A stem cell pioneer sent an experiment into space. Patients are the next frontier

Last July, Jeanne Loring stood on a dirt road surrounded by Florida swampland and watched as a nearby SpaceX rocket blasted into the sky. The payload included a very personal belonging: cell clusters mimicking parts of her brain.

For more than two decades, Loring has been at the forefront of a stem cell field that always seems on the brink of becoming the next thing in medicine, but has been slow to lift off.

The cell clusters had started as Loring’s skin cells, then had been transformed into stem cells, and eventually coaxed into becoming the brain cell clusters, called organoids. Her healthy organoids orbited for a month alongside organoids derived from patients with Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis, an experiment meant to tease out clues in what goes awry in brain disease. Loring’s next frontier: not just understanding these conditions, but treating them. 

Thirty-five years after the first cell therapy…
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