It was not that long ago the concept of bone marrow adult stem cells actually being the natural renewal system of the body, was simply a fanciful idea. Researchers were reluctant ant to get involved with something akin to science fiction, however the last few years has seen a dramatic turnaround.
One of the earliest studies was by a team led by Dr Diane Krauss. The aim of the study was simply to prove on thing — can one single stem cell reconstitute the entire blood system?
In theory it was easy, but in reality it was much more difficult. The team persevered and came up with something ingenious. They knew that the only cells that will home to the bone marrow are stem cells, so by injecting bone marrow cells into the blood, a few hours later they will end up in the bone marrow.
Dr Krauss irradiated female mice and injected male bone marrow cells. After a few days, the team collected stem cells from the bone marrow of the recipient mice and a single one of these stem cells was injected into another irradiated female. This gave them the condition of a female mouse with blood cells damaged by radiation containing one single stem cell in their bodies.
In a few weeks, Dr Krauss and her team got their answer. The entire blood system of the female mouse was back and they had definitively proven that a single bone marrow derived stem cell can reconstitute the entire blood system.
There was also some more to this experiment. Since the stem cell had come from a male and XY DNA, they were able to identify the Y chromosome in the female mouse. It appeared in various tissues such as the intestine, liver, lung and skin. This revealed that stem cells from the bone marrow can in fact travel to the various tissues and organs of the body and become new cells.
In this case, the stem cell used to regenerate the entire blood system was from a donor male, so the question asked, would the same migration and renewal happen if the stem cells were the animal’s own?
Whilst Dr Krauss was doing her study, in 2001, Dr Orlic and his team and the National Institute of Health set out to answer that question. They stimulated the release of stem cells in animals who had suffered heart attacks. Dr Orlic found that when significantly increasing the number of stem cells for a few days, scarring of the heart tissue was eliminated and almost normal heart function was restored in as few as 27 days.
This release of stem cells from the bone marrow was enough for them to travel to the heart, migrate into the heart tissue and become healthy new cells of that tissue. When you look at these amazing results, it really makes you wonder why the scientific community took so long to wake to the fact that bone marrow stem cell release is a natural process and this natural process is actually the renewal system of the body.