Scripps Research Institute stem cell scientist Jeanne Loring Friday described during a Facebook video question and answer session the wide-ranging implications of her work, from Parkinson’s disease treatment to northern white rhino preservation.
Loring studies pluripotent stem cells, which are made by reprogramming adult cells to an embryonic state. Entering the stem cell field was an easy decision, she said.
“They can live forever, and they can make every cell type in the body. That’s about as cool as it gets, I think.”
Loring’s lab is working on a pilot study to see how stem cells can mitigate the effects of Parkinson’s, caused by the gradual death of neurons in the brain.
Research involves using culture dishes to make stem cells from skin samples taken from 10 patients. As they move into clinical trials in the next few years, researchers plan to “very simply” transplant the nerve cells into people’s brains to replace those that have died.
“Until recently there really hasn’t been very much to offer people who have progressive neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s, but stem cells have turned out to be a really quite remarkable option,” Loring said.
The body rarely rejects stem cells because they’re grown with one’s own DNA. Research potential extends beyond people, however.
Consider the northern white rhino. There are only two members left of the species, which has been destroyed by poaching and dwindling habitat.
Scientists at the San Diego Zoo collected skin samples from one of the rhinos. Now, after reverting the samples back to stem cells, Loring and others are working to develop northern white rhino sperm and eggs in order to repopulate the species.
Their research got a boost in May when San Diego Zoo scientists used artificial insemination to successfully impregnate one of their southern white rhinos, Victoria. Because northern and southern white rhinos are closely related, scientists believe southern white rhino mothers will be able to carry and deliver northern white rhino babies.
Breeding additional creatures could stave off extinction, though scientists will first have to refine if in vitro fertilization techniques and develop a northern white rhino embryo.
It’s a good time to imagine what can be done with stem cells, Loring said.
“I don’t have enough brain power — I would love to do 100 projects with them, but I have to narrow it down,” she said.
As for students who may aspire to research stem cells? Loring said to prepare for a long career.
“Once you get excited about it you will never leave,” she said. “It’s a great place for students to get involved now because the technology is becoming clinically relevant. It’s not just us working in a basement lab. It’s going to add to our abilities to treat every disease.”
–City News Service
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