Thursday, April 19, 2012

Gallbladder holds stem cells that can cure disease

Stem cells can be found in various shapes in many organs. Some are 'true' stem cells that still have the ability to turn into any tissue type, and are mostly found in embryos. Our organs mainly hold those of the adult type, which are still capable of turning into various cell types, but have already committed to a certain lineage, limiting their possibilities. Scientists use stem cells to restore organ damage by regenerating tissue, which is why sources of stem cells usable for therapy are of great interest. A study presented at this year's International Liver Congress explains that gallbladder tissue, though normally disregarded, is a potential source for multipotent stem cells, similar to the adult ones described previously. Cells from the gallbladder can therefore possibly help us cure disease.

Cells that can be derived from gallbladder tissue are called BTSC, which basically is an abbreviation for being able to make liver and pancreas tissue. Scientists have shown that these primitive cells are able to grow into fully-functioning mature tissue, and were also able to replicate this while growing the cells in tubes. Therefore, it seems that BTSC are an interesting new option for diseases involving liver and pancreas.
Position of the gallbladder (light green). Normally, adult stem cells can produce the tissue in which they are located themselves, showing why gallbladder cells can be used for liver and pancreas.
Naturally, experiments were set up to assess whether administering BTSC resulted in regeneration of damaged liver and pancreas tissue. According to the scientists, experiments showed that the cells were able to repair damaged tissue in animals suffering from liver disease. The BTSC were still functional if the patient, an animal in this case, was suffering from a disease that also affected the gallbladder. It makes the cells even more interesting, as patient-own stem cells can be the cause of the disease in the first place; if that was the case, then patients would have dysfunctional BTSC that cannot be used to treat the disease, and instead require cells that have been obtained from other, healthy people. In turn, that would lead to the immune system to recognize the 'foreign' cells and target them for destruction, effectively nullifying the treatment.

Because BTSC have the capability of regenerating tissues, scientists may be able to develop a therapy that involves administering the cells to patients suffering from damaged liver or pancreas. Their functionality despite possible disease of the gallbladder itself means that such therapies can be based on patient-own cells, which improves compatibility. Examples include liver damage due to heavy drinking or poisoning, or diabetes in the case of pancreas damage. Scientists are already attempting to cure diabetes type 1 by replacing the damaged tissue, but this has so far been problematic.

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