploitation and application of cutting-edge technologies.

The outcome will also have a direct impact on applied biomedicine such as personalized medicine and regenerative medicine, in pharmacological high content screening and in the reduction of animal experimentation. In order to enable future developments in personalized medicine, rigorous and validated quality control procedures are required.

Last June, experts in stem cell biology held the first CorEuStem annual meeting in Castelldefels, near Barcelona, hometown of the Action Chair.

This meeting provided an opportunity for the network members to meet face-to-face for the first time since the Action started. This was an opportunity to discuss and plan the future direction of CorEuStem network.An essential step for further strengthen our network and to identify potential collaborations and assets within the COST Action."

Dr Laura Batlle Morera, CorEuStem Action Chair


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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