Tag Archives: stem cells

Mouse embryonic kidney cells (seen here in red) were used to coax the human stem cells to grow into the nascent mushroom-shaped buds (blue and green). (c) Salk Institute for Biological Studies

Kidney 3-d structures from human stem cells made for the first time

Scientists at the   Salk Institute for Biological Studies have for the first time coaxed   human stem cells into forming three-dimensional cellular structures similar to those found in our kidneys. The breakthrough could provide a valuable footing for upcoming work that might eventually lead to fully functioning lab-grown kidneys, based on patients’ own cells for bio-compatibility. In its current stage, lab-grown kidney-like structures such as the one developed by Salk researchers can be effectively used today as test beds for various kind of drugs.

In the U.S. alone some 4.4 million people are suffering from some form of kidney disease. Unlike other vital organs, the kidney rarely recover function once its damaged by disease; typically a transplant is required, and while treatment can alleviate symptoms and make life manageable, patients still need to make the plunge to surgery. Transplants are far too few for the current demand – growing bio-compatible kidneys would be a solution, and as you might imagine it’s an extremely challenging task.

Mouse embryonic kidney cells (seen here in red) were used  to coax the human stem cells to grow into the nascent mushroom-shaped buds (blue and green). (c) Salk Institute for Biological Studies

Mouse embryonic kidney cells (seen here in red) were used to coax the human stem cells to grow into the nascent mushroom-shaped buds (blue and green). (c) Salk Institute for Biological Studies

Previous methods have had limited success, however the present attempt successfully morphs  human stem cells into well-organized 3D structures of the ureteric bud (UB), which later develops into the collecting duct system.  Ureteric bud cells  are responsible for reabsorbing water after toxins have been filtered out and during embryonic development in the womb, later develop into a conduit for urine drainage from the kidney.  This was achieved using both human embryonic stem cells and induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) – adult cells, like those harvested from the skin for instance, that are manipulated to behave like natural stem cells and thus later differentiate into any kind of cell.

[RELATED] First bio-engineered kidney works after transplant in rats 

First the researchers stimulated the stem cells or iPSCs to developed into mesoderm, a germ cell layer from which the kidneys develop using growth factors – cells that signal and offer cues to stem cells to differentiate into desired types of cells. In this instance, the researchers used mouse cells as growth factors.

The team tested their method by developing three-dimensional structures of the kidney via iPSCs harvested from  a patient clinically diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease (PKD) , a genetic disorder which can lead to kidney failure. So far, neither  gene- nor antibody-based therapies have proven to treat PKD, however using  their methodology it may be possible for pharmaceutical companies and other investigators studying drug-based therapeutics for PKD and other kidney diseases.

“Our differentiation strategies represent the cornerstone of disease modeling and drug discovery studies,” says lead study author Ignacio Sancho-Martinez, a research associate in Izpisua Belmonte’s laboratory. “Our observations will help guide future studies on the precise cellular implications that PKD might play in the context of kidney development. ”

Findings appeared in the journal Nature Cell Biology.

Brain like tissue developed in lab

Scientists grow brain-like tissue in petri dish

Most medical research looking to identify the mechanisms of a disease or test treatments rely on animal models. While very useful, mice for instance (a favorite lab pet for researchers) do not have nearly the same brain structure or genes as humans. Even if some genes and proteins scientists target are the same both in mice and humans, it will still be unclear whether a treatment will work for both organisms, something very important to keep in mind especially when preparing clinical trials.

The most sound alternative to this would be to culture human organs and cells for testing, and great strides forward have been made in this direction in the past decade alone.  Jürgen Knoblich and Madeline Lancaster, both researchers working in labs at the Austrian Academy of  Sciences,  are also part of this collective scientific effort of culturing human cells for research purposes. The researchers successfully grew hundreds of 4-mm white blobs of neurons from stem cells induced from adult skin cells. Remarkably, these blogs developed specialized regions, similar to the way a human brain would develop in utero.

Brain like tissue developed in lab

(c) Nature

Previously we’ve reported how other scientists had grown human lungs, kidneys and even a heart that beats on its own (all primitive versions, not really comparable yet to the natural counterpart), while other efforts have concentrated on culturing intestines, pituitaries, and simple retinas. Testing treatments on these lab grown structures helps scientist surmount some of the challenges that come with animal models, including animal cruelty in some cases. The brain, however, is far more complex than any of these and as such is very difficult to replicate in the lab.

Knoblich and colleagues first collected fibroblasts (collagen generating skin cells), and induced these to become stem cells (induced pluripotent stem cells). These cells were placed in a nutrient rich gel, which allowed them to replicate into a sort of big ball of cells, akin to the embryo development stage of typical brain in utero. Some of these cells became precusor cells for neural tissue. The innovative part came in the last stage, when the researchers placed their cultured cells into a bioreactor which helped spread and distribute nutrients into the primitive brain-like tissue much in the same blood vessels would deliver the nutrients in a ‘conventional’ developing brain. The resulting brain-like structures are called cerebral organoids.

“If you’re studying brain development, you would like to see the cells develop somewhat like a brain,” says Wynshaw-Boris, who wasn’t involved in the new study. “These organoids gradually differentiate into many different types of cells. It’s not really a brain, but seems to recapitulate brain development. This is much better than any of the past efforts, in terms of the number and types of cells.”

Using the spinning nutrient distribution provided by the bioreactor, the cultured organoids reached new levels of complexity compared to previous attempts, allowing them to develop in regions similar in composition (but not in complexity) to the brain’s cerebral cortex, choroid plexus, retina, and meninges.

A brain in a petri dish

What’s most interesting about the research is that not does it only show it’s possible to culture a brain or at least a brain-like tissue in the lab, but also to use it as a model to study diseases. The researchers grew organoids using skin cells taken from a patient with microcephaly – a disorder characterized by a dramatic reduction in the size of a person’s brain. The neural tissue hared many of the trademark features of microcephaly, including reduced size. The scientists infer that in people with microcephaly, the founding neural cells don’t replicate and differentiate properly in the developing embryo, later leading to a smaller brain.

Like most current attempts at culturing human organs, the cultured organoids are simple and lack the far reaching complexity of a mature brain – they’re millions of miles apart. . A developing brain contains blood vessels that deliver nutrients and energy with which to grow, but modern science hasn’t been able to fully duplicate those blood vessels yet – the same problem that pesters other researchers hard at work culturing human hearts for instance. In fact, Knoblich believes we won’t ever be able to develop a functioning human brain, the way we’re used to thinking of it at least. Even so, it would raise some serious ethical questions. Deep down in a lab grown functioning brain’s recesses, in a cold petri dish, would a human consciousness lurk? Would you be essentially growing a human being? Such discussions have been a subject of debate for many years concerning abortions, and this new research adds further food for thought.

