Stem Cell and Genetic Clinical Research

Gene therapy is a novel therapeutic branch of modern medicine. Its emergence is a direct consequence of the revolution heralded by the introduction of recombinant DNA methodology in the 1970s. Gene therapy is still highly experimental, but has the potential to become an important treatment regimen. In principle, it allows the transfer of genetic information into patient tissues and organs. Consequently, diseased genes can be eliminated or their normal functions rescued. Furthermore, the procedure allows the addition of new functions to cells, such as the production of immune system mediator proteins that help to combat cancer and other diseases.

Originally, monogenic inherited diseases, such as cystic fibrosis, were considered primary targets for gene therapy. For instance, in pioneering studies on the correction of adenosine deaminase deficiency, a lymphocyte-associated severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID), was attempted. Stem cells can be classified as embryonic or adult, depending on their tissue of origin. The role of adult stem cells is to sustain an established repertoire of mature cell types in essentially steady-state numbers over the lifetime of the organism. Although adult tissues with a high turnover rate, such as blood, skin, and intestinal epithelium, are maintained by tissue-specific stem cells, the stem cells themselves rarely divide.

However, in certain situations, such as during tissue repair after injury or following transplantation, stem cell divisions may become more frequent. The prototypic example of adult stem cells, the hematopoietic stem cell, has already been demonstrated to be of utility in gene therapy. Although they are relatively rare in the human body, these cells can be readily isolated from bone marrow or after mobilization into peripheral blood. Specific surface markers allow the identification and enrichment of hematopoietic stem cells from a mixed population of bone marrow or peripheral blood cells.

 

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