David Kirkpatrick

September 12, 2010

Stem cell therapy potential — here comes the science

Stem cell research is back all over the news again with court rulings and counter rulings making the subject either okay, or not okay, for federal funding. It’s a crazy debate to my mind because stem cell research has the potential to improve the health of many, many people and it’s a philosophical crime for it to be held hostage to the mythology of theocons. And even if the research is held back in the United States by lack of government money, it will be going on around the world and just pushing the U.S. that much farther behind in the cutting edge of medical research.

It’s a hot topic all the time, especially right now, but really what is the potential of stem cell research? Helpfully here’s news out of Elsevier Health Sciences with some expert opinion on the subject.

From the first link, the release:

What Progress Has Been Made, What Is Its Potential?

New York, NY, September 9, 2010 – The use of stem cells for research and their possible application in the treatment of disease are hotly debated topics. In a special issue of Translational Research published this month an international group of medical experts presents an in-depth and balanced view of the rapidly evolving field of stem cell research and considers the potential of harnessing stem cells for therapy of human diseases including cardiovascular diseases, renal failure, neurologic disorders, gastrointestinal diseases, pulmonary diseases, neoplastic diseases, and type 1 diabetes mellitus.

Personalized cell therapies for treating and curing human diseases are the ultimate goal of most stem cell-based research. But apart from the scientific and technical challenges, there are serious ethical concerns, including issues of privacy, consent and withdrawal of consent for the use of unfertilized eggs and embryos. “Publication of this special issue could not have been more timely, given the recent federal district court injunction against federal support for human embryonic stem cell research,” said Dr. Jeffrey Laurence, M.D., Professor of Medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College and Editor in Chief of Translational Research. “This court order stops all pending federal grants and contracts, as well as their peer review, suspending over 20 major research programs and over $50 million in federal funding for them,” he noted. As Dr. Francis Collins, NIH director, stated, “This decision has the potential to do serious damage to one of the most promising areas of biomedical research, just at the time when we were really gaining momentum.”

Through a series of authoritative articles authors highlight basic and clinical research using human embryonic and adult stem cells. Common themes include preclinical evidence supporting the potential therapeutic use of stem cells for acute and chronic diseases, the challenges in translating the preclinical work to clinical applications, as well as the results of several randomized clinical trials. Authors stress that considerable preclinical work is needed to test the potential of these approaches for translation to the clinical setting.

In considering the potential for clinical applications, some common challenges and questions persist. The issue focuses on critical questions such as whether the use of any stem cell population will increase the risk of cancer in the recipient and whether the goal of stem cell therapy is to deliver cells that can function as organ-specific cells.

Writing in a commentary on advances and challenges in translating stem cell therapies for clinical diseases, Michael A. Matthay, MD, Cardiovascular Research Institute, University of California San Francisco, notes that “the progress that has been achieved in the last 30 years in using allogeneic and autologous hematopoietic stem cells for the effective treatment of hematologic malignancies should serve as a model of how clinical applications may yet be achieved with embryonic stem cells, induced pluripotent stem cells, endothelial progenitor cells, and mesenchymal stem cells. Although several challenges exist in translating stem cell therapy to provide effective new treatments for acute and chronic human diseases, the potential for developing effective new cell-based therapies is high.”

KEY POINTS:

Bone marrow and circulating stem/progenitor cells for regenerative cardiovascular therapy
Mohamad Amer Alaiti, Masakazu Ishikawa, and Marco A. Costa
Despite initial promising pilot studies, only small improvements in a few clinical outcomes have been seen using stem cell therapies to treat heart disease in the acute or chronic setting. But new research, and a multitude of new pilot studies, may alter this scenario.

New therapies for the failing heart: trans-genes versus trans-cells
Vincenzo Lionetti, and Fabio A. Recchia
This review presents key aspects of cardiac gene therapy and stem cell therapy for the failing heart. Recent discoveries in stem cell biology may revitalize gene therapy and, vice versa.

Endothelial lineage cell as a vehicle for systemic delivery of cancer gene therapy
Arkadiusz Z. Dudek
Rather than focusing on the cancer cell itself, attention to blood vessels feeding the cancerous cells, lined by endothelial cells, presents a new avenue of cancer therapy. The author discusses recent evidence that endothelial progenitor cells may be useful in treating primary and metastatic tumors. Targeted cancer gene therapy using endothelial lineage cells to target tumor sites and produce a therapeutic protein has proven feasible.

