Tomorrow, Wednesday, October 8, is Stem Cell Awareness Day. It’s a day to celebrate stem cells, have discussions on what stem cell research is, and learn about potential benefits and disease treatments using stem cells. Many national and international events (especially in California) are taking place to celebrate this special day — the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) has a webpage summarizing these stem cell events.
To celebrate Stem Cell Awareness Day this year, we’ll take a look at stem cell-related stories that have been covered by the Biology Bytes blog. Specifically, we’ll check out some of this last year’s big stem cell news, trending stem cell-related issues in social media, exciting discoveries, and how to bring stem cell science to the K-12 classroom.
Two of the big stories from the last year have to do with pluripotent stem cells, which are stem cells that have the ability to turn into virtually any different type of mature cell in the body. This ability gives these cells great therapeutic potential.
- ”First Transplant using Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells: Treating Blindness:” In September of this year, the first clinical transplant was done using induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), an extremely promising and novel cell type. The surgery was performed to treat a woman with a disease that causes blindness (age-related macular degeneration [AMD]). While this is the first iPSC transplant, several other breakthroughs have been made using iPSCs.
- STAP cells: In January of this year, pluripotent stimulus-triggered aquisition of pluripotency (STAP) cells were reported for the first time. It was claimed that these STAP cells could be made using a rather simple approach of exposing cells to an acid bath. However, as other researchers had difficulty independently making STAP cells, controvery developed after a few months, which was followed by retraction (officially in July), and, very unfortunately, suicide of a scientist involved.
Stem cell-related issues have also featured prominently in social media and other mainstream venues recently, including the ALS ice bucket challenge and the Supreme Court ruling related to Hobby Lobby.
- The Science of ALS and the Irony of the Ice Bucket Challenge: While the ice bucket challenge went viral this summer, some attention was brought to the fact that a clinical trial to treat ALS utilizes a patient’s bone marrow stem cells. Check out the Biology Bytes link for details.
- The Hobby Lobby Ruling: Contraceptives and Abortifacients: Also in the public spotlight this summer was the Supreme Court ruling that Hobby Lobby (and other for-profit companies) do not need to provide health insurance coverage for contraceptives. Depending on how this ruling is interpreted in the future, it is possible that it may affect research using human embryonic stem cells, which are made using fertilized eggs.
Several other recent discoveries have been made using stem cells, discoveries that may help us improve applications, explore new technologies, and eventually create better therapeutic treatments — you can check out these stories for details:
- How a Substrate Affects a Stem Cell’s Fate
- Stem Cell Trials to Treat Spinal Cord Injuries
- Using Electricity to Heal Wounds
- 3D Printing… Organs
- What Has Gene Therapy Done For You Lately?
Lastly, there are many other stem cell resources available for those wanting to know more — here are just a few:
- If you know a young, burgeoning stem cell researcher, be sure to check out these free stem cell resources for K-12 students.
- Alternatively, for individuals with a solid biology background, my recently-published book Biology Bytes: Digestible Essays on Stem Cells and Modern Medicine may serve as a suitable, broad introduction to the stem cell field, as well as other areas of modern medicine.
For further reading:
- Science Buddies’ website at ScienceBuddies.org
- CIRM’s webpage “Stem Cell Education Portal”
- Teisha J. Rowland’s book Biology Bytes: Digestible Essays on Stem Cells and Modern Medicine
- All Things Stem Cell’s webpage “Other Stem Cell Resources”
- All Things Stem Cell’s webpage “Visual Stem Cell Glossary”