Posted: 09.01.2024 12:41:00

A cell can do everything

Thickening endometrium, replacing hormones, treating hair loss — what other innovations have been developed at the Institute of Biophysics and Cell Engineering

Testing of interesting projects under the state programme Knowledge-Intensive Technologies and Engineering was completed at the Institute of Biophysics and Cell Engineering of the National Academy of Sciences. We are talking about new biomedical cell products that have already helped the first patients. It’s a matter of introducing it into widespread practice.

Junior researcher Olga Tishuk, head of the molecular cell biology laboratory Anna Poleshko, researcher Alla Misyukevich, and junior researcher Andrei Smirnov (from left to right)

Instead of parathyroid

Cell technologies are constantly being studied at the Institute of Biophysics and Cell Engineering. Director Andrei Goncharov is convinced that this promising direction is the present and the future. To recover, the immune system sometimes needs to be suppressed or, conversely, stimulated. Biomedical cell products can cope with each of the options; eleven types are being developed at the institute.
“Stem and differentiated cells help, for example, in the treatment of diseases of the joints, nervous system, pneumonia, miscarriage, and can restore youth to the skin. Their potential is practically unlimited. This additional treatment method helps restore the body,” explains Andrei Goncharov.
Let’s take a closer look at the developments that have reached the finish line and have proven their effectiveness. Let’s say a new product based on parathyroid cells for the treatment of postoperative hyperparathyroidism.
“The case when the parathyroid gland stops working or is removed. 
As a result, the patient does not produce hormones that are responsible for the normal state of the musculoskeletal system and the functioning of the body in general. Together with colleagues from BSMU, we created a cellular product that replaces the deficiency of parathyroid hormone,” Anna Poleshko, head of the laboratory of molecular biology and biotechnology explains.
About 20 patients took part in the study. The inclusion criterion is a serious degree of pathology when conventional medications do not work. In this case, the body will be supported by replacement therapy, which does not pose any health risks. The cells are obtained from donor material — also another step towards science.
“Previously, we mainly worked with material from a patient who was a donor and a recipient at the same time. But these cells were not always of high quality, so we decided to take them from people who, for medical reasons, needed to reduce the volume of the gland,” Anna Poleshko explains.
The biomaterial is treated in the laboratory with special enzymes to isolate individual cells from the tissue. They are cultivated to the required quantity. After this treatment, the patients’ condition improved, and this is a serious breakthrough.

Researcher Sergei Pinchuk

First aid for baldness

The institute, together with BSMU, also learned how to treat miscarriage. Due to the thin layer of the endometrium, the embryo cannot implant in the uterus, both during natural fertilisation and in cases of IVF. A cellular product came to the rescue. And there are already successes. Almost a third of the patients who participated in the study managed to become pregnant. The thickness of their endometrium has returned to the physiological norm.
Another new product is for the treatment of baldness caused primarily by stress, Covid or other unfavourable factors.
“We extract stem cells from the hair follicle and multiply them in the required quantity. We administer them to patients. As a result, the effect is approximately 70 percent. Among the very first manifestations, an increase in hair thickness and growth of vellus hair was recorded,” says Anna Poleshko.
The Institute of Biophysics and Cell Engineering has come to another breakthrough — they have created a product that contains waste products of stem cells. The fact is that while they are growing, they produce various growth factors, hormones, vesicles with a bilayer membrane, which also contain nutrients and nucleic acids, into the environment.
“We enrich stem cells with this medium. Thus, we have obtained a universal product that can be used for any diagnosis. Its effectiveness in treating bone tissue defects has been confirmed. Thanks to this technology, it is possible to save time for obtaining the drug, and the effectiveness will remain the same,” Anna Poleshko points out.

Our scientists test people for the most aggressive forms of cancer

The innovative project of the Belarusian State Medical University to study the syndrome of multiple endocrine tumours is nearing completion. Some conclusions can already be drawn. For example, in terms of prevalence in our population, the most aggressive and rapidly progressing is medullary thyroid cancer.

Interview with Alla Shepelkevich on the project for the treatment of endocrine diseases

First, let’s figure out what kind of syndrome this is — multiple endocrine tumours. In simple words, this is when malignant or benign formations grow on several endocrine glands. They are transmitted genetically, can be present in every second direct relative of the patient and appear mainly on the thyroid, parathyroid glands and adrenal glands. Moreover, their combination is not accidental; scientists began to think about it back in the 1960s.
“Our project is carried out under the auspices of BSMU together with the city oncology and republican oncology centres. We carry out molecular genetic testing in a unique laboratory specially designed for this purpose at the Alexandrov National Cancer Centre. We are trying to estimate how often multiple endocrine tumour syndrome occurs in Belarusians. This is the first such study in our population,” Professor of the Department of Endocrinology of BSMU Alla Shepelkevich notes. 
Why is the syndrome dangerous? Firstly, the high mortality rate from medullary cancer, including among children. Formations on the adrenal glands, in turn, greatly increase blood pressure and are fraught with vascular disasters — strokes and heart attacks. And tumours of the parathyroid gland lead to disturbances in phosphorus-calcium metabolism and fractures, for example, of the femoral neck or spine.
Genetic testing carried out by scientists prevents deaths. At an early stage of the disease, the thyroid gland can be removed, and the consequences can be avoided. The study involves all patients with medullary cancer — their genetic mutations are checked. That is, can they pass on their syndrome to relatives?
“394 people were tested, risks were identified in 60 of them. There were 134 first-degree relatives who underwent surgery for medullary cancer. Risks of genetic mutations were found in 88 of them. Every year we add 20–25 patients,” Alla Shepelkevich explains.
The five-year project will be completed in 2024. The final data will be known. In the meantime, scientists are preparing their Ph.D. dissertation. The research uses the most modern techniques, including molecular genetic testing. An algorithm for identifying multiple endocrine tumour syndrome in patients and their relatives has been proposed.

By Yelena Basikirskaya

Photos by Daria Titova