Scientist predicts stem cell 'pharmacies'
Stem cell "pharmacies" that dispense tissue therapies could be as common as chemist shops in 20 years' time, according to a top scientist.
Professor David Warburton, one of the world's leading experts on stem cells and regenerative medicine, said the era of stem cell technology was only just beginning.
In two decades he expected it to yield undreamed-of forms of personalised treatment for damaged body parts and organs.
Speaking on the eve of a major stem cell meeting in Nottingham, he said: "In about 20 years' time we will have stem cell banks just like we now have pharmacies with medicines in them.
"You'll get a diagnosis for a specific problem and be given stem cells to treat that problem."
Stem cells are "mother" cells that can be grown in the laboratory and used to make replacement tissue, such as brain neurons or insulin-producing pancreas cells.
Those obtained from early stage embryos - embryonic stem cells (ESCs) - have the ability to become virtually any kind of tissue in the human body.
Use of human embryos in research creates ethical concerns. However recent developments have led to ways of "tweaking" the genes of ordinary cells to turn them into stem cells with ESC-like properties.
Such research, combining genetics with regenerative medicine, has enormous potential, Prof Warburton believes.
"It's a wonderful time to be working in medical research," he said. "Genomic research is going to apply stem cell research not only to a specific disease but to a specific person with a disease. You're going to have personalised regenerative medicine."
Prof Warburton is based at the Saban Research Institute of the Children's Hospital, Los Angeles.
He has pioneered research into the use of stem cells extracted from the amniotic fluid that surrounds a baby in the womb.
Currently Prof Warburton is working towards clinical trials of kidney treatments using amniotic stem cells.
"These cells go around the circulation, sniff out the damage, and change the milieu inside the kidney," he said.
Scientists at his laboratory are also looking at reconstructing lungs using stem cells - a feat that has already been achieved in animals.
Other developments that might soon produce benefits include experimental stem cell treatments for blood diseases and spinal cord injuries, said Prof Warburton.
The UK National Stem Cell Network annual meeting is taking place in Nottingham all this week.
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