Findings were reported in the journal Nature.

Decellularized Mouse Heart: Lu et. al

Scientists engineer heart in the lab that beats on its own

Regenerative medicine has come a long way, and while important strides forward have been made, scientists are still toiling with ways to completely grow organs in labs. There are millions of people worldwide suffering from afflictions to organs like the liver, lungs or heart – for many of them a transplant is they’re only chance at living a normal life again and even survive. Less than 1% of those on the waiting list actually receive a transplant, however, because of the sheer disproportion between donors and patients. Elaborating means of growing new organs in the lab ready for transplant and save lives is thus imperious. Work is though and slow, but signs are we’re getting there.

The latest breakthrough comes from researchers at University of Pittsburgh who recently report they’ve cultured a heart that can beat on its own. Unlike other cultured organs like the lungs or liver (still primitive, somewhat working, but not ready for transplant), the heart is the most difficult organ to build. Why? The heart beats, and building a heart in the lab that beats isn’t enough. It needs to beat at a certain rate, something controlled by the cardiovascular system, which needs to be reproduced. So you need to build a whole new system, not just the organ itself. Onto the scientists’ work, however.

Decellularized Mouse Heart:  Lu et. al

Decellularized Mouse Heart: Lu et. al

Like other regenerative efforts, the researchers used induced pluripotent stem cells to culture their heart. These cells are very similar to stem cells, only they’re collected from adult cells and forced to express certain genes. Using cells collected from blood, skin, stomach, even urine (we reported earlier how a group of researchers grew teeth-like structures using such cells), scientists can turn these into iPSCs and then morph them into whatever they like. So, basically, most of the features of stem cells (the differences between iPSCs and stem cells are still not fully understood), without the drawbacks – controversial embryonic collection, hard to come by etc. Most importantly, however, because the pluripotent stem cells are collected from mature cells – i.e. from the patient who needs the transplant – an organ grown from these will have a much slighter chance at being rejected by the host body.

“Scientists have been looking to regenerative medicine and tissue engineering approaches to find new solutions for this important problem. The ability to replace a piece of tissue damaged by a heart attack, or perhaps an entire organ, could be very helpful for these patients,” said Lei Yang, the lead researcher.

The approach Lei and his team used, however, is different in one key aspect from other iPSC-centered heart regeneration efforts. They first let the stem cells begin to develop for six days, such that some of them may differentiate into  cardiovascular progenitor cells.

The heart of mouse was subsequently collected and had all its cells removed besides the underling structure – leaving a sort of scaffold. Onto this scaffold the cardiovascular cells developed from human induced stem cells were laid. So, contrary to previous methods where the risk of some stem cells developing into liver cells for instance is present, the Pittsburgh team’s approach rendered more functioning heart cells – the denser the heart cells are in the organ the better the chance it has of working closer to the natural thing.

“This process makes MCPs, which are precursor cells that can further differentiate into three kinds of cells the heart uses, including cardiomyocytes, endothelial cells and smooth muscle cells,” Dr. Yang explained. “Nobody has tried using these MCPs for heart regeneration before. It turns out that the heart’s extracellular matrix – the material that is the substrate of heart scaffold – can send signals to guide the MCPs into becoming the specialized cells that are needed for proper heart function.”

Finally, the heart had enough cells to power itself and beat on its own (check the embedded video in this article) – a breakthrough moment in science. It still needs a tremendous amount of refining though. For one, as states earlier, it needs to beat a certain rate, and besides the cardiovascular system which needs to be finely regenerated, you need to have a precise density of cardiovascular cells. For human transplants, there’s another challenge. You need to have scaffolds made from other human hearts.  The next move for Yang and his colleagues will be to use as a scaffolding a stripped-down heart from a human cadaver available for research.

“One of our next goals is to see if it’s feasible to make a patch of human heart muscle,” he added. “We could use patches to replace a region damaged by a heart attack. That might be easier to achieve because it won’t require as many cells as a whole human-sized organ would.”

Findings appeared in the journal Nature Communications. source: Pitts Uni

artificial burger

First artificial ‘meat’ burger, cultured in a petri dish, tasted by panel of experts

A few years ago ZME Science reported how a group of researchers at University of Maastricht in Holland were on a mission to grow the first lab cultured ‘hamburger’. After five years of painstaking work and €250,000 invested (backed by Google’s Sergey Brin), an edible version was finally developed and what better way to put it to test than…eat it! As such,  a food writer, a food researcher, and a scientist each tasted an artificial hamburger  at a press event in London.

First off, though: how do you grow a hamburger?  Maastricht University’s Professor Mark Post, the leading researchers behind the project, and colleagues used stem cells collected from leftovers picked up from slaughterhouses. The cells were then placed in a petri dish arranged inside a cylindrical gel scaffold where they fed on a nutrient mix, including fetal bovine serum and antibiotics. From here on, the hardest part is over (offering the right conditions), as the cells naturally contract and divide eventually growing into a strand of muscle tissue. Actually, the there’s not much of a limit to how much muscle can grow. According to Post, with the right scaffold and nutrients, you could grow 10 tons of meat if you’d like.

Why on Earth would someone go through the hurdles of growing meat in a lab? For one, the meat industry today is insanely despicable. Animals grown for meat (cattle, sheep, chickens) are mostly treated in grave, inhumane conditions and are fed with copious amounts of antibiotics to make them more resistant. Since the animals are stressed, pumped with chemicals and lack the necessary muscle exercise, the meat is a lot less tasty and nutritious as freerange grown. Then there’s practical reasons. Immense amounts of resources are used in meat production, from water (Approximately 75 per cent of the available freshwater in the world is being used by agriculture) to land (If the world’s population today were to eat a Western diet of roughly 80 kilograms of meat per capita per year, the global agricultural land required for production would be about 2.5 billion hectares – two thirds more than is presently used).

You might be convinced to try the lab grown hamburger, but wait till you taste it. Unsurprisingly, according to the reviewers, it’s not the tastiest burger you’ll ever get the chance to eat – to say the least! The team comprised of Chicago food writer, Josh Schonwald, nutrition researcher, Hanni Rützler, and a chef, Richard McGeown, actually cooked the burger in front of a live audience of journalists.

