Insight: Stem cells

Fascinating: while our body can live 80, 90 or even 100 years, the individual components that our body is built of live much shorter and need to be rejuvenated on a monthly, weekly or even daily basis.  

Gut cells, for instance, are replaced every four to five days, skin cells every three to six months. Stem cells, with their brilliant ability to repair and rejuvenate tissue, play a crucial role in this process. They have given regenerative medicine a powerful boost. But what are they and how do they work?

Stem cells are basic cells that have the potential to create new tissue. The best known stem cells are those in bone marrow, where they develop into blood cells. Other stem cells become new skin cells, replacing the old ones (visible as skin flakes). Stem cells can also be found in our organs, like our liver and lungs.

In a way, stem cells are workmen and building blocks in one. They are capable of repairing (regenerating) damaged tissue such as abraded skin . But when these workmen are slow or exhausted, they don’t perform properly and tissue in need of repair is not replaced. In the lungs this leads to COPD (emphysema). Worldwide, over 251 million people suffer from this chronic lung disease for which as yet there is no cure.

The Lung Regeneration Cnsortium is working on ways to induce repair of lung tissue. Either by giving growth factors that activate the stem cells, like giving extra food to the workmen. Or by giving stem cells to patients, like introducing new workmen. They aim to start the first clinical studies in COPD patients in five years’ time.