Photo of Andrés Caicedo

Biotechnology & medicine

Andrés Caicedo

His mitochondrial transplant technique will make it possible to design therapies which regenerate tissue without stem cells

Year Honored

Universidad San Francisco de Quito

Latin America

Hails From

Stem cells have huge potential for curing diseases, but they are also a thorny and controversial subject. Research has been limited by the ethical issues associated with the need to destroy an embryo to obtain its embryonic stem cells, so in response scientists have focused on other types of stem cells, those of adults. Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs), which are an interesting subject of study due to their ability to regenerate damaged tissues and organs, are included in this spectrum. To achieve this regeneration, MSCs transfer their mitochondria to damaged cells through natural connections (the cell's own system for energy generation and rejuvenation).

The defining issue is the need to learn how to replicate this transfer process, and that is exactly what the researcher Andrés Caicedo has achieved. Caicedo has been chosen as one of the Innovators Under 35 Latin America 2017 winners by the MIT Technology Review, Spanish edition in recognition for the mitochondrial transfer technique he has worked on.

MitoCeption, as Caicedo has christened his technology, "avoids the costs and certain ethical problems associated with obtaining stem cells," he says. The accepted procedure in cell therapy is to extract the stem cells, multiply them in the laboratory and then transfuse them. Caicedo’s protocol, published in Scientific Reports in 2015, successfully transplants isolated mitochondria from mesenchymal stem cells. Additionally, in his later work, he discovered that the technique was also able to transplant mitochondria obtained from and for other types of cells. This would make it unnecessary to isolate stem cells, which would avoid technical and ethical complications.

According to his results, a cell that receives the mitochondria "is reprogrammed, activates its metabolism, undergoes less oxidative stress [and] stimulates its own proliferation and migration", explains Caicedo. All the new capabilities acquired by the recipient cell through the transfusion of mitochondria are actually characteristic features of younger cells. "The goal is to find the best source of mitochondria," continues the innovator. Thus, other cell types could rejuvenate and have a better regenerative capacity. The result, therefore, is to replicate the effects of a transplant based on mesenchymal stem cells but without the need to use them.

Caicedo, who currently heads the Faculty of Medicine research laboratory at the Universidad San Francisco de Quito (Ecuador), wants to develop a therapy that can alleviate degenerative diseases, halt pancreatic damage associated with type 2 diabetes, and regulate the immune system to alleviate lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. The researcher estimates that the first in vivo trials could start in 2019.

For the founder and president of The Core Model Corporation, Ibis Sanchez, this is "excellent technology that paves the way for important applications related to cell damage and aging." The Innovators under 35 Latin America 2017 jury member highlights "the fact that it has advantages over existing methods" and also that "the experiments are reproducible."