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Stem Cells—A Widening Horizon

By: Aran Puri
Posted: October 5, 2009, from the October 2009 issue of GCI Magazine.

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An enormous amount of medical research on stem cells is being carried out, and new and potential applications and breakthroughs in the use of stem cells are being frequently reported—as illustrated by the noted The Sunday Times’ reports. And companies globally are ramping up research and stem cell collection centers as governments’ rethinking and growing public perception adds fuel for the momentum. In many cases, too, research is being conducted in collaboration across diverse but related fields. Mesenchymal stem cells, which can differentiate into cells of more than one tissue type, touch fields interested, for example, in soft tissue reconstruction (noted in The Sunday Times’ headline), in wound healing and related fields of skin therapy—with strong implications for cosmetic uses and the beauty industry.

These gains in the research and acceptance of stem cells affords the beauty industry a great opportunity. Medical research, by its nature, is time-consuming and costly—and slow to market time is the norm. Beauty products, on the other hand, can reach market quickly—although the task is not as simple with human stem cells as with other technologies and ingredients the beauty industry has leveraged. There are some important and challenging regulatory issues to navigate before efforts to finished products with human stem cell can even be developed. In fact, strict regulations forbid the use of any human-derived materials, including human stem cells, in cosmetics in the European Union, the U.S. and, more recently, Korea. This means that the beauty industry has been, as a whole, sitting on the sidelines and watching the developments with a mix of interest and frustration.

The beauty industry, however, with its usual flair for creativity, has come up with various ways to participate in stem cell innovation despite the challenges—namely, plant stem cells.

Stem Cell Related Raw Materials

In the past two years, several raw material companies have come up with solutions to the challenges of incorporating human stem cells in their portfolios while sidestepping controversy by exploiting plant stem cells.