The Current issue of “The view from here” discusses Stem Cells.

The topic of this month’s newsletter from Drug Discovery Today is Stem Cells.

Stem cells are unique in the mammalian body in that they have the potential to differentiate into any other cell type, moreover they can divide to form more stem cells. It has long been hoped that this ability would allow the repair or augmentation of various tissues and organs affected by disease or damage. As such, in the past these cells have been of more interest in treating disorders per se, rather than a direct target for drug discovery efforts. It became clear, however, that harvested stem cells would not necessarily differentiate into the desired cell type without some chemical (or biochemical) persuasion or by modification of the cell microenvironment. The interest in drug development with respect to stem cells was further heightened by the developing field of cancer stem cells where, in contrast to previous approaches, the disease is suppressed by exerting inhibitory effects on the stem cell itself. As an area of research, stem cell biology is relatively mature, however, it has come to the stage whereby effective capitalization upon the science and meaningful collaboration between groups will require standards and harmonization and/or centralization of databases to allow pre-competitive efforts to succeed efficiently. Such an approach will allow therapies to be developed more quickly with less profligacy and enhance and protect individual intellectual property.

The free downloads available in this newsletter highlight some of the most recent developments in all of these areas: in regenerative medicine, in cancer stem cell research and stem cell database standardization. I do hope that these articles will give a good introduction to the field and highlight the overlap between the dyed-in-the-wool stem cell biologist and pharmaceutical scientist.

The first article, by Yu Long Han, Shuqi Wang, Xiaohui Zhang, Yuhui Li, Guoyou Huang, Hao Qi, Belinda Pingguan-Murphy, Yinghui Li, Tian Jian Lu and Feng Xu of Xi’an Jiaotong University, China and Brigham Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School, USA entitled: “Engineering physical microenvironment for stem cell based regenerative medicine” describes how great advances in stem cell regenerative medicine have been made in the last 10 years or so. They state that the impact of such an approach is predicated upon the appropriate differentiation of the stem cells into the required differentiated cell type. There are a number of factors affecting this pathway, some biochemical, but the focus of their article is upon the effects of the cellular microenvironment on guiding stem cell differentiation. Such factors include matrix stiffness, mechanical forces, topography and spatiotemporal dynamics. The authors describe methodologies to modify and maintain such factors by the use of appropriate materials and fabrication.

The second article, from Weimiao Wu, Sisi Feng, Yaqun Wang, Ningtao Wang, Han Hao and Rongling Wu of Center for Computational Biology, Beijing Forestry University, China and the Center for Statistical Genetics, The Pennsylvania State University, USA  entitled: “Systems mapping of genes controlling chemotherapeutic drug efficiency for cancer stem cells” discusses how the pathophysiology of cancer stem cells can be modified by chemotherapeutics, but patient variability is great. The authors describe statistical approaches to mapping those genes that are involved in modifying patient response to particular drugs. Moreover, this allows an estimation of the efficacy of various drugs and drug combinations in arresting and/or reversing tumour growth. By such approaches, information is available to predict the most effective treatment for patients. The topic of precision medicine in oncology is the subject of an upcoming special issue of Drug Discovery Today in collaboration with Cancer Research UK in December this year.

Finally, is the review from Nadia K. Litterman and Sean Ekins of Collaborative Drug Discovery and  Collaborations in Chemistry, USA, entitled, “Databases and collaboration require standards for human stem cell research”.  The authors point out that although there have been massive strides taken into the development of stem cell science for the treatment of disease, there are issues with learning from results of the past and present. They outline an approach intended to enhance collaboration between groups to ensure that the results and benefits of research can help to lever the efforts of all involved parties. They propose the foundation of a definitive centralized database, or harmonized data repositories that will allow the selective and effective sharing of data between academic groups and industry. The consequence of this approach would be the production of a core structure that will fulfil global needs with respect to data sharing and enhance and protect intellectual property. In the authors’ words “At the very least, it will be important that, as politicians and scientific administrators develop a long-term strategy for stem cell research, they consider the central importance of creating such standards, a database, and a collaborative environment.”

Steve Carney was born in Liverpool, England and studied Biochemistry at Liverpool University, obtaining a BSc.(Hons) and then read for a PhD on the Biochemistry and Pathology of Connective Tissue Diseases in Manchester University, in the Departments of Medical Biochemistry and Histopathology. On completion of his PhD he moved to the Kennedy Institute of Rheumatology, London, where he worked with Professor Helen Muir FRS and Professor Tim Hardingham, on the biochemistry of experimental Osteoarthritis. He joined Eli Lilly and Co. and held a number of positions in Biology R&D, initially in the Connective Tissue Department, but latterly in the Neuroscience Department. He left Lilly to take up his present position as Managing Editor, Drug Discovery Today, at Elsevier. Currently, he also holds an honorary lectureship in Drug Discovery at the University of Surrey, UK. He has authored over 40 peer-reviewed articles, written several book chapters and has held a number of patents. Currently, outside of work Steve is busy rehearsing The Alchymist's Journal by Kenneth Hestketh with his band, The Fulham Brass Band in rehearsals for the National Brass Band Finals of Great Britain. The band qualified to represent the London and Southern Counties region in March for the Contest in Cheltenham in September. Please feel free to show your support for the band by visiting their Facebook page and leaving good will messages.


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