The world of human stem cells
The term stem cells refers to biological cells that have the ability to divide and differentiate into diverse specialized cell types. Stem cells can also self-renew thus producing more stem cells.
Human adult stem cells have been used successfully for therapeutic purposes for more than forty years in the form of bone marrow and, increasingly, peripheral blood stem cells. Outstanding success has been achieved in the treatment of acute myeloid leukemia.
On the other hand, studies with human embryonic stem cells are still at the stage of basic research. At present, it is not possible to conclusively assess their therapeutic potential. Whether their expected ability to regenerate damaged organs is superior to that of adult stem cells still needs to be clarified by further intensive research.
Bayer is currently not doing human stem cell research, neither with adult nor embryonic stem cells. For ethical reasons, we also reject reproductive cloning of humans or animals.
However, Bayer believes that stem cell therapy has great potential. We believe that research in the field of regenerative medicine should be further promoted. The use of research findings may allow the successful development of new therapies for serious and life-threatening diseases which cannot be treated today.
Bayer believes that cancer stem cells are a promising target in the fight against cancer. Cancer stem cells, also called tumor initiating cells or circulating tumor cells (CTCs), are not stem cells per se.
CTCs are a small but robust subset of tumor cells which are similar to stem cells. They are believed to play a significant role in the establishment, metastasis and recurrence of cancer, even after primarily successful first-line therapy. They seem to be highly resistant to chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
In 2010, Bayer therefore entered into a collaboration with OncoMed Pharmaceuticals Inc. in California, USA. The partners jointly work on novel anti-cancer stem cell therapeutics.