For physician and researcher Robert Sachstein, our body stores the fountain of youth in mesenchymal stem cells.
When I was a student at Harvard University, Robert Sachstein He began dealing with bone marrow transplants; He later found that one of the four patients he treated died shortly after because of graft failure: the transplanted cells They couldn’t find a way through the bloodstream to the bone marrow.
Thus, he began to delve deeper into the molecular mechanisms that guide cells in this process, for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine and a pioneer in the development of transplantation therapy as a guide. Donal Thomas. Sachstein’s research culminated in a technology to modify cell membranes by inserting GPS to allow mesenchymal stem cells to direct to damaged tissue.
Like the cells he’s working with to one day cure osteoporosis, this doctor and researcher has a GPS that has guided his life since childhood. Despite, or thanks to, the vicissitudes of his childhood and youth, he never abandoned his original position. Treat disease but „always understand how”. Currently professor emeritus at Harvard and vice president for clinical affairs at Florida International University in Miami, Sachstein Influenced by his Cuban family of Spanish descent, in this interview we did with him in Los Alcazares. Here he has co-directed Advanced Therapies Course organized by the Spanish Society of Hematology and Hemotherapy (SEHH), the Carlos III Health Institute and the University of Murcia.
- No one would assume he had a Leonis grandfather from his name.
- I have Jewish family from Lithuania and Germany on my father’s side, and from Spain on my mother’s side. My parents met in New York, where my father was born. He was with the US Army in World War II and considered himself a citizen of the world. My mother was a Cuban pianist who studied there with Claudio Ara, a great interpreter of Beethoven, on a scholarship from the Bautista government. They met and married there in the late 1940s, but my mother wanted to keep her children in Cuba, so they settled in Havana, where I was born. I’m Sachstein Guerrero, although I lost my second last name when I came to America. My maternal grandmother’s family hails from Seville and the Canary Islands My maternal grandfather was born in Villafranca del Pierzo. He went to Cuba when he was 20 and never returned to Spain, but he always kept it in mind; He told us many stories about his hometown and I grew to know him better. I had visited the town some years ago and it was exactly as he had described it to me.
- Is it true that your father had to leave Cuba because he thought he was a CIA spy?
- That’s how it is. My father was vice president of the American Legion, where there were military personnel. In 1960 they shot dead the leader of that organization, who was a good friend of my family and said that my father would be next to my mother. The same That Guevara wanted to shoot him. When he found out, he fled to Miami with a suitcase. I was three when I was about to turn four. I remember my mother crying a lot even though my parents said we were going on vacation. I don’t understand his sadness. I see it like it was yesterday. A few years ago, I met a neighbor of mine in Havana who confirmed that shortly after we left the house, about thirty soldiers arrived with trucks. As an eight-year-old boy, he and his family went into hiding for a month, fearing that they would come looking for them.
- Already exiled in Miami, you were a very precocious child; He knew immediately that he wanted to be a doctor.
- When we arrived, there were 19 people living in the three-bedroom house. My grandmother always went to sleep for a while at 3pm and her head hurt so much that I thought it was because of the war because she was a very active child. Then it was revealed that he had Arterial hypertension. There were very few treatments then, and I promised to find one for him. So, at age 12, I started going to the University of Miami library to read about the disease. A high blood pressure specialist Prof Murray Epstein, I was doing research at that university. I asked my father to help me meet him and we made an appointment with one of his assistants. I remember being so surprised when he saw me because he didn’t imagine I was a 13-year-old boy. They couldn’t offer me a job working for someone my age in the lab, but my father insisted: „My son knows how to work hard.” They let me volunteer. I was in charge of cleaning the rat cages for the experiment. He cleaned them thoroughly with a toothbrush. The data collected was free of any contaminating elements and the tests progressed very quickly. They were soon able to start clinical trials with the drug captopril. Thanks for the effort, They allowed my grandmother to join the course. I know I want to be a doctor, but I also want to work in a lab.
- The determination of such a young man is astonishing. Did he have any influence on your family?
- My uncle was a surgeon, but what I wanted was to cure and do science as a researcher. My mother taught us music; I soon saw that it wasn’t my thing, unlike what happened to my younger sister who was very talented. On the other hand, I had more facilities for science. Also, I was struck by the fact that a relative of mine lost an eye to congenital glaucoma when I was a child. He wondered how a medicine could not protect an eye. It reinforced my goal to be a doctor and researcher.
- He certainly accomplished that because throughout his career he always combined clinical practice with research. Now he is focusing on the development of somatic cell therapy for the treatment of osteoporosis. At what stage are these works?
- We analyze data from a preliminary clinical study. It is a very common and dreaded disease. My mother died of osteoporosis. He was 93 years old and had the ability to play a three-hour concerto from memory, but there came a time when he was unable to move due to a severe spinal fracture; He died of lung complications. I firmly believe that Mesenchymal stem cells may be the solution. We need to carry out studies that guarantee the safety of this treatment, and I cannot yet comment on the results of the trial we are carrying out at the University of Murcia and the Virgen de la Arrixaca University Hospital. Jose Maria MoraledaBut I can say that the data is promising.
- What effect would you expect those cells to achieve?
- Every tissue in the human body has sufficient mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) to regenerate. But as you age, they are lost, and so is the tissue’s ability to repair itself. It is something that can be seen on the skin of young and old without going further. CMMs aside, a Anti-inflammatory effectAnd, on the other hand, they are capable They stimulate the cellularity of the tissues in which they are found. Because of this regenerative potential, I see young people in the future using their MSCs as regenerators in old age. They are the fountain of youth.
- Going back to osteoporosis, what would be the cell therapy you propose? How does a mesenchymal cell travel to damaged bone tissue?
- The first hurdle in regenerative medicine is getting the cells to where you want to heal. That’s the first thing to think about or, at least, it’s my way of working, I need to know how the treatment I’m using works, and that’s why I researched the mechanisms of cell migration in bone marrow transplantation. I found an important protein in this process, Eselectin. Over time I developed a Fucosylation technology It also allows activation of mesenchymal stem cells. As leukocytes travel within seconds to the site of infection or injury in the body, Using blood vessels as highways, this technology allows MSCs to know where to go, in this case, to damaged bone tissue. To do this, once extracted from patients, we modify the cell membrane by fucosylation to expand them and establish a 'GPS’ that facilitates their arrival to bone. It is a technique that we do in the laboratory through a biochemical reaction.
- In what other diseases do you think it might be useful?
- In systemic inflammatory diseases such as Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis and multiple sclerosis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and Alzheimer’s disease. MSCs are immunomodulatory cells, meaning they reduce inflammation wherever they go. It is my opinion that all diseases of aging and degenerative diseases are caused by a lack of MSC activity in tissues. I believe in potential Increase MSC density at sites damaged by chronic inflammation.
- The path to somatic cell therapy you’re investigating seems more difficult than other advanced therapies that already exist, such as CAR-T immunotherapy or gene therapy. take In various diseases. When do you expect to see results from cell therapy?
- What is holding us back? Lack of funds, because conducting clinical research is very expensive. There is no personal interest in promoting this research, which will end the need for chronic treatment in many patients. We do a Curative Education Research. If more efforts are added, we will be able to prove our hypothesis in a few months.
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