The Exciting Future of Stem Cells - Part 1

Benjamin Reubinoff, M.D., Ph.D., has been the Chief Scientific Officer at Cell Cure Neurosciences Ltd. since 2006 and serves as Director of the Hadassah Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research Center.  Additionally, he is a Senior Physician at the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Hadassah University Medical Center in Jerusalem and one of the pioneers of hESC research. He serves as a Member of Scientific Advisory Board at Kadimastem Ltd.  Prof. Reubinoff is a full Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology and serves as Chairman of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology.  He completed his residency in Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Hadassah Medical Center. Prof Reubinoff also holds a PhD degree in developmental biology from Monash University, Melbourne, Australia.

For more information about Benjamin Reubinoff, M.D., Ph.D.

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Melanie Cole (Host): This is Part One of our two part series on stem cells. Stem cells are the foundation for every organ and tissue in your body. Twenty years ago, when stem cell therapy was highly regulated in the United States and other countries, it was well underway at Hadassah Medical Organization's Labs. Stem cells have changed the medical equation. Today, we are speaking with Professor Benjamin Reubinoff on this episode of Hadassah On Call. My guest today, is Professor Benjamin Reubinoff. He's a world-renowned stem cell pioneer and Director of Hadassah Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research Center. Professor Reubinoff. Please tell us your story of bringing the first line of stem cells to Israel.

Dr. Benjamin Reubinoff (Guest): Okay, thank you, Melanie. We are going back about twenty years ago when I was a young physician, and I was looking for a fellowship that will have a vision, and that can bring medicine a step forward. I start to concentrate my work on the derivation of human embryonic stem cells. Human embryonic stem cells — or embryonic stem cells are unique and universal. They are derived from the in vitro fertilized embryo at an early stage — few days of its development, and they are unique because they can proliferate indefinitely so they can serve as an unlimited source of human cells. They can give rise to any cell of the human body.

It was a big dream to derive these cells from human embryos that were created in in vitro fertilization treatment of couples suffering from infertility. It was a dream, and it was my dream when I went for this fellowship in Australia. It was a collaborative project of us and the Australian scientists and Singapore scientists. Eventually, we succeeded to derive these stem cells from human embryos. It was very exciting. We were pioneers and the second group in the world that succeeded to derive these stem cells from human embryos, and I brought these stem cells to Hadassah upon my return to Hadassah and established here the Center that has been focused since then, all these years on developing the stem cells for transplantation therapy.

Melanie: Absolutely fascinating. What diseases do you foresee that stem cells potentially have the ability to make a difference with?

Dr. Reubinoff: So, the diseases are mainly diseases where there is malfunctioning of the cell of the patients or death of certain cells. These diseases include Parkinson's disease where a specific type of nerve cells are dying, or retinal degeneration diseases, or diabetes. In all of these diseases specific cells in the body are malfunctioning, and the vision is to replace these malfunctioning or dying cells with the same type of cells that will be derived and developed from the embryonic stem cells.

Melanie: What are a few of the ways that stem cells are already being used. As you were speaking about embryonic stem cells, and people hear about stem cells from their own body, explain a few of the ways that you are able to use them now.

Dr. Reubinoff: At the moment, embryonic stem cells are not used in the clinic for therapy. They are not at this stage of development. At the moment, adult — what we call, adult stem cells — are those that are used in the clinic. An example of adult stem cells that are used is hematopoietic stem cells. Those are the cells that make all types of blood cells. These are being used for many years for bone marrow transplantation. If we mention these — there are actually two main types of stem cells, adult stem cells which are the stem cells that exist in the body of every person. These stem cells mainly renew specific tissues in the body like the bone marrow that is renewing the blood system. And as I mentioned, these adult stem cells are being used in the clinic for many years. Embryonic stem cells, they are not used for clinical therapies, they are at an early stage of initial use in the clinical trial.

Melanie: So, with adult stem cells or tissue-specific stem cells, Professor Reubinoff, are they automatically safe to use for treatments if they come from your own body? What has to happen to them?

Dr. Reubinoff: Well, they may have some issues of safety as well as embryonic stem cells, but they are less problematic, I would say. In some cases, you have to expand these cells before you transplant them. They may change in culture. In some cases, you want to modify them in culture before you transplant them, and again, this modification may be associated with some risks. However, when you are transplanting stem cells from the patient's own body, you don't have problems and issues of immune rejection that we have to overcome with embryonic stem cells, so there are issues that are not problematic with adult stem cells.

However, I must stress that the ability of adult stem cells to regenerate and to replenish malfunctioning cells is limited mainly to the tissue from which they originated. Therefore, bone marrow stem cells are used mainly to repopulate the bone marrow in the blood system. There are stem cells in other tissues like the nervous system, the cardiac system, but these are difficult to expand and difficult to obtain functional, mature cells from these types of stem cells for transplantation when we know that embryonic stem cells are more amenable to maturation for specific types of cells of the body that will be functional.

The bottom line is that we think that the embryonic stem cells, which mean stem cells that can give rise to any cell type and tissue of the human body are probably going to be a better source of mature, functional cells that can be used for transplantation, regeneration, and replenishment of malfunctioning or dead cells in the patients' body.

Melanie: That was an excellent explanation, Professor Reubinoff. Isn't it amazing what you do? Thank you so much for being on with us today. This concludes Part One of our special two part series on stem cells with Professor Benjamin Reubinoff.  We invite you to listen to Part two in order to hear the rest of this fascinating interview. This is Hadassah On Call: New Frontiers in Medicine brought to you by Hadassah, The Women's Zionist Organization of America. The largest Jewish women's organization in America, Hadassah enhances the health of people worldwide through medical education, care and research innovations at the Hadassah Medical Organization in Jerusalem Israel.

For more information on the latest advances in medicine please visit Hadassah.org and to hear more episodes in this podcast series, including part two of this fascinating interview, please visit Hadassah.org/podcasts, thats Haddasah.org/podcasts.

We'd love to know your thoughts, questions, and stories! Send us an email anytime at marketing@hadassah.org.

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