Scientists ‘Reprogramming’ Human Cells to Fight Diseases, Stop Aging

Image of the brain

By AFP Staff

New advances in medicine are leading scientists into all new directions, including technology that allows them to essentially “reprogram” human cells from skin and other tissue so that they can be used to rebuild damaged tissue and fight diseases like Parkinson’s.

One company, Bit Bio, for example has developed new technology that allows them to create human cells that can then be programmed to perform certain functions in the body, including helping to rebuild the building blocks of the human brain.

“Bit Bio’s goal is to develop a scalable technology platform capable of producing consistent batches of every human cell type,” Bit Bio CEO Mark Kotter, a neurosurgeon at Cambridge University and stem cell biologist, said in a press release. “This agreement will accelerate our mission of putting highly defined human cells in the hands of the researchers who need them to pursue their life-saving work.”

Bit Bio calls itself a “cell coding company.” Kotter claims the company has developed technology that allows it to not just make human cells but also to essentially program them for different functions.

Scientists have actually been working on this technology for well over a decade. In the past, though, they were limited because they found that, when they altered cells, they often created cancerous cellular growth that could not be controlled.

In the past few years, with the help of modern computers and other breakthroughs, they have developed new technologies that can essentially create and then reprogram cells without dangerous side effects.

In November 2018, for instance, a Japanese neurosurgeon implanted millions of reprogrammed stem cells into the brain of a man who suffered from Parkinson’s disease, a debilitating brain disorder that causes certain neurons to die off over time leading to shaking, stiffness, difficulty walking, and ultimately death. The doctor used what are known as induced pluripotent stem cells, which essentially amount to cells that can be reprogrammed from the cells of body tissue like skin so that the they can become embryonic stem cells.

According to Nature, “neurosurgeon Takayuki Kikuchi at Kyoto University Hospital implanted 2.4 million dopamine precursor cells into the brain of a patient in his 50s. In the three-hour procedure, Kikuchi’s team deposited the cells into 12 sites, known to be centers of dopamine activity. Dopamine precursor cells have been shown to improve symptoms of Parkinson’s disease in monkeys.”

In the past, doctors have had limited success with stem cells for a variety of reasons. In addition, there were ethical implications for the research because most of the embryonic stem cells were taken from aborted fetuses.

Today, though, companies are researching technology that allows them to take cells from a patient’s skin or other part of the body and then reprogram them for use in other parts of the body.