Dr. Joshua Hare believes medicine is close to a goal long thought to be impossible: healing the human heart.
The way to get there? Stem cells.
“These could be as big as antibiotics were in the last century,” said Hare, who leads the University of Miami ‘s new Stem Cell Institute. “Stem cells have the potential to have that kind of impact. Diseases like heart attacks, strokes, kidney failure, liver failure — we will be able to transition them into things you live with.”
Hare spends his days peering through powerful microscopes, recruiting scientists from top universities and attending to patients betting on improving their conditions through his clinical trials.
Stem cells, only one-thousandth the size of a grain of sand, are the master cells of the body, the source from which all other cells are created.
The most basic are embryonic stem cells, which are “totipotent,” meaning they can divide into any other type of cell — heart tissue, brain tissue, kidney tissue — all 220 cells that exist in the human body. They’re controversial because when they are harvested, the embryo is destroyed, ending potential life.
But coming into view are new kinds of stem cells — immature adult stem cells that can be extracted from bone marrow, from organs such as the heart or kidney or even from the skin. These can be taken without destroying embryos.
While researchers until recently believed adult stem cells were limited because they could develop only into cells similar to them — bone marrow cells only into cord blood stem cells, for example — evidence is growing that they, too, may become the tissue for hearts, brains, kidneys and other organs.