Friday, 12 September 2014 19:59

Regenerative medicine as a scientific way of conducting research without animal experiments Featured

Regenerative medicine (cell and tissue replacement therapy) is based on stem cell research, which is a cell biology research method that per se does not depend on animal testing.

Stem cells are the actual vectors of the generation of tissues and organs, as well as of their growth and regeneration organs. An important goal of stem cell research is to understand how and under what conditions stem cells are able to replace damaged or old tissue in organs. It is hoped that this knowledge can allow stem cells to be used therapeutically for healing organs that normally do not regenerate (e.g. the heart or the nervous system).

The work group surrounding Takahashi and Yamanaka succeeded in transforming skin cells into induced pluripotent stem cells in 2006 [Takahashi, K.; Yamanaka, S. (2006): Induction of pluripotent stem cells from mouse embryonic and adult fibroblast cultures by defined factors. Cell 126, 663-676]. To date, however, the transformation of pluripotent stem cells into neural stem cells and further into differentiated neurons is not satisfactory; although cells generated from pluripotent stem cells display many properties of neural stem cells, they are ultimately not entirely identical to real brain stem cells, especially with regard to function. Many researchers therefore regard work with such nerve cells transformed from skin cells very critically and instead prefer neural stem cells derived from in vivo samples.

Currently stem cells obtained from mouse brains are employed in basic research into neural stem cells, as the risk involved with obtaining neural stem cells from humans for research purposes only is not ethically justifiable (risk of permanent brain damage).

Scientists expect research on neural stem cells to deliver new insights into the general development and differentiation of nerve cells, as well as the mechanisms and possible treatments for neural diseases. However, with regard to this procedure involving the use of neural stem cells from mouse brains one must consider two main aspects:

1. The research results obtained from animal stem cells are not automatically applicable to humans.
2. The possibilities for obtaining human (especially neural) stem cells are currently not fully exploited, as stem cells could also be isolated from donor organs. This could not only be used as a tissue sample for a potential recipient but could also generally be used for basic biological research into stem cells. This could be implemented by means of finely coordinated staff, operations and time management (analogous to standard protocols for the removal of organs for transplantation).

Conclusion: Obtaining stem cells within the framework of organ donation should be implemented not only because medical (biological) research and practical animal welfare complement each other, but also because it would allow a better exploration of the opportunities for cell and tissue replacement therapies. The creation of a legal framework is an important prerequisite for practical implementation.

Dr. med. Oliver-Hans Zöller

Dr. med. Oliver-Hans Zöller is a specialist in general medicine, works in public health system and is the founder of the Zöller-Beaumont Foundation for Regenerative Medicine. You can visit the homepage of the Zöller-Beaumont Foundation at:

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