For one, you might be discouraged by the fact that it doesn’t look like meat (the lab grown meat doesn’t have any blood). No problem, just add some beet juice and saffron for coloring – good, looks like meat now. It also cooked like meat, behaving like its natural counterpart in the frying pan. The thing is , though, it also lacks fat, which is greatly responsible for the flavoring meat eaters cherish. Rützler and Schonwald agreed the texture was very meaty but lean and not terribly juicy.

In all, definitely not ready for the grocery store, but promising enough for a first public attempt. In the future, Post noted that he and his team will work on adding fat, remove antibiotics and fetal bovine serum. The concept has been proved, it’s now time to perfect the process. Of course, if you can culture cow meat, you can just as well do the same for pork or chicken. The researchers warn however that it might ten to twenty years before the first artificial meat might heat groceries stores.

(c) Cell Regeneration

Researchers grow teeth-like structure using stem cells from urine

missing-teethA new study performed by scientists in China has further elevated stem cell research after they successfully grew teeth-like structures using cells derived from an unlikely source: urine. Eventually, they hope that human stem cells could provide the basis for a tooth bud that could be transplanted into the jaw of the patient.

Some of you might find it weird that someone would use cells from urine for organ generation, considering there might be other more interesting sources at hand – previous research showed, however, that it is indeed feasible to generate cells from urine. Also, cells discarded with urea have been made into induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) – a sort of adult stem cells – that can be used to generate just about any type of tissue, from neurons to muscles.

Duanqing Pei and his colleagues from Guangzhou Institutes of Biomedicine and Health used such iPSCs derived from urine to  a tissue culture system that eventually went on to resemble the shape and structure of human teeth. But first the team used chemicals to coax the cultured iPSCs into flat sheets of epithelial cells, which they then mixed with mouse embryonic mesenchymal cells, and transplanted them into mice.

(c) Cell Regeneration

(c) Cell Regeneration

Three weeks later, formations had grown that physically and structurally resembled human teeth that have many of the qualities of human teeth: elasticity, pulp, dentin, and enamel-forming cells. There are some serious drawbacks to their method, however. First off, the success rate is of only 30% and the resulting teeth are about a third as hard as human teeth.

Using human cells instead of mouse cells might help resolve this issues and help researchers finally completely regenerate human teeth for clinical therapy – a lifelong dream for many involves in such work. And if the patient’s own cells were used, the risk of rejection by the body is negated.

The research whose findings were recently published in the journal Cell Regeneration, is the latest in a slew of advances that make use of induced pluripotent stem cells to generate human compatible tissue, bringing regenerative medicine back in the spotlight. For instance, ZME Science recently reported how scientists used iPSCs to grow a liver, functioning blood cells, and even mice from dish-cultured sperm and egg.

For many years stem cells were viewed with somewhat skepticism since they’re so difficult to come by and, of course, the controversy surrounding embryo use. Induced pluripotent stem cells solve the classic drawbacks of stem cells simply by avoid them and can come from readily accessible sources like skin, blood or just about any adult cell in a host body. As you’ve learned, even cells from urine can make due. Furthermore, cells generated by this method cannot be rejected by the human immune system, being derived from the host’s own cellular material.

This laser microscopy image shows iPSC-generated endovascular cells in green, connective tissue cells in blue, and red blood cells in red. (c) PNAS

Scientists create functional blood vessels from adult stem cells

 This laser microscopy image shows iPSC-generated endovascular cells in green, connective tissue cells in blue, and red blood cells in red. (c) PNAS

This laser microscopy image shows iPSC-generated endovascular cells in green, connective tissue cells in blue, and red blood cells in red. (c) PNAS

Researchers at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) have successfully grown and inserted functional blood vessels into animal models after they  used vascular precursor cells derived from human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). These blood vessels lasted for as long as nine months, much longer than any previous attempt, making the Harvard researchers’ efforts seem extremely promising. Patients suffering from damaged blood vessels, like those suffering from type-1 diabetes, could particularly benefit.

“The discovery of ways to bring mature cells back to a ‘stemlike’ state that can differentiate into many different types of tissue has brought enormous potential to the field of cell-based regenerative medicine, but the challenge of deriving functional cells from these iPSCs still remains,” says Rakesh Jain, Andrew Werk Cook Professor of Radiation Oncology (Tumor Biology) at Harvard Medical School (HMS), director of the Steele Laboratory for Tumor Biology at MGH, and co-senior author of the study. “Our team has developed an efficient method to generate vascular precursor cells from human iPSCs and used them to create networks of engineered blood vessels in living mice.”

Indeed, only in recent years has the opportunity of developing stemlike cells from mature cells surfaced, but even so advances so far have been remarkable. This isn’t the first attempt at creating blood vessels from iPSCs, though. Previous studies attempted to generate the types of cells required to build blood vessels — endothelial cells that line vessels and connective tissue cells that provide structural support — however either these didn’t last very long or didn’t work at all once they were inserted inside the animal model.

Generating blood vessels from adult cells

The team of researchers at Harvard had to face this challenge, so they adapted a method originally used to derive endothelial cells from human embryonic stem cells (hESCs).  That method uses a single protein marker to identify vascular progenitors; in this study, the researchers sorted out iPSC-derived cells that expressed not only that protein but also two other protein markers of vascular potential. They then expanded that population using a culture system that team members had previously developed to differentiate endothelial cells from hESCs, and they confirmed that only iPSC-derived cells expressing all three markers generated endothelial cells with the full potential of forming blood vessels.

These cells, in combination with mesenchymal precursors that generate essential structural cells, were then put to the test and inserted onto the surface of  the brains of mice. Within two weeks, the implanted cells had formed networks of blood-perfused vessels that appeared to function as well as adjacent natural vessels and continued to function for as long as 280 days in the living animals. The same combination was also implanted under the skin of mice, however this procedure required five times as many cells to work properly.

The researchers also worked with  iPSCs derived from the cells of patients with type 1diabetes (T1D), which often causes damage to blood vessels. As with cells from healthy individuals, precursors derived from T1D-iPSCs were able to generate functional, long-lasting blood vessels. Key differences in cell generation potential were noticed, however, which require more study.

“The potential applications of iPSC-generated blood vessels are broad — from repairing damaged vessels supplying the heart or brain to preventing the need to amputate limbs because of the vascular complication of diabetes,” says co-lead author Rekha Samuel, formerly of the Steele Laboratory and now at Christian Medical College, in Vellore, India. “But first we need to deal with such challenges as the variability of iPSC lines and the long-term safety issues involved in the use of these cells, which are being addressed by researchers around the world. We also need better ways of engineering the specific type of endothelial cell needed for specific organs and functions.”

