Stem cell biology has come of age. Unequivocal proof that stem cells exist in the hematopoietic system has given way to the prospective isolation of several tissue-specific stem and progenitor cells, the initial delineation of their properties and expressed genetic programs, and the beginning of their utility in regenerative medicine. The most important and useful property of stem cells is that of self renewal. Through this property, striking parallels can be found between stem cells and cancer cells: tumors may often originate from the transformation of normal stem cells, similar signaling pathways may regulate self-renewal in stem cells and cancer cells, and cancer cells may include 'cancer stem cells' - rare cells with indefinite potential for self-renewal that drive tumor genesis.

Burnt skin victims: Currently, organs must be donated and transplanted, but the demand for organs far exceeds supply. Stem cells could potentially be used to grow a particular type of tissue or organ if directed to differentiate in a certain way. Stem cells that lie just beneath the skin, for example, have been used to engineer new skin tissues that can be grafted onto burnt victims.

Parkinson's and Alzheimer's Disease: Replacement cells and tissues may be used to treat brain disease such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's by replenishing damaged tissue, bringing back the specialized brain cells that keep unneeded muscles from moving. Embryonic stem cells have recently been directed to differentiate into these types of cells, and so treatments are promising.

Other diseases: Similarly, people with type I diabetes may receive pancreatic cells to replace the insulin-producing cells that have been lost or destroyed by the patient's own immune system. The only current therapy is a pancreatic transplant, and it is unlikely to occur due to a small supply of pancreases available for transplant. Adult hematopoietic stem cells found in blood and bone marrow has been used for years to treat diseases such as leukemia, sickle cell anemia, and other immunodeficiency related disorders. These cells are capable of producing all blood cell types, such as red blood cells that carry oxygen to white blood cells that fight disease. Difficulties arise in the extraction of these cells through the use of invasive bone marrow transplants. However hematopoietic stem cells have also been found in the umbilical cord and placenta. This has led some scientists to call for an umbilical cord blood bank to make these powerful cells more easily obtainable and to decrease the chances of a body's rejecting therapy. The SC envisages in establishing state of the art laboratories in Pakistan, which will be the first of its kind, housing stem cell research facilities, to analyze and determine the various plethora of therapeutic solutions available for cell, tissue and organ replacement. The gene on-off mechanism will be studied and evaluated in the primary stages of development, with special emphasis on the proliferation and development of cancerous tissues.



image of stem cell Human embryonic stem cells were coaxed to differentiate into epithelial (skin) cells atop the two spots of biomaterial shown here. Cytokeratin (a marker of epithelial cells) is stained green; cell nuclei are blue.

Photo: Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
image of stem cell This image shows human embryonic stem cells differentiated to neuron-like cells.

Photo: Rhiannon Nolan and Larry Goldstein 2006, University of California, San Diego.
image of stem cell
Brain cancer stem cells stained for GFAP (green).

Photo: Steve Pollard, Wellcome Trust.


Head of SCRC

Dr. Bushra Noman, Head of the Stem Cell Research Centre, is currently involved in teaching Bioinformatics to B.Sc, Computer Science [final semester] and DNA Computing [M.Sc., final semester] and establishing state of the art hi-tech Tissue Cultures Laboratories in SZABIST. She will be initiating with Plant Tissue Culture, followed by animals, and later on towards the tissue culture of human cells and tissues. The primary goal of this lab will be geared towards basic research in which a deep understanding towards the molecular mechanism of undifferentiated cancer cells will be studied. Emphasis will be placed towards cell programming, and how it occurs under artificial in-vitro conditions, so that a sound parallel relationship can be developed towards naturally occurring cancer cells.