“Iranian pioneer in the knowledge and technology of stem cells”

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, said Hossein Baharvand, director of the Royan Institute for Biology and stem cell technology.

Baharvand is a distinguished professor of stem cells and developmental biology at the Institut de Royan.

He obtained his B.Sc. in Biology from Shiraz University in 1994, and M.Sc. in Developmental Biology from Shahid Beheshti University in 1996. He also obtained his PhD. in Cellular and Developmental Biology from Khwarizmi University in 2004. In 2012, he became a professor at the Royan Institute.

For the first time, it generated murine and human embryonic stem cells (2003) and induced pluripotent stem cells (2008) in Iran. This has enabled his team to pursue numerous avenues of research in translational research and regenerative medicine.

He is the founder and director of the Royan Institute of Stem Cell Biology and Technology, where the institute has engaged in interdisciplinary partnerships and collaborations by academics in biology, engineering and medicine to improve the human health and quality of life. Now the institute has 4 main departments named 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 his research and the potential of cell therapy and regenerative medicine technologies to “cure disease”.

Below is the text of the interview:

1) Liver and heart disease are the leading causes of death worldwide. How can your 32nd Khwarizmi International Award-winning research on regeneration of liver and heart cells help in the treatment of these diseases?

Chronic degeneration of various organs is the leading cause of death and morbidity worldwide. Organ transplantation is the gold standard for terminally ill patients with organ failure. However, the limited number of donated organs is a potential barrier to organ transplants. In addition, post-transplant complications are another obstacle after organ transplants. Cell therapy is an alternative strategy for patients with organ failure. At the Royan Institute, we have developed advanced protocols for producing liver and heart cells from human stem cells. The cells generated were functional in the laboratory and fulfilled their physiological functions. Then we tried to extend these protocols and generate enough cells for any possible application in industry and clinic. The differentiation protocols are constantly updated and we will optimize them.

2) You have also won the 2019 Word Academy of Sciences (TWAS) Prize in Biology. You received the award for your fundamental contribution to understanding how pluripotency and differentiation are established and maintained in stem cells. Can you explain how research can help treat diseases in humans?

Pluripotent stem cells have unique abilities that make them an ideal source to produce any functional cell. The proliferative capacity of these cells is limitless and they can differentiate into all cell types in the human body, providing an exceptional platform for treating a wide range of diseases. Cutting-edge research in stem cell science, however, faces many challenges. We are now working on these challenges.

One of the biggest obstacles to any embryonic stem cell therapy is the forced, directed differentiation of stem cells to the desired cell. The process of specifying and maturing into a functional cell type from a pluripotent state is called differentiation.

Various clinical trials of autologous and allogeneic cell transplantation in patients with diseases such as myocardial infarction and diabetes and vascular, hepatic, skin, eye, bone, cartilage and neurological disorders have been conducted in Iran.Guiding embryonic stem cells to become a particular cell type has proven difficult. Normally, stem cells that develop in a developing embryo receive different signals from the surrounding tissue as well as cells. In the laboratory, we have to mimic these conditions and this 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 disease, respectively. We transplanted the cells into animal models and saw improvement. For this translational science, we have to pass many regulations and many quality controls before clinical trials. So, to go further, we have set up a special unit to produce stem cells under Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) conditions. This provides clinical grade cells of defined quality and assured safety for human use for Parkinson’s disease and age-related macular degeneration.

3) As director of the Royan Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Technology, how effective do you think stem cell technology can be in treating disease and what progress Iran has made made in this regard?

Regenerative medicine technologies, aimed at changing the form and function of therapeutic methods, inform the prospect of transforming standard care practices in the near future.

The evolution from the traditional perspective of “curing disease” to the increasingly actionable paradigm of “curing disease” has been shown to be effective in a large number of clinical trials in recent years and also in a growing number of units. emerging industrial companies in this field which are more than 900 companies in 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 companies registered in this field which have so far approved 5 cell products in Iran FDA. Regulatory guidelines have also been defined which will promote the advancement of stem cell technologies in the years to come. Various clinical trials of autologous and allogeneic cell transplantation in patients with diseases such as myocardial infarction and diabetes and vascular, hepatic, skin, eye, bone, cartilage and neurological disorders have been conducted in Iran. To date, Iran has registered 119 clinical trials at https://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.]

QM / MG


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Darla P. Vaughn

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