The findings were documented in a report published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences(PNAS) Early Edition.


How cells and cell fragments move in opposite directions in response to electric field

Researchers at  University of California, Davis have shown for the first time how whole cells and fragments orient and move in response to electrical stimuli like an electric field. Surprisingly enough, their results show that whole and fragments move in opposite directions, despite being governed by the same electric field. The findings help better our understanding of how the human body heals wounds and allow for more effective stem cell therapies.

cell-electric-fieldEver wondered how your tissue recovers so wonderfully after a wound, like a cut for instance? Tissue regenerates work by cell regrowth and transfer, in a process so fine and precise that it resembles an army of super-engineers hard at work mending a damaged skyscraper. How does the body know it’s wounded, though? Well, all the cells in our body follow an electric field and as such a flux of charged particles travel between layers of cells. When a wound occurs, this flux is disrupted just like a short-circuit. As the flux’s direction is changed, a new electric field is created which naturally leads cells into the wounded tissue. Why and how precisely this happens isn’t quite clear to researchers at the moment.

“We know that cells can respond to a weak electrical field, but we don’t know how they sense it,” said Min Zhao, professor of dermatology and ophthalmology and a researcher at UC Davis’ stem cell center, the Institute for Regenerative Cures. “If we can understand the process better, we can make wound healing and tissue regeneration more effective.”

For their research, the UC Davis scientists chose to work with cells that join together to form a fish scales structure, known as  keratocytes. These cells are common lab pets and are favored by scientists because they shed cell fragments, wrapped in a cell membrane but lacking a nucleus, major organelles, DNA or much else in the way of other structures. Both whole cells and fragments were exposed to an electric field.

To better understand how a cell acts when its stimulated by electricity, it’s better if you imagine it as  a blob of fluid and protein gel wrapped in a membrane. Cells move about by sliding and ratcheting protein fibers inside the cell past each other, advancing the leading edge of the cell while withdrawing the trailing edge. When the lab cells were exposed to the electric field, actin protein fibers collected and grew on the side of the cell facing the negative electrode (cathode), while a mix of contracting actin and myosin fibers formed toward the positive electrode (anode).

Basically, a tug of war is ensued between the two mechanisms, each striding to pull the cell towards a direction. In whole cells, it was observed that the actin mechanism won and propelled the cells towards the cathode. However, for cell fragments the myosin fibers mix won and pushed fragments towards the anode – opposite to the whole cells. It’s the first time that such basic cell fragments have been shown to orient and move in an electric field, according to Alex Mogilner, professor of mathematics and of neurobiology, physiology and behavior at UC Davis and co-senior author of the paper.

Their findings show that there are at least two mechanisms through which cells respond to electric fields, and one of these distinct pathways can work without a cell nucleus or any of the other organelles found in cells, beyond the cell membrane and proteins that make up the cytoskeleton. The most likely explanation, the researchers note, is that the electric field causes certain electrically charged proteins in the cell membrane to concentrate at the membrane edge, triggering a response.

The findings were reported in a paper published in the journal Current Biology.

Scientists have used sugar-coated scaffolding to move a step closer to the routine use of stem cells in the clinic and unlock their huge potential to cure diseases from Alzheimer’s to diabetes. (c) University of Manchester

Sugar-coated scaffolding guides and differentiates stem cells

One of the miracles of modern day medicine science, stem cells, are regarded by scientists as the basic building blocks for devising treatments, cures or transplants for some of today’s yet incurable diseases like Alzheimer or diabetes. The biggest hurdle researchers face is differentiating stem cells so that they may grow into a specific type of cell. Researchers at Manchester University may have come across a breakthrough in leaping this particular issue after they used sugar-coated scaffolds to guide embryonic stem cells so that they may develop into specific types of somatic cells.

Scientists have used sugar-coated scaffolding to move a step closer to the routine use of stem cells in the clinic and unlock their huge potential to cure diseases from Alzheimer’s to diabetes. (c) University of Manchester

Scientists have used sugar-coated scaffolding to move a step closer to the routine use of stem cells in the clinic and unlock their huge potential to cure diseases from Alzheimer’s to diabetes. (c) University of Manchester

The web-like biomaterial is made out of sugar molecules using a technique called electrospinning, which employs an electrical charge to draw very tiny fibres from a liquid, mimicking structures that occur in nature. These long, linear sugar molecules or meshes have shown in previous research that play a fundamental role in stem cell transformation and regulation of behavior. This combination of sugar molecules with the fibre web, provides both biochemical and structural signals which guide ESCs into becoming specific types of somatic cells.

Lead author Dr Catherine Merry, from Manchester’s Stem Cell Glycobiology group, said: “These meshes have been modified with long, linear sugar molecules, which we have previously shown play a fundamental role in regulating the behaviour of stem cells. By combining the sugar molecules with the fibre web, we hoped to use both biochemical and structural signals to guide the behaviour of stem cells, in a similar way to that used naturally by the body. This is the Holy Grail of research into developing new therapeutics using stem cell technology.”

Whether the Holy Grail claim is a worthy assumption, that remains to be seen. What’s certain is that if the researchers’ technique can be scaled, a range of applications might be opened up for it from tissue engineering, where the meshes could support cells differentiating to form bone, liver or blood vessels, and much more. The meshes also have potential therapeutic implications in the treatment of diseases such as multiple osteochondroma (MO), a rare disease creating bony spurs or lumps caused by abnormal production of these sugar molecules.

Co-author Professor Tony Day, from Manchester’s Wellcome Trust Centre for Cell-Matrix Research, said: “This cross-faculty collaboration provides exciting new possibilities for how we might harness the adhesive interactions of extracellular matrix to manipulate stem cell behaviour and realise their full therapeutic potential.”

Findings were published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

The stem cell 3-d printer Image of 3-D cell printer courtesy of Colin Hattersley

3D printing stem cells could be used one day to ‘manufacture’ organs

We’re only in the early days of 3-D printing, but even now the breakthroughs made using such technology are most impressive like the genuine possibility of printing spare parts in space for the ISS, creating objects of great details on the nanoscale or even artificial muscles made using a 3-D printer. What’s fabulous though is that 3-D printing is developing at an accelerate pace. One day 3-D printers might actually be used to build working human organs saving millions of lives, maybe in a manner similar to how some SciFi movies depict tissue reconstruction.

