Stem cells: progress in research and edging towards the clinical setting.
Stanworth SJ., Newland AC.
Mouse embryonic stem cells have been shown to differentiate into a variety of tissues in vitro and in transplantation experiments can produce many different cell types. Multipotent stem cells in adult humans have also shown a high degree of plasticity: haemopoietic stem cells, for example, have been shown to contribute to several other tissues, such as liver. From these simple observations there has been considerable extrapolation into the use of such putative totipotent stem cells in the clinical setting, with the development of 'designer' tissue engineering, whose aim is to create large tissues or even whole organs for clinical use. In practical terms, however, there are many limitations and difficulties and clinical use has been restricted to a very few settings, eg the use of fetal cells in Parkinson's disease. Nonetheless, there is enormous potential in this area, and also in the application of embryonic or adult stem cells as carriers for gene therapy; but the limitations of such treatment, in particular the stability of manipulated cells, and the problems of ageing and Ooncogenicity, not to mention a host of ethical and regulatory issues, all need to be considered.