We frequently get asked questions about stem cells since part of our HLHS research uses cell-based therapy to help delay and even prevent heart transplants. Below are a few questions and answers that will help clarify exactly what stem cells are and their important role in research.
A: Stem cells are the body’s basic materials that can grow into new tissues. There are different types of stem cells: embryonic, perinatal, bioengineered and adult stem cells. Embryonic stem cells come from embryos. Perinatal stem cells come from amniotic fluid and the umbilical cord. Bioengineered stem cells are reprogramed cells created in a laboratory setting, while adult stem cells exist in the bone marrow and fat cells of adults. Bone marrow stem cells come from the spongy tissue inside some bones and can be engineered into different types of tissue to help regenerate unhealthy cells.
Q: Do all stem cells involve embryos or embryonic tissue?
A: No, not all stem cells are embryonic. Embryonic stem cells are used much less today as they come from embryos.
Q: Do stem cells cause tumors and cancer?
A: Pluripotent stem cells such as embryonic stem cells or induced pluripotent stem cells (stem cells that have been bioengineered) have the definitive risk of causing tumors. This issue is currently being addressed with ongoing research but poses a limitation to clinical practice right now. Umbilical cord blood and adult stem cells such as fat or bone marrow derived stem cells have no risk of tumor formation. This is because these stem cells are not pluripotent (or capable of differentiating into all tissues) and have a limited ability to differentiate into selected tissues.
Q: Can you use stem cells from my own body?
A: Yes, we collect stem cells from your body. In fact, in one of our research studies, we collect umbilical stem cells from cord blood during a baby’s delivery.
Q: Are my stem cells good to use if I have a disease?
A: Umbilical cord blood stem cells are likely to regenerate the heart by acting as a “fertilizer” to the heart muscle and helping the heart muscle regenerate and grow stronger. Therefore, these stem cells are not directly contributing to new heart tissue. A disease such as HLHS will not affect the ability of these cells to function.
Bioengineered cells such as induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC) that directly produce new heart tissue may be negatively affected by the underlying cause of the disease in HLHS. Research is currently underway to determine if these iPSC cells could be useful in regenerating the heart of someone with HLHS or if they need to be further engineered because they have an underlying genetic cause for HLHS.
Q: Should I save umbilical cord blood for another child?
A: Cord blood from an individual with HLHS will not likely be used for siblings in the future because of the unknown risk of genetic causes of HLHS. It is not yet known if cord blood from an HLHS individual is the same or different from an unaffected individual.
Questions or concerns? Feel free to reach out to our team by emailing HLHS@mayo.edu.
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