Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) hold tremendous therapeutic potential for regenerative medicine. Here is an in-depth look at these remarkable cells and the exciting research being done with them.
What are Mesenchymal Stem Cells?
Mesenchymal stem cells are multipotent stromal cells that can differentiate into a variety of cell types, including osteoblasts (bone cells), chondrocytes (cartilage cells) and adipocytes (fat cells). MSCs were first discovered in the 1970s and have since been isolated from various tissues, including bone marrow, umbilical cord, adipose (fat) tissue and placenta.
MSCs have several unique properties that make them appealing for regenerative medicine applications. They are easy to harvest and culture-expand. They secrete paracrine factors and extracellular vesicles that exert potent immunomodulatory and anti-inflammatory effects. Perhaps most importantly, MSCs demonstrate robust tissue regenerative abilities across multiple organs through their multi-lineage differentiation potential.
Ongoing Research with Mesenchymal Stem Cells
Over the past few decades, extensive research has been conducted exploring the therapeutic use of MSCs for a wide range of conditions. Some areas that have shown promising preclinical and clinical results include:
Bone and Cartilage Regeneration
Given their ability to differentiate into bone and cartilage cells, Mesenchymal stem cells have great potential for treating orthopedic disorders. Early clinical studies have found MSCs to be effective for repairing cartilage damage in knees as well as enhancing spinal fusion. Larger trials are ongoing.
Wound Healing and Skin Repair
Application of MSCs has been shown to accelerate wound closure and reduce scarring in animal models of burns, incisions and diabetic ulcers. Phase 2 clinical trials are evaluating MSC treatment for chronic wounds.
MSCs may promote angiogenesis and reduce scarring after a heart attack. Several Phase 2 trials indicate MSC therapy improves cardiac function in ischemic heart disease patients. Studies in heart failure are also under way.
MSCs appear to have hepatocyte-like functions and support liver regeneration. Early research suggests they may benefit liver fibrosis, cirrhosis and some liver cancers. Tris are ongoing.
The immunomodulatory and trophic factor secretions of MSCs make them appealing for conditions like stroke and spinal cord injury. Positive results have been observed preclinically and in some small clinical studies evaluating safety.
MSCs have generated a lot of excitement due to their ability to potently suppress immune cell proliferation and activity. Researchers are investigating MSC therapy for treating graft-versus-host disease after bone marrow transplantation as well as autoimmune conditions such as multiple sclerosis.
Challenges and Future Outlook
While the future of MSC therapy looks bright, challenges remain regarding standardization, mechanisms of action, long-term safety and in vivo targeting. There is still much to learn about the specific signals, receptors and genetic factors that control MSC homing, differentiation and function. Large, well-controlled clinical trials are also needed to demonstrate efficacy for various applications.
Overall, mesenchymal stem cells hold enormous therapeutic potential. As we gain deeper insights into their biology and abilities through ongoing research, MSC treatments for an array of currently incurable conditions may become a clinical reality. With more studies validating safety, efficacy and standardized manufacturing methods, MSCs could revolutionize the field of regenerative medicine in the coming decade.