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Morris Animal Foundation-funded Study Points Way to Improved Stem Cell Therapies

DENVER/January 26, 2018 – Morris Animal Foundation-funded researchers from Cornell University and North Carolina State University, found that stem cell function can be enhanced through manipulation of their culture environment, and that “priming” prior to patient administration could optimize their therapeutic potential. The research team published their results in Veterinary Immunology and Immunopathology.

The use of mesenchymal stem cells to treat a wide variety of diseases in both humans and animals has grown in the last two decades. Despite their widespread use, many questions remain about how to optimize the therapeutic potential of stem cells. Since stem cells are harvested and then cultured (to increase numbers), the culture step is an attractive point to study how changes in the local environment affect stem cell behavior.

“The results of this study were really surprising and important for stem cell therapy,” said Dr. Lisa A. Fortier, James Law Professor of Surgery at Cornell University and one of the publication’s authors. “One of the problems we see with stem cells destined for therapy is that they are not all alike in their ability to heal. In the body, stem cells are more or less quiescent or neutral, and they need to be activated or ‘licensed’ to have their full effect.”

The researchers demonstrated that when stem cells are treated with interferon gamma, a common substance produced by the immune system in response to inflammation, the stem cells’ function changed. 

“When stem cells are treated with interferon gamma, they become super stem cells and have a significantly enhanced reparative capacity compared to quiescent stem cells, surpassing even what we see in injured tissues,” said Dr. Fortier. “These findings tell us that to optimize stem cell treatment, they should be activated outside the body prior to use for regenerative therapy.” 

The team’s findings have important clinical implications for future use of stem cell therapies in patients, and have paved the way for further studies looking at treatment optimization.

“Morris Animal Foundation has been interested in exploring the therapeutic potential of stem cells for nearly two decades,” said John Reddington, DVM, PhD, President and CEO of Morris Animal Foundation. “Although we’ve made incredible discoveries already, these results show that there are still many things we don’t understand about stem cells. These results can help us improve stem cell treatment in a host of animal species.”

About Morris Animal Foundation

Established in 1948, Morris Animal Foundation is dedicated to improving and protecting the health of animals through scientific innovation, education and inspiration. Our investment in research has yielded life-saving vaccines, new treatments for critical diseases, superior screening tests and advanced diagnostic tools. We respond to emerging animal health threats that endanger entire species, and make new discoveries in basic animal biology to support applied research. With every study we fund – more than 2,600 to date – we strive to advance the science of veterinary medicine, honoring the founding principles of Dr. Mark L. Morris Sr., and benefitting animals worldwide.