MIMR researchers have been at the forefront of stem cell research for over a decade. Their expertise has resulted in the identification and isolation of stem cell lines that will increase understanding of a range of diseases. Stem cells are unique in that they have the potential to develop into a range of different cell types. Stem cells are found in the early embryo, the fetus, placenta, umbilical cord, and in many different tissues of the adult body. The excitement around stem cell research is that these unique cells provide opportunities to better understand and potentially treat a range of medical conditions.
MIMR is recognised for its research into developing patient-matched stem cells through a process called cell reprogramming. Researchers believe that one of the greatest hurdles to stem cell therapy is the rejection of the introduced cells by the patient’s immune system. This can be overcome if the stem cells used to create the cells for transplantation, are genetically matched to the patient. Cell reprogramming offers the possibilities of using adult cells (such as skin) and converting them to cells with stem cell-like properties. This is a process called induced pluripotency and is an alternative MIMR researchers are pursuing that avoids the use of eggs, which other processes of cellular reprogramming may require. They are also using these cells to understand how genes are regulated as they differentiate into specialised cells that enable our tissues and organs to function effectively.
MIMR’s research into placenta cells has the potential to dramatically improve the quality of life for premature babies. Cells collected from the placenta following the birth of a baby have been shown to have stem cell-like properties. MIMR researchers are pioneering the use of these cells for the treatment of premature babies suffering from respiratory distress and neurological development. Another group of Institute researchers has shown that placental, or amnion, cells can effectively reduce tissue inflammation and fibrosis. They are testing the effectiveness of treating lung fibrosis and liver cirrhosis where organ transplantation is currently the only cure for patients with advanced forms of these diseases.
Endometrium stem cells
In 2005, MIMR researchers were the first in the world to identify two types of adult stem cells in the human endometrium (lining of the uterus, or womb). Since then, the research team has isolated these rare cells, which could provide cells for tissue engineering for conditions such as pelvic floor prolapse. It is believed that endometrial stem cells may also hold clues to diseases such as endometriosis and endometrial cancer.
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