The stem cell 3-d printer Image of 3-D cell printer courtesy of Colin Hattersley

The stem cell 3-d printer developed by scientists at Heriot-Watt University. (c) Colin Hattersley

The latter idea, though still very far fetched, recently had its foundation laid at the Scotland’s Heriot-Watt University and Roslin Cellab, where researchers there developed a novel technique which allows stem cells to be printed in blobs. Previously, researchers were able to engineer tissue samples combining artificial scaffold-like structures and animal cells, this is a method that is extremely laborious, however. Rather than manually positioning individual cells, using a 3-D printer  one can uniformly and accurately position them to form a desired tissue.

Stem cells, while extremely appealing for their pluripotent ability to morph into any kind of cell, are very hard to print since they are very sensitive to manipulation. The Scottish scientists tackled this issue by developing a sophisticated method that deposit droplets of a consistent size containing living cells through a valve-based printer nozzle that gently dispenses the cells.

The printing system is driven by pneumatic pressure and controlled by the opening and closing of a microvalve. Thus, one can vary the droplet size and rate of dispensing simply by changing the  nozzle diameter, the inlet air pressure or the opening time of the valve.

Still, though these first steps looks extremely promising, do not grow too excited. We are still decades away from developing a system capable of printing organs in 3-D. Organs, unlike muscles for instance, have a highly complex and sophisticated vascular structure that caries nutrients and exits waste, impossible to replicate by today’s technology. Vascular tissue engineering research is already on the works, however, and this aspect too might be taken care of. Make no mistake, it might not happen during our life time.

The method was reported in the journal Biofabrication.

via Scientific American

Pluripotent Stem Cells

Massive database of of 1,500 stem cell lines derived from diseased cells set to aid drug development

Pluripotent Stem Cells

The StemBANCC project, developed as a joint effort between the European Union and Europe’s pharmaceutical industry, is set to culture 1,500 pluripotent stem cell lines derived from the cells of diseased individuals like Alzheimer’s patients is currently planned. Using this massive database, researchers will be able to achieve much smoother and faster drug screening process in order to counter these diseases.

The 50 million euros project human-induced pluripotent stem cells as a drug discovery platform to treat the following 8 common diseases: Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, autism, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, migraine, pain and diabetes.

Stem cells have been hailed as the basis for developing miracle drugs by the media on countless occasions. The project’s aims are not to derive drugs from stem cells, however, but to ease the development of mainstream drugs, that are a lot cheaper, by offering a drug screening platform. It’s one thing to test drugs on mice, and another thing to test them on human cells, more importantly on diseased cells.

For instance skin cells from a Parkinson’s patient can be turned into  pluripotent stem cells that can then be turned into neurons. This would offer researchers an amazing tool. Sure scientists can do this already, but when the project will be live, they could simply order the kind of stem cells they require for their research and be done with it.

Zameel Cader, neurologist at the University of Oxford and a leader on the project, told Nature, “We’re specifically trying to develop a panel of lines across a range of diseases that are important to address. There isn’t another institution that’s doing this at the same scale across the same range of diseases.”

image source

Adult mice grown from eggs and sperm induced by pluripotent stem cells. (c) Mitinori Saitou and Katsuhiko Hayashi

Scientists grow mice from dish-cultured sperm and egg

Adult mice grown from eggs and sperm induced by pluripotent stem cells. (c) Mitinori Saitou and Katsuhiko Hayashi

Adult mice grown from eggs and sperm induced by pluripotent stem cells. (c) Mitinori Saitou and Katsuhiko Hayashi

Kyoto University researchers have produced normal, healthy mouse pups after inseminating a foster mother with eggs and sperm derived from stem cells, exclusively grown in a petri dish. This remarkable accomplishment came after last year scientists produced mouse pups from stem cell grown sperm. Their research might lead to the development of novel techniques through which infertile couples may conceive.

“This is a significant achievement that I believe will have a sustained and long-lasting impact on the field of reproductive cell biology and genetics,” says Amander Clark, a stem cell biologist at University of California, Los Angeles.

The team of researchers, lead by Mitinori Saitou, first collected both embryonic stem cells (ES) and  induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS). The latter are cell sampled from adult tissue, reprogrammed to act like stem cells. These were cultured  in a cocktail of proteins to produce primordial germ cell-like cells, such that the researchers might obtain oocytes – pre-eggs. The primordial cells were then mixed with fetal ovarian cells, forming reconstituted ovaries that they then grafted onto natural ovaries in living mice.

The scientists found that after four weeks and three days the  primordial germ cell-like cells had developed into oocytes. These were fertilized resulting in embryos which were implanted in surrogate mothers. Three weeks later the first pups were born – healthy and normal.

The Japanese researchers conclude that their “culture system serves as a robust foundation for the investigation of key properties of female germ cells, including the acquisition of totipotency, and for the reconstitution of whole female germ-cell development in vitro.”

The study, published in the journal Science, says that the findings might form the basis for a new technique which might allow for treating infertility.

“This study has provided the critical proof of principle that oocytes can be generated from induced pluripotent stem cells,”

via Wired

Human stem cell-derived otic neurons repopulating the cochlea of deaf gerbils. Human cells are labelled green, and the red is a marker of neuronal differentiation. Therefore yellow cells are neurons of human origin. (c) University of Sheffield

Hearing restored in gerbils by stem cell treatment – might work for the human ear, too

In an exceptional feat of medical and technical ingenuity, scientists have been able to restore partial hearing to deaf gerbils by implanting modified human embryonic stem cells in their ears. The success rate is pleasing, and offers solid ground on which human trials with a similar treatment might commence.

Human stem cell-derived otic neurons repopulating the cochlea of deaf gerbils. Human cells are labelled green, and the red is a marker of neuronal differentiation. Therefore yellow cells are neurons of human origin. (c) University of Sheffield

Human stem cell-derived otic neurons repopulating the cochlea of deaf gerbils. Human cells are labelled green, and the red is a marker of neuronal differentiation. Therefore yellow cells are neurons of human origin. (c) University of Sheffield

There are many causes which might lead to hearing loss. The leading cause by far is related to damage to a special cell located inside the ear, equipped with hairs that sense vibrations and transmit them back to the brain through the neural connection to be decoded as sound. Another cause, however, experienced by 10% of the approximate 275 million people worldwide suffering from some form of hearing loss, is a condition called auditory neuropathy – the impairment of auditory neurons.

Targeting this specific deafness factor, the researchers at University of Sheffield UK implanted 18 gerbils, which had their auditory nerves rendered nonfunctional in the lab, with human stem cells. In the first phase, the embryonic undifferentiated stem cells were cultured by some specific chemicals to grow into auditory neurons. These were implanted into the gerbils ears and after a mere 10 weeks the first signs of success surfaced. During this time, the neurons grew fibers and reached the brainstem. To test if any hearing progress was made, the gerbils were subjects to sound wave while electrodes attached to their skulls measured brain waves for responses.