Pluripotent stem cell-derived natural killer cells for cancer therapy
David A. Knorr, and Dan S. Kaufman
The potential value as well as challenges of using human embryonic stem cells and induced pluripotent stem cells is to provide platforms for new cell-based therapies to treat malignant diseases are discussed.

Translation of stem cell therapy for neurological diseases
Sigrid C. Schwarz, and Johannes Schwarz
Early clinical work to develop cell-based therapy for neurologic disorders such as Parkinson’s disease is discussed.

Stem cell technology for the treatment of acute and chronic renal failure
Christopher J. Pino, and H. David Humes
The authors cover the relative potential and success to date of embryonic or induced pluripotent stem cells as therapies for regenerating functional kidney tissue.

Stem cell approaches for the treatment of type 1 diabetes mellitus
Ryan T. Wagner, Jennifer Lewis, Austin Cooney, and Lawrence Chan
The authors provide a thorough discussion of the potential of using either embryonic stem cells or induced pluripotent stem cells to generate functional islet cells, the cells of the pancreas which normally make insulin, but fail to do so in severe forms of diabetes.

Intestinal stem cells and epithelial–mesenchymal interactions in the crypt and stem cell niche
Anisa Shaker, and Deborah C. Rubin
Both preclinical and early clinical trials have been carried out with allogeneic bone marrow-derived mesenchymal stem cells to treat steroid refractory acute and chronic inflammatory bowel diseases, particularly Crohn’s disease.

Stem cells and cell therapy approaches in lung biology and diseases
Viranuj Sueblinvong, and Daniel J. Weiss,
Cell-based therapies with embryonic or adult stem cells have emerged as potential novel approaches for several devastating and otherwise incurable lung diseases, including emphysema, pulmonary fibrosis, pulmonary hypertension, and acute respiratory distress syndrome.

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The articles appear in Translational Research, The Journal of Laboratory and Clinical Medicine, Volume 156, Issue 3 (September 2010) entitled Stem Cells: Medical Promises and Challenges, published by Elsevier. The entire issue will be available online via Open Access for a 3-month period beginning September 20, 2010 at www.translationalres.com.

September 10, 2010

Good news from the U.S. Court of Appeals

Federally funded stem cell research back in business. Of course it’s stupid this is even a issue, much less a political football. I wrote out, and deleted, two sentences of snark about christianist theocons, but maybe those thoughts are better left to your imagination. Let’s just say I think the groups pushing against stem cell research are a serious threat to my life, liberty and pursuit of happiness and everyone would be better off if they could just form their own society on an island somewhere and institute whatever manner of holy book law they wanted to live under.

From the link:

A federal appeals court here ruled Thursday that federal financing of embryonic stem cell research could continue while the court considers a judge’s order last month that banned the government from underwriting the work.

The ruling by the United States Court of Appeals could save research mice from being euthanized, cells in petri dishes from starving and scores of scientists from a suspension of paychecks, according to arguments the Obama administration made in the case.

It could also allow the National Institutes of Health to provide $78 million to 44 scientists whose research the agency had previously agreed to finance.

The stay also gives Congress time to consider legislation that would render the ban, and the court case behind it, largely moot, a prospect that some embattled Democrats have welcomed. Despite staunch opposition by some critics, embryonic stem cell research is popular, and a legislative fight on the issue could prove a tonic for Democrats battling a tough political environment.

August 28, 2010

Congress may pass emergency bill to restart stem cell research

And it can’t happen a day too soon. Allowing theocrats to hijack scientific and medical research only puts the United States that much more under the gun of losing dominance  in fields that will — will, not might — have a major influence on human life and the global marketplace in the very near future.

The release:

Congressman, CSHL president urge quick action to reverse judicial embryonic stem cell research ban

A federal judge’s decision ‘sets back’ vital work and handcuffs American science

Cold Spring Harbor, NY – Against a backdrop of some of the world’s most sophisticated biological research labs, Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington) this morning issued a challenge to his colleagues in Congress: immediately upon their return from summer recess, he urged, they should pass legislation that would reverse a recent Federal court decision that has brought embryonic stem cell research in the U.S. to a screeching halt.

Rep. Israel was seconded in his plea by Dr. Bruce Stillman, a renowned cancer researcher and President of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, which hosted the Congressman’s announcement to the press this morning. Also lending vocal support was Brooke Ellison, a stem cell research advocate and instructor at Stony Brook University, who, since a car accident in 1990, has been a quadriplegic.

