I really love the Public Library of Science because they encourage and publish research articles in the Public domain. This gives a dilettante like myself access to current peer-reviewed medical research without emptying my bank account.
A couple of fascinating (if not immediately applicable) studies recently showed up in my search results. First was a study which researched how embryonic stem cells (ESCs) are not necessarily all created equal (good summary here). I rubbed that against this study which tracked how cells convert from Inner Cell Mass to ESCs. This is just basic research, so what? Well add this study from Stanford (mentioned in an earlier post) and that basic research gets more exciting. There is one company already developing methods to use placental stem cells for pharmaceutical purposes. Knowing how these cells change themselves, thereby facilitating in vitro manipulation, would be crucial.
The second study demonstrated making functional neurons out of astrocytes without first reverting them to a pluripotent state (as is done with skin cells to create induced pluripotent stem cells). Sounds great, except harvesting the astrocytes can be a bit tricky. While I consider that there are multitudes from whom whole lobes could be removed with no appreciable cognitive or behavioral impact, poking holes in the brain for experimental raw material probably isn’t a good idea. And the study used retrovirus to deliver the genetic information, which for in vivo application could cause problems. (apologies for the inaccurate humor stretch)
While these studies don’t appear to be immediately applicable to human disease (and regenerative medicine), they demonstrate how far knowledge has advanced at an extremely rapid pace. This continues to give me hope for an effective treatment very soon. While the word “soon” has been used for decades (resulting in much cynicism among PALS), the techniques explored above are extreme changes in paradigm. And as human trials with stem cell technology are already underway, the time from basic research to effective therapies is now being greatly compressed.