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Overseas Health Insurance News: Scientists make stem cell breakthrough

Expatriates may soon be able to use international healthcare insurance policies to fund a cure for a range of nervous system diseases, following a scientific breakthrough.

A research group, which was led by University of Central Florida bioengineer James Hickman and had its findings published in the journal ACS Chemical Neuroscience, converted stem cells from umbilical cords into other types of cells.

This could eventually result in people with conditions such as spinal cord injuries and multiple sclerosis having a new array of treatment options.

It is the first time this have ever happened without using embryonic stem cells, which overcomes many of the issues using this source can produce, Mr Hickman stated.

Umbilical cords would be discarded if they were not used, so they do not pose any ethical dilemmas.

Furthermore, their utility in medical procedures would be simplified as they have been found to typically not result in any immune reactions.

Postdoctoral researcher and lead author of the paper Hedvika Davis attempted to convert umbilical stem cells to critical parts of the human body called oligodendrocytes.

These insulate nerves in the spinal cord and brain and generally bind with norephinephrine, so she began to utilise this to stimulate them.

However, this procedure only resulted in a partial conversion, with the cells failing to reach a comparable level to that seen within the body.

Ms Davis then established a three-dimensional environment to reproduce the physical restrictions oligodendrocytes would typically face in humans, which was successful.

Injecting these into patients suffering from multiple sclerosis, diabetic neuropathy or related illnesses could result in their conditions improving, the researchers claimed.

It could also enable scientists to test potential treatments and understand what happens to these cells, they added.

"We want to use a model system to understand what's going on and also to look for possible therapies to repair some of the damage and we think there is great potential in both directions," Mr Hickman stated.

Stem cells could have potential for treating a wide range of other medical problems, including heart disease, burns, stroke, degenerative brain conditions and arthritis, as well as being utilised to test the efficacy of new drugs.

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