Thus, an estimated 46 percent increase in sensitivity was recorded, although the progress was rather inconsistent. A third A third responded exceptionally well, with some regaining 90 percent of their hearing, while another third showed almost no recovery at all. Still, for a human suffering from hear loss even the slightest progress could mean a shot at living a normal life. Can the procedure be transferred to humans in the first place?

Well, for one scientists have successfully managed to grow both auditory neurons and hair cells in stem cells cultures. The tricky part lies in the implant procedure itself. Unfortunately, hair cells require a very specific and precise orientation in the inner ear to function properly. Implanting hair cells precisely and safely is a great technical challenge, which many leading experts around the world view it as unreachable at this time.

“This is promising research that demonstrates further proof-of-concept that stem cells have the potential to treat a range of human diseases that currently have no effective cures. While any new treatment is likely to take years to reach the clinic, this study clearly demonstrates that investment in UK stem cell research and regenerative medicine is beginning to bear fruit,” said Dr. Paul Colville-Nash, Program Manager for stem cell, developmental biology and regenerative medicine at the Medical Research Council.

This latest research which shows promising results concerning stem cell treatment, coupled with an earlier independent research which used gene therapy to stimulate regeneration of hair cells in the cochlea, offers a much needed ray of hope to deaf patients around the world.


A scheme of the generation of induced pluripotent stern (IPS) cells

Scientists grow rudimentary human liver in a dish

A scheme of the generation of induced pluripotent stern (IPS) cells

A scheme of the generation of induced pluripotent stern (IPS) cells

In an extraordinary feat of science, Japanese scientists have used induced stem cells to grow into a liver-like tissue in a dish. The researchers have a long way ahead of them before they can grow livers safe for human transplants, which is the main goal, however even at its current stage, the tissue grown by the researchers can satisfy rudimentary metabolic functions and marks a breakthrough in the field.

“It blew my mind,” said George Daley, director of the stem-cell transplantation programme at the Boston Children’s Hospital in Massachusetts, who chaired the session. “It sounds like a genuine advance,” says Stuart Forbes, who studies liver regeneration at the University of Edinburgh, UK

In the US alone, there are 17,000 people currently on the official national waiting list for a liver transplant. Many patients are in a critical situation and are in dire need of a transplant; considering the median waiting period if of one year, for most it’s too late. Lab grown organs, which are stable and compatible with the patient, would save thousands of lives each year.

The work was presented by Takanori Takebe, a stem-cell biologist at Yokohama City University in Japan, at the annual meeting of the International Society for Stem Cell Research in Yokohama last week.

Takebe and his team re-programmed human skin cells to an embryo-like state to create induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS). These human pluripotent stem cells are crucial for the development of regenerative medicine, which can basically allow for growing a whole new heart or liver, since they can be converted into any cell type in the body. The stem cells were then placed in a dish and after nine days, analysis showed that they contained a biochemical marker of maturing liver cells, called hepatocytes.

Next, Takebe added two more types of cell known to help to recreate organ-like function in animals: endothelial cells, which line blood vessels, taken from an umbilical cord; and mesenchymal cells, which can differentiate into bone, cartilage or fat, taken from bone marrow. In a mere 5 days,  the cells assembled into a 5-millimetre-long, three-dimensional tissue that the researchers labelled a liver bud — a extremely rudimentary liver tissue, of the organ’s early development stage.

The tissue has blood vessels that proved functional when it was transplanted under the skin of a mouse. Genetic tests show that the tissue expresses many of the genes expressed in real liver, and tests on mice which had the tissue transplanted showed that it was able to metabolize some drugs that human livers metabolize but mouse livers normally cannot.

The team claims that its work is “the first report demonstrating the creation of a human functional organ with vascular networks from pluripotent stem cells”.

Takebe and his team’s work is definitely groundbreaking in their findings, however there is still much more that awaits to be studied and experimented before a fully functional stem cell liver can be grown. For this extremely rudimentary liver tissue, the scientists needed over a year and hundreds of trials to properly time the addition of the other two cell types. In the meantime,  the scientists hope that his liver bud could be useful for toxicity testing in drug screening, for which bile ducts are not needed.

The findings, so far, are expected to be published in the journal Nature soon.



Source: http://teethmagic.com/

How bad breath can save lives

Source: http://teethmagic.com/

Source: http://teethmagic.com/

An interesting conversation can instantly make a turn for the worst when bad breath hops into the scene. We’ve all had our share of bad experiences whether we were more or less forced to tolerate the repulsive stench of bad breath or we had a case of bad breath ourselves. Scientists at Nippon Dental University, however, have found that the gaseous compound responsible for bad breath has an active role in differentiating stem cells that may grow into liver cells. Hundreds of thousands of people all over the world are in dire need of a liver transplant, and growing new livers out of stem cells is far more lucrative than relaying on donors.

The hydrogen sulfide compound (H2S) has a smell that can’t be better described like the one given off by rotten eggs and is toxic. In high doses it can even kill a man. We all produce hydrogen sulfide inside our body and have a natural limited resistance to the compound. Some people produce more of the substance, increasing the concentration, and thus leading to the repulsive bad breath we all loath. Don’t worry, hydrogen sulfide even in the worst of bad breaths can’t literary kill you, though I’m willing to bet there had been some people faced with dire suicidal thoughts amidst all the anguish.

Here’s where it can save lives though. Scientists have known for a while that dental pulp, a substance which can be found in every human tooth, contains stem cells. Differentiating stem cells to turn into any desired cell is extremely difficult will high failure rates, however the Japanese researchers have found that by exposing the dental pulp stem cells to a small dose of hydrogen sulfide, the stem cells turned into liver cells at a higher rate. Stem cells think differently of rotten eggs, apparently.

In the U.S. alone, the fatality rates due to hepatitis C than AIDS has significantly increased during the past years, according to a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. Over the years, the disease damages the liver, and can eventually cause cirrhosis or liver cancer. Liver transplants are indispensable for mid to late stage patients, and a successful large scale stem cell metamorphosis into the much needed, life saving new livers would come as godsend more thousands in suffering.

Here’s to stinky breath!

The researchers’ findings were published in Journal of Breath Research.

source: Science Friday

Pigmented epithelial cells were grown from embryonic stem cells prior to injection.

Stem cells treatment dramatically improves vision of the blind

Pigmented epithelial cells were grown from embryonic stem cells prior to injection.

Pigmented epithelial cells were grown from embryonic stem cells prior to injection.

