Many in the research community believe there is huge potential for stem cell therapy to treat a broad range of diseases. Stem cells, special human cells that can develop into many different cell types, essentially serve as a repair system for the body.
Currently, more than 5,000 clinical trials worldwide are based on therapeutic stem cells, including some at VA hospitals for illnesses ranging from cardiovascular disease to cancer.
But gaps remain in the transition of stem cell application from the research stage to patients.
“One of these gaps is how a patient’s lifestyle choices and underlying health conditions may negatively affect stem cell therapy,” says Dr. Ngan Huang, a biomedical engineer at the VA Palo Alto Health Care System in California. “Given the prevalence of cigarette use and rise of electronic cigarettes, we believe this subject is an important aspect of stem cell application that remains unexplored. Not much is known about nicotine and its direct effect on therapeutic stem cells.”
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Huang and Dr. Alex Chan, a postdoctoral research fellow at VA Palo Alto, are studying the effects of nicotine, a highly addictive tobacco stimulant normally inhaled with cigarettes, on therapeutic stem cells. The two co-authored a review article on the effects of nicotine on stem cell therapy that appeared online earlier this year in the journal Regenerative Medicine.
There are two arms to their study. In one, Huang and Chan are injecting cells into mice that have been exposed to nicotine,