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Exploring the Possibilities of Stem Cell Treatments in Humans and Animals

Yuan Wang

Yuan Wang, an assistant professor in the MSU Department of Animal Science, believes stem cells may hold the answer to some of medicine’s biggest questions.

Stem cells are on the next frontier of medical treatment. Unlike other cells, stem cells can divide and form new cells with specific functions in various parts of the body — bones, muscles, organs and more.

Researchers and doctors are a better understanding of how to deploy stem cells in precise ways, the knowledge that could lead to a transformation in the way many diseases and injuries are treated.

Despite the promise of stem cell therapies, stem cell research — especially using human embryonic stem cells — has been mired in controversy for years.

The National Institutes of Health issued guidelines on research involving embryonic human stem cells in 2009. Under these rules, only human embryonic stem cells that have been listed in the NIH Human Embryonic Stem Cell Registry can be used for NIH-funded research.

Additionally, advances in using human stem cells harvested from adults have unlocked a plethora of possibilities.

Yuan Wang, an assistant professor in the MSU Department of Animal Science, believes stem cells may hold the answer to some of medicine’s biggest questions.

“Stem cells are the basis for regeneration in your body,” Wang said. “They can help us understand the development of disease, and we are figuring out how they can be used to replace damaged cells or replenish consumed cells in the body. The stem cell’s ability to adapt and serve any number of functions is unique, which is why it holds so much promise.”

Wang’s dedication to treating and curing diseases began just after high school when she decided to pursue a degree in medicine. In China, students can enter medical school directly after high school and train in a five- or six-year program.

Although she didn’t pursue primary care medicine, she found research as a pathway to fulfilling her career aspirations.

“During the last year of my Ph.D. study, I became tremendously interested in stem cell research,” Wang said. “I believe stem cells hold the greatest promise in regenerative medicine.”

Many types of cancer, heart disease, Parkinson’s disease and a cadre of other conditions are targets of stem cell research. Injuries such as joint ailments and burns may also benefit from stem cell therapies. In sports medicine, stem cell treatments could reduce inflammation and speed the healing of joint and soft-tissue injuries.

“Understanding the self-renewal and differentiation of stem cells in development and reproduction is one way to appreciate the cycle of life,” Wang said. “I strongly believe in conducting meaningful research to answer fundamental questions in biology, but after many years of scientific research, I appreciate more and more the importance of multidisciplinary collaborations.”

This article was published in Futures, a magazine produced twice per year by Michigan State University AgBioResearch. To view past issues of Futures, visit www.futuresmagazine.msu.edu. For more information, email Holly Whetstone, editor, at whetst11@msu.edu or call 517-355-0123.

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