Detailed in a recently published study, a team of ophthalmologists have successfully managed to improve the vision of both of their trial patients, which were declared legally blind due to macular degeneration, by inserting human embryonic stem cells into one eye of each person. Significant improvements were recognized shortly after the procedure, and continued to progress positively in the months that came after, as well. The other eyes that were left untreated remained in the same poor condition as prior to the operation .

Macular degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss among the elderly, while Stargart’s muscular dystrophy, or Stargart’s disease, is a common cause of vision loss among children and young people. Drugs, laser treatment of the retina and so forth only help in slowing down the process, but the end scope of these diseases cannot be derailed, and hence are considered incurable.

Stem cell treatment has been considered an option before, however the procedure conducted by the team of scientists, lead by Steven Schwartz, an opthalmologist and chief of the retina division at UCLA’s Jules Stein Eye Institute, is the first one of its kind.

“This is a big step forward for regenerative medicine, said Dr. Steven Schwartz at UCLA’s Jules Stein Eye Institute. “It’s nowhere near a treatment for vision loss, but it’s a signal that embryonic stem-cell based strategies may work.

The operation involved injecting stem cells into one of each patient’s eye, a 78 year old woman suffering from macular degeneration and another woman, aged 51, who suffered from Stargardt’s macular dystrophy, both declared legally blind, with hopes that the cells required for proper vision will regenerate. The stem cells were treated before being injected into the patients’ eyes, as they were induced to grow into retinal pigment epithelial cells. The loss of these cells located in the pigmented layer of the retina is the leading cause of macular dystrophy.

[RELATED] Deafness cured by gene therapy

The results post the half hour surgery, in which 50,000 stem cells were injected, were remarkable – just a few weeks after the patients went from barely recognizing a hand to counting fingers, reading their own handwriting, pouring a glass of water without spilling it all over the floor and so on. In short, they were given the chance to live a normal life once more. Their vision continued to improve months after the surgery. The patients were also given immunosuppressants to prevent their bodies from rejecting the foreign tissue.

Other scientists have recently commented upon the research, admitting the results are indeed remarkable, while warning at the same time that the trial was conducted only on two persons,  and the improvements can still be considered short-term. Extensive studying on a broader range of patients and over longer time is required to accurately measure the effectiveness of stem cell treatment for this kind of operation.

According to Dr. Robert Lanza, chief scientific officer at Advanced Cell Technology and a co-author of the study, the embryo was destroyed after the stem cells were derived, but in the future, doctors will be able to derive stem cells from an embryo without destroying it.

The research was published in the journal The Lancet.

source: BBC via singularity hub

The rhesus monkey twins, Roku and Hex ("six" in Japanesse and Greek respectively, since they were made from six distinct genetic entities), in sound health posing for the researchers. (c) OHSU

First chimera monkeys presented by scientists

The rhesus monkey twins, Roku and Hex ("six" in Japanesse and Greek respectively, since they were made from six distinct genetic entities), in sound health posing for the researchers. (c) OHSU

The rhesus monkey twins, Roku and Hex (“six” in Japanesse and Greek respectively, since they were made from six distinct genetic entities), in sound health posing for the researchers. (c) OHSU

In Greek mythology, the chimera is a fire breathing beast composed of several animal parts (lion body, snake-head tail, a goat head hanging from its back and so on), which has spurred the imagination of man for thousands of years. Though it is fairly clear that such an abomination never existed, apart from the infinite recesses of human imagination, scientist at the Oregon National Primate Research Centre have successfully bred, not one, but three chimera monkeys – each of them made up of tissue that came from up to six distinct genetic entities.

Of course, the scientists worked only with a single species, so that means no monkeys with rhino horns or giraffe ears. The three animals, two twins and a singleton, were bred after several different rhesus monkey embryos were stuck together in their early stage of development. These were later implanted in five female rhesus monkeys, all of which became pregnant. Thus, the chimera monkeys had tissue made up of cells that came from each of the contributing embryo.

“The cells never fuse, but they stay together and work together to form tissues and organs,” said Shoukhrat Mitalipov, who led the research. “The possibilities for science are enormous.”

This isn’t the first time a chimeric animal has been bred, far from it. The first successful attempts of this kind were made in the 1960s when one by one scientists managed to give life in the lab to chimeric rats, sheep, rabbits or cattle.  In time, this kind of research proved to be invaluable for scientists’ ongoing stem cell research efforts. Understanding how during embryonic development one particular cell develops into a particular tissue in the organism is crucial.

“If we want to move stem cell therapies from the lab to clinics and from the mouse to humans, we need to understand what these primate cells can and can’t do. We need to study them in humans, including human embryos,” said Mitalipov.


Human ear grown in a lab from stem cells.

Lab grown stem cells may mutate in time

Human ear grown in a lab from stem cells.

Human ear grown in a lab from stem cells.

According to a new study by researchers at University of Melbourne, prolonged stem cell cultures are subjected to a relatively significant risk of mutation, similar to those seen in human cancers. Their results is of capital importance as it shows that lab grown cell treatment might become useless, if left to “stir” for too long.

The scientists studied 138 stem cell lines of diverse ethnic backgrounds – 127 Human embryonic stem (HES) cell lines and 11 induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cell lines.  These human pluripotent stem cells are crucial for the development of regenerative medicine, which can basically allow for growing a whole new heart or liver, since they can be converted into any cell type in the body.

Most of the cell lines studied retained their original number of chromosomes, even at prolonged cultures, however it was observed that about 20 percent of the cell lines mutated as a result of amplifications of a specific region in chromosome 20.

“While it is reassuring that 75 percent of the stem cell lines studied remained normal after prolonged growth in the laboratory, detecting and eliminating abnormal cells is an absolute prerequisite for clinical use of stem cell products,” said Martin Pera, co-author of the paper and chair of stem cell science at the University of Melbourne.

The study’s provided data can be considered essential to evaluating  cells for potential therapeutic applications. The project was made possible thanks to a international collaborative network formed by 35 laboratories and 125 collaborators.

The findings are reported in the latest issue of the journal Nature Biotechnology

image credit

When a pregnant mother is very sick, mouse fetuses send up stem cells to help

Amidst of all the talks and protest against stem cell treatment and companies shutting down, nature has found its own way of treating diseases with stem cells. When a pregnant mouse mother, for example, has a heart attack, her fetus donates some of its own stem cells to help and cure.

