Conventional medicine has long ignored the benefits of stem cell therapy, but the treatment is making a comeback. The idea behind stem cell therapy is to boost muscle regeneration and rebuild tissue using these cells that can turn into any type of organ or tissue in your body.
While this treatment modality is not yet FDA approved, there are many doctors and clinics which have been pioneering the future of stem cell treatment.
How does Stem Cell Therapy work?
Stem cells are harvested from either bone marrow or fat (adipose) through a process called liposuction. They then undergo an extraction process where they are cleaned and concentrated before being reintroduced to your body via injection. The stem cells are also often mixed with platelet-rich plasma before being injected into the recipient’s injured area, this helps to provide additional healing stimulation. This is a great way for athletes who have suffered from acute trauma such as an injury or surgery to recover more quickly and return to their sport. This simple procedure could one day be one of the best ways for athletes, seniors, and those looking for relief from chronic pain to get back their mobility.
As a recent study by the Salk Institute shows, scientists activated the precursors of muscle cells in mice to increase stem cell regeneration, leading to increased recovery from injury.
Aging has many effects, and the loss of muscle mass is one that contributes to disability. Regenerating this tissue at an accelerated rate with a combination of molecular compounds common in stem cell research is one way scientists are studying to counter age-related muscles loss.
In a study published in Nature Communications on May 25, 2021, investigators found these compounds increased the regeneration of muscle cells in mice by activating precursors to muscle cells. This might help athletes and seniors heal from injury more rapidly. Although this approach cannot be applied in humans at the moment, it has provided insights into muscle regeneration and growth.
“Loss of these progenitors has been connected to age-related muscle degeneration,” Salk Professor Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte, the study’s senior author says. “Our study uncovers specific factors that are able to accelerate muscle regeneration, as well as revealing the mechanism by which this occurred.”
The compounds used in the study are called Yamanaka factors, after the scientist who discovered them. Experimental stem cell therapy with the Yamanaka factors can hold a key to rebuilding tissue and regenerating lost muscle. In laboratory experiments, stem cells have been used to convert specialized cells into more stem-cell-like cells which are pluripotent (the ability to become many different types of cells).
The first author, Chao Wang, a postdoctoral fellow in the Izpisua Belmonte lab states: “Our laboratory previously showed that these factors can rejuvenate cells and promote tissue regeneration in live animals, but how this happens was not previously known.”
Muscle repair is mediated by muscle stem cells, also called satellite cells. Satellite cells are located in a niche between a layer of connective tissue (basal lamina) and muscle fibers (myofibers). In a study testing two different mouse models, the researchers found that Yamanaka factors create muscle stem-cell-specific or niche-specific changes in muscles. Younger mice provide a unique research scenario because of their lack of “age differences.”
Mice were then studied for how well muscle regeneration occurred over time. The scientists found that the Yamanaka factors work to speed up recovery by reducing the levels of a protein called Wnt4 in the niche, which activates satellite cells and leads to muscle regeneration. The satellite-cell specific model experiment did not show an increased muscle regeneration after Yamanaka factor injection.
We could potentially fix tissue damage by targeting Wnt4 using stem cell therapy, according to Izpisua Belmonte who holds the Roger Guillemin Chair.
“Our laboratory has recently developed novel gene-editing technologies that could be used to accelerate muscle recovery after injury and improve muscle function,” he says. “We could potentially use this technology to either directly reduce Wnt4 levels in skeletal muscle or to block the communication between Wnt4 and muscle stem cells.”
The scientists are also studying how to rejuvenate cells, including through stem cell therapy, mRNA, and genetically engineered therapies. These techniques could eventually lead to new ways of rebuilding tissue and organs.
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