Longevity has preoccupied human health since time immemorial. In 2006, researchers gave us what is arguably the most significant breakthrough in the emerging science of stem cells: the discovery of inducing pluripotency from just a simple skin cell residing on your arm. Pluripotent stem cells can propagate indefinitely, and be reprogrammed to make up cells of any organ in the body with the potential of repopulating what will age, and eventually die.
As a Ph.D. candidate at the Mayo Clinic, Rawan Al-Kharboosh’s research focuses on using nanoparticle-engineered fat stem cells to fight off the most fatal type of primary brain cancer. The promise of stem cell engineering to treat failing organs, like many other revolutionary scientific approaches, does not come without a cost. Efforts to engineer stem cells also come with safety concerns and unprecedented risks. Today, scientists and the public are confronting the dilemmas of a technology platform that is driven by hope, excitement and fear.