Researchers started working on this experiment with two lines of mice: normal mice and mice genetically engineered to produce green fluorescent protein (or GFP) – which glows when exposed to blue light. They then mated normal female mice with GFP mice, meaning that the resulting fetuses also carried the GFP gene, thus their cells would glow in the dark. Twelve days later, almost two thirds into the pregnancy, scientists let loose their evil selves and gave half the mice heart attacks.

When they then examined their hearts, two weeks after the heart attacks, they found something absolutely stunning: lots of GFP tissue from the fetus was in their hearts; those who had heart attacks had eight times more fetus tissue than those who hadn’t. What is even more fascinating is that the GFP tissue actually differentiated into various types of heart tissue – something researchers are spending countless hours on, just to figure out how it works.

This is probably true for all mammals, including humans. Doctors often report that women with heart problems during pregnancy have better recovery rates than any other group of heart failure patients, and this study seems to explain why and how. Furthermore, this is not only true for heart problems, but other organs as well, including the brain here. When pregnant women have their organs damaged, fetal cells seem to show up wherever they are needed. Isn’t nature wonderful ?

Scientists grow new teeth from stem cells

A recently published remarkable study describes how scientists from Japan have successfully manage to grow teeth inside a lab using mice stem cells.

Takashi Tsuji from Tokyo University of Science and his team managed to achieve this after extracting stem cells from the molars of mice. They then transported these cells to the lab where they eventually used them to grow new mouse teeth, which in order to have the required form had to be placed inside a mold. The new, lab-grown teeth were then transplanted in the jaws of mice – full attachment occurred within 40 days.

The transplanted teeth fixed themselves perfectly into the bone and tissue of the jaw, and researchers notice absolutely no evidence of chewing or eating discomforts from behalf of the mice. Remarkably enough, they also saw that nerve fibers had begun growing in the engineered teeth which makes for an almost perfect transplant.

Tsuji stresses that in order for reconstruction therapy to be successful, it is important to find the right seed cells. As was their case, they needed cells taken directly from the mice molars, complete with enamel and dental bones, in order to fully replicate them. Human transplants might become the standard in commercial dental repair in the next decades.

This is just one of the numerous recent advances from the field of stem cell research, and scientists hope that each piece they play might one day lead to a collective effort of finally stem cell engineering a human organ. The consequences of such an achievement would sound long and profound, and for ever change the face of surgical transplants and even longevity itself. Imagine, replacing your organs periodically whenever they start failing.

The paper was published  in the open access journal PLoS One.


How aging can be cured in the future – a scientist’s view

If we’re to guide ourselves after Aubrey de Grey‘s telling, according to his predictions the first person who will live to see their 150th birthday has already been born, and as science advances along the decades at the current pace it does, he claims people born soon after the latter mentioned birthday will live to be 1,000.

“I’d say we have a 50/50 chance of bringing aging under what I’d call a decisive level of medical control within the next 25 years or so,” de Grey said in an interview before delivering a lecture at Britain’s Royal Institution academy of science.

“And what I mean by decisive is the same sort of medical control that we have over most infectious diseases today.”

"The Fountain of Youth" painting by Lucas Cranach the Elder. Scientists are trying to prolong life by employing cell and gene treatments.

"The Fountain of Youth" painting by Lucas Cranach the Elder. Scientists are trying to prolong life by employing cell and gene treatments.

As living standards increase worldwide, so does the life expectancy. The world’s longest-living person on record lived to be 122, while in Japan alone there were more than 44,000 centenarians in 2010. This could be counter-acted, however, by the increasing obesity trend which is sweeping the world, which due to a high comfort level and sedentary life style has exposed people to other life treating issues.

As we age, molecular and cellular damage occurs in our body in brain, with minimum recovery. Some people manage to shelter themselves through out their lives from various sources of damage (hard physical labor, stress, diseases etc.), and live longer than the average individual. Dr. de Grey sees a time when people will go to regular maintenance checks, in which their cellular and molecular damage would be then treated through various means, like gene therapies, stem cell therapies, immune stimulation and a range of other advanced medical techniques to keep them in good shape.

“The idea is to engage in what you might call preventative geriatrics, where you go in to periodically repair that molecular and cellular damage before it gets to the level of abundance that is pathogenic,” he explained.

Part of the technology necessary to employ these sorts of longevity treatments are already existing, like stem cells treatment which is used for spinal cord injuries, as well as brain and heart related medical issues. Some, though, like heart-related failures are still extremely complicated to solve, and de Grey says there is a long way to go on these though researchers have figured out the path to follow.

The most common heart failure causing diseases surface as a result of byproducts of the body’s metabolic processes which our bodies are not able to break down or excrete. Scientists are now trying to identify enzymes that handle this process of cleansing in other species, and though gene therapy to dramatically lower the risk of a patient having a heart attack or stroke.

“The garbage accumulates inside the cell, and eventually it gets in the way of the cell’s workings,” he said.
“If we could do that in the case of certain modified forms of cholesterol which accumulate in cells of the artery wall, then we simply would not get cardiovascular disease,” de Gray went on.

It’s not about making the world of the future a viable place for the elderly zombies or vegetables. One could imagine a 150 year old man to be no more than some skin hanging on to a skeleton. Dr. de Gray argues that this kind of point isn’t on par with the idea of longevity – that of expanding one’s life span, while improving the health directly proportionally.

“This is absolutely not a matter of keeping people alive in a bad state of health,” he told Reuters. “This is about preventing people from getting sick as a result of old age. The particular therapies that we are working on will only deliver long life as a side effect of delivering better health.”

Dr. de Grey’s prospects sound terribly exiting and frightning at the same time, but his credibility has been challenged in recent past years, formally by a group of nine leading scientists who dismissed his work as “pseudo science.” In response, the MIT Technology Review journal which saw de Grey’s work as forward-thinking and based on ideas yet-to-be-tested by interesting enough for other scientists to follow, offered $20,000 in 2005 for any molecular biologist who showed that de Grey’s SENS theory was “so wrong that it was unworthy of learned debate”. The prize money has never been won to this date.

De Grey’s has been relunctant to give any precise predictions on how long people would be able to live in the future, but what’s very sure about is that in the future as technology and science advance we buy ourselves even more time.

“I call it longevity escape velocity — where we have a sufficiently comprehensive panel of therapies to enable us to push back the ill health of old age faster than time is passing. And that way, we buy ourselves enough time to develop more therapies further as time goes on,” he said.

“What we can actually predict in terms of how long people will live is absolutely nothing, because it will be determined by the risk of death from other causes like accidents,” he said.

“But there really shouldn’t be any limit imposed by how long ago you were born. The whole point of maintenance is that it works indefinitely.”