By Maryam Qarehgozlou, Tehran Times
TEHRAN - Iran is one of the most pioneering countries in the world and the second country in the region based on stem cell knowledge and technology, Hossein Baharvand, director of Royan Institute for stem cell biology and technology, has said. Baharvand is a distinguished professor of stem cells and developmental biology at Royan Institute.
Baharvand received his B.Sc. in biology from Shiraz University in 1994, and M.Sc. in developmental biology from Shahid Beheshti University in 1996. He also received his Ph.D. in cell and developmental biology from Khwarizmi University in 2004. In 2012, he became professor at Royan Institute.
For the first time, he generated the mouse and human embryonic stem cells (2003) and induced pluripotent stem cells (2008) in Iran. This has enabled his team to pursue many avenues of research into translational research and regenerative medicine.
He is the founder and director of Royan Institute for stem cell biology and technology, where the institute is committed to cross-disciplinary partnerships and collaborations by biology, engineering, and medical academics to improve human health and life quality. Now, the institute includes 4 main departments named as Stem Cells and Developmental Biology, Regenerative Medicine, Cell Engineering and the newly established Brain and Cognitive Sciences.
In an exclusive interview with the Tehran Times, Baharvand explained about his research works and the potential of cell therapy and regenerative medicine technologies in "curing the diseases."
Below is the text of the interview:
1) Liver and heart diseases are the leading causes of death worldwide, how does your research on regenerating liver and heart cells, winning an award in the 32nd Khwarizmi International Award, can help in treatment of such diseases?
Chronic degeneration of different organs is the major cause for mortality and morbidity worldwide. Organ transplantation is the "gold standard" protocol for the end stage patients suffering from organ failure. However, the limited number of donated organs make a potential obstacle in organ transplants. In addition, post transplantation complications are another obstacle after organ transplants. Cell therapy is an alternative strategy for patients suffering from organ failure. In Royan Institute, we developed advanced protocols to produce liver and heart cells from human stem cells. The generated cells were functional in lab and performed their physiological functions. Then we tried to scale-up these protocols and generate sufficient cells for any possible application in industry and clinic. The differentiation protocols are updated continuously and we are going to optimize them.
2) You also won the Word Academy of Sciences (TWAS) 2019 prize in biology. You received the prize for your fundamental contribution to the understanding of how pluripotency and differentiation establish and maintain in stem cells. Can you elaborate on how the research can help in treatment of diseases in human beings?
Pluripotent stem cells have unique abilities that make them an ideal source to produce any functional cell. The proliferation capacity of these cells is unlimited and they can differentiate into all cell types in the human body, thus they provide an exceptional platform to treat a wide range of diseases. The cutting-edge research in stem cell science, however faces many challenges. We are working on these challenges now.
One of the biggest hurdles in any embryonic stem cell-based therapy is forced directed differentiation of stem cell to the desired cell. The process of specification and maturation to a functional cell type from a pluripotent state is called differentiation.
Guiding embryonic stem cells to become a particular cell type has been fraught with difficulty. Normally, stem cells growing in a developing embryo receive different signals from the surrounding tissue as well as cells. In lab, we have to mimic those conditions and microenvironment. For example, in addition to producing liver and heart cells, we have successfully differentiated human embryonic stem cells into retinal pigment epithelium and dopaminergic cells for age related macular degeneration and Parkinson's diseases, respectively. We transplanted the cells in animal models and found improvement. For this translational science, we need to pass many regulations and many quality controls before clinical trials. So, to take a step further, we have established a special unit to produce stem cells under Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) condition. This enables to provide clinical-grade cells with defined quality and assured safety for human use for Parkinson's disease and age-related macular degeneration.
3) As the director of Royan Institute for stem cell biology and technology, how much do you think stem cell technology can prove to be effective in treatment of diseases and how much advancement Iran has made in this regard?
Regenerative medicine technologies, aimed at changing form and function of therapeutic methods, inform the prospect of transforming standard-of-care practices in the near future.
The evolution from the traditional perspective of "caring the disease" to the increasingly actionable paradigm of "curing the disease", has shown its efficiency in huge number of clinical trials in recent years and also increasing number of industrial units emerging in this field which are more than 900 companies all over the world.
Iran is one of the most pioneering countries in the world and the second country in the region based on stem cell knowledge and technologies. There are several registered companies in this field which have approved 5 cell-based products in Iran FDA up to now. Also regulatory guidelines have been set which will promote stem cell technologies progression in coming years. Different autologous and allogenic cell transplantation clinical trials in patients with diseases such as myocardial infarction and diabetes and vascular, liver, skin, eye, bone, cartilage, and neurological disorders have been done in Iran. Up to now, Iran has registered 119 clinical trials in clinicaltrials.gov.
[ClinicalTrials.gov is a resource provided by the U.S. National Library of Medicine. It is a database of privately and publicly funded clinical studies conducted around the world.]
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