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Cells are the building blocks of life – more than 200 highly distinct types make up every part of our bodies, ranging from brain and heart cells to bone and blood cells. But no matter how specialized a cell ends up, whatever its function – every single one starts from the same tiny blank canvas, a stem cell, which turns from allrounder to absolute specialist.
When cells become damaged or start to malfunction, this can lead to illnesses. Many serious conditions, including Parkinson’s, heart failure and various ocular diseases, involve increasing cell damage. For a long time, treatment of these conditions was limited to alleviating the symptoms. But what if doctors could restore function and health by replacing the cells that were lost or damaged?
This is the basic idea of cell therapy. It transfers cultivated or engineered cells to replace or repair damaged cells or to transfer repurposed cells to enhance their function. Depending on the type of therapy, the cells are collected either from donors or from the individual patients.
Science and Technology
When it comes to the development of innovative cell therapy treatments, the development of pluripotent stem cells (PSCs) constitutes a quantum leap. Pluripotency means that the cells can differentiate into any cell type of the human body. For a long time, embryonic stem cells were the only pluripotent cells known. But today, adult, mature cells – such as skin or blood cells – can be “reprogrammed” to generate induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs.) Advanced culturing methods can make it possible to direct the differentiation of the iPSCs to a certain type of cell, like specific brain cells or heart cells. Such cells can then be used to create treatments for a host of illnesses.
By acquiring BlueRock Therapeutics (BlueRock) in 2019, Bayer ventured into PSC derived cell therapy. BlueRock’s cell therapy platform allows for the creation of a virtually unlimited number of specialized, differentiated cells that can be used to create regenerative medicines for many intractable diseases that come with significant cell loss or reduce the ability of cells to self-repair. To create next-generation cell therapies, we are also incorporating gene editing with an aim to increase potency and persistence, further reduce immunogenicity, or build safeguard mechanisms into the cells, making cell therapy an even more powerful tool to help patients suffering from intractable diseases.