New studies in the laboratory of Dr. Darwin J. Prockop, Director of Tulane Universitys Center for Gene Therapy, are shedding light on the previously mysterious mechanism through which even relatively small amounts of stem/progenitor cells taken from a patients own bone marrow enhance repair of damaged tissues.
The cells not only differentiate to replace injured cells, as had been understood, but they also stimulate the proliferation and differentiation of stem cells already present in the injured tissue and they transfer mitochondrial DNA to local cells in which the mitochondria (the energy of the cell) is not working. Better understanding of the different mechanisms of these stem/progenitor cells suggests multiple strategies for developing new therapies for a broad range of diseases, says Dr. Prockop. It also may help make such treatments more effective and minimize potential dangers.
Dr. Prockop was the keynote speaker at the American Association of Anatomists meeting in Washington, DC., held as part of Experimental Biology 2007. His talk is Sunday, April 19.
Dr. Prockop described two series of experiments. In the first studies, human stem/progenitor cells were injected into the hippocampal region of the brain in immunodeficient mice. The human stem/progenitor cells increased the growth and differentiation of stem cells normally found in the brains of mice and other animals. In the second studies, when human stem/progenitor cells were intravenously infused into mice that had been made to have a disease similar to human diabetes, the stem/progenitor cells traveled to and engrafted themselves in the pancreas. There, they increased the growth of the stem cells normally found in the pancreas, producing more islet cells, thus increasing the mices production of insulin, and lowering blood sugar. With some tissue damage, the administered cells are able to do their repair activities in as little as a day and largely disappear.