10 Big Ideas
What ideas are shaping tomorrow’s medicine?
What are the coming innovations in treating heart disease and cancer?
What is the latest thinking in genetics and regenerative medicine?
From the minds of our scientists and clinicians, we bring you 10 noteworthy, thought-provoking ideas that have the potential to transform medicine.
1. Time-Traveling Cells
Imagine you have been diagnosed with a heart problem. Your cardiologist must choose among 10 different medications. Some might help, but may also cause side effects. Fortunately, you have banked your own line of powerful stem cells. Developed from your own blood cells, stem cells can become any tissue, including lung, eye, muscle, or brain. Your cardiologist asks the laboratory to grow heart cells from your own stem cells. A few days later, your heart cells begin beating—in a petri dish. Now the 10 medications are applied to the cells. The process reveals which medication will work best for you, with a lowered risk of serious side effects.
“This is a technique that I think in less than 50 years will be routine,” predicts Clive Svendsen, PhD, a pioneer of stem cell science and director of the Cedars-Sinai Regenerative Medicine Institute (RMI). “Every patient at Cedars-Sinai could have their own pluripotent stem cell line banked in a repository.” It would be personalized medicine at its finest, and Dr. Svendsen sees Cedars-Sinai playing a pivotal role in developing the technology.
The key is the induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cell: a blank-slate human cell created by pushing ordinary adult cells “back in time” to an embryonic state. These extraordinary cells are expanding regenerative medicine, a rapidly developing field that seeks to understand how your own cells can be made to repair or regrow diseased or malfunctioning organs.
RMI scientists and their peers are already employing iPS technology to create powerful models that may radically change the way we understand Lou Gehrig’s disease, Alzheimer’s, corneal blindness, liver disease, and a host of other ailments. An explosion in discovery of new drug therapies isn’t far behind.
Dr. Svendsen is even using iPS technology to scrutinize that most elusive human condition: aging. “The fact that you can reprogram an 80-year-old cell and make it embryonic has to imply that aging in some sense is reversible,” he says. While there are no guarantees, this may eventually lead to a new understanding of the aging process in cells, why humans age, and how we may prevent it or at least slow it down. As aging is the major risk factor for most human diseases, this could have an enormous impact on medicine. “Pluripotent stem cell therapy is a quiet revolution that is going on in laboratories around the country and the world,” says Dr. Svendsen, “and to me it’s the most exciting area of science right now.” — Sarah Spivack LaRosa