What once sounded like a science fiction plot is just about modern fact. The Institute of Biomedical Technology (IBT) at the University of Tampere actually grows bone inside the patient’s own muscle and can form just about anything from stem cells: Possibly heart cells which in the picture throb under the microscope just like a real heart.
There are four groups working with stem cells: the adult stem cell group, focusing on making bone from fat, the eye group, the nerve group and the heart group.
Riitta Suuronen, professor of tissue technology research, says that Tampere is the most advanced in the production of bone. Some thirty procedures have been accomplished in the Tampere University Hospital in which stem cells are separated from the patient’s fat tissue and used to grow new bone in the patient’s own body. New bone is needed, for example, when a jawbone must be removed due to disease.
“Such tissue technology treatments still require testing almost as rigorous as when a new drug is being put onto the markets. At present we are only treating individual patients, that is, we always take that patient’s own fat, isolate the stem cells from it and make bone” says Professor Suuronen.
Some time will elapse before modes of treatment based on stem cells are an everyday occurrence. However, great things are expected of cell and tissue technology.
“We believe that in the future cell and tissue technology will become a third treatment modality alongside medication and surgery,” says Professor Suuronen.
Injuries easier to treat
At present cell therapy has been most successfully used in the treatment of injuries, such as when there is a lack of bone after an accident.
It is hoped that stem cell treatment will be of use in numerous neural diseases. According to Riitta Suuronen people suffering from Parkinson’s disease, for example, have benefited from stem cell treatments and treatments are being tested on various diseases. Just now in the United States a clinical trial is beginning for the treatment of people with spinal cord injuries.
So-called systemic diseases are still more difficult to treat with stem cell transfers than injuries.
“For example, rheumatism is an inflammatory disease which attacks various cells in the body using its own mechanism. Presumably it would also attach cells transferred to the patient and make them diseased, too.”
Nevertheless a trial is beginning in the United States to treat multiple sclerosis (MS) patients with stem cells.
The treatment of the future
The extent to which cell and tissues technology is used in medicine depends largely on what permission is granted by officialdom.
“We still don’t know how stringent explanations the officials in our drug administration will require of us; indeed, the officials themselves don’t know. In a way we are going into uncharted waters, “says Professor Suuronen.
Not long ago a company in the United States which had been granted permission to use embryo cells in the treatment of a patient with a spinal injury was required to supply 22,000 pages of explanation to the American Food and Drug Administration.
IBT engages in a great deal of co-operation with US research institutes and Riitta Suuronen makes frequent trips over the Atlantic.
In the USA the Tampere research unit enjoys the reputation of a pioneer and has been said to be years ahead of the USA in its research. Negotiations are now ongoing as to whether the Tampere team could also treat US patients.
“We have the advantage of being able to treat patients under the umbrella of the hospital exemption. This is not permitted in the USA and very extensive testing is required prior to treatments. We can cut a few corners, but only in Finland, and in such a way that all cells are processed and all treatments administered here,” says Professor Suuronen.
IBT has concluded a cooperation agreement with Tampere University of Technology. Technical sciences and medical sciences, such as medical technology and medical biomaterials, are merging in the unit.