Rep. Israel said the Aug. 23 decision by Chief Judge Royce C. Lamberth of the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia, “sets back research, sets back patients, and sets back jobs,” on Long Island and across the nation. The decision, which prevents federally funded research from being conducted on any embryonic stem cells derived from human embryos, “has not only rolled back the Obama policy on stem cells, but has actually rolled back the Bush policy,” Israel noted.

The Congressman said he regards the legal appeals process too slow, given the gravity of the matter. “I don’t think we should wait for an appeal,” he said. “We’ve got to act, and act fast.” Congress has twice in the past decade passed bills giving the go-ahead for embryonic stem cell research. “The Judge said Congress created the policy, and only Congress can revisit it. Well, I want to take him up on that. When we return to Washington on Sept. 14, the House, as one of its first priorities, should re-pass the very legislation that it has passed twice before.” If passed by the Senate, such a bill would be almost certain to receive a presidential signature, thus ending any ambiguity about the will of Congress, Israel said.

President Stillman of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory praised Rep. Israel for taking a strong position on the issue and calling for an immediate remedy. “To the scientific community,” Dr. Stillman said, “this judicial decision was an absolute shock. Embryonic stem cells have been studied since the 1980s, and now the work has been forced to a complete stop. The judge’s decision reverses the policies of two presidents, goes far beyond the debate that we’ve seen in this country, and sets a standard that is unique in the world. This is now the only country in the world where you cannot do embryonic stem cell research.”

Dr. Stillman said he believed that bringing the matter before Congress once more “will not only clarify the situation,” but will provide Congress with a golden opportunity “to make a strong statement to the people of this country and to patients like Brooke Ellison, who are counting on steady progress in stem cell research.” The prior passage by Congress of two bills enabling research with embryonic stem cells is evidence of the strong public support that exists for this type of research, Stillman said.

Brooke Ellison, who spoke from her wheelchair, said that “stem cell research has been used as a political see-saw,” subject to the uncertainties of the political process. “But this is not a political, judicial or ideological issue,” she said. “It’s a human issue. One that speaks to the very core of what it means to show basic human compassion.”

Dr. Stillman said that while most work involving stem cells at CSHL was not embryonic stem cell research, any labs in which embryonic cells are used will now be subject to the National Institutes of Health’s recent interpretation of Judge Lamberth’s ruling. He said there was still some ambiguity about whether the interpretation will hold up under inevitable challenge. But the point, Dr. Stillman emphasized, is that science cannot properly proceed and the therapeutic potential of embryonic stem cells cannot be discovered — by researchers working in America — unless research is permitted to proceed in unfettered fashion.

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Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) is a private, not-for-profit research and education institution at the forefront of efforts in molecular biology and genetics to generate knowledge that will yield better diagnostics and treatments for cancer, neurological diseases and other major causes of human suffering. For more information, visit www.cshl.edu.

July 15, 2010

Culture-growing adult stem cells

Filed under: Science — Tags: , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 10:25 pm

News on the stem cell research front.

From the link:

Researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine have developed a technique they believe will help scientists overcome a major hurdle to the use of adult stem cells for treating muscular dystrophy and other muscle-wasting disorders that accompany aging or disease: They’ve found that growing muscle stem cells on a specially developed synthetic matrix that mimics the elasticity of real muscle allows them to maintain their self-renewing properties.

December 2, 2009

More stem cell lines open for research

Very welcome news and finally a tangible shift away from the idiotic christianist policies of the Bush 43 administration. This is an area of medical research where the United States should be world leaders, not playing catch up after eight years of a completely medieval stance toward science and medicine.

From the link:

The National Institutes of Health said Wednesday that it had approved 13 new human embryonic stem cell lines for use by federally financed researchers, with another 96 lines under review.

The action followed President Obama’s decision in March to expand the number of such cell lines beyond those available under a policy set by President George W. Bush, which permitted research to begin only with lines already available on Aug. 9, 2001.

Since that date, biomedical researchers supported by the N.I.H. have had to raise private money to derive the cells, which are obtained from the fertilized embryos left over from in vitro fertility clinics.

With federal money banned from being used in any part of the work on the derived lines, researchers had to divide their laboratories and go to extreme lengths to separate research materials based on the financing source.

“You can imagine what it meant not to be able to carry a pipette from one room to another,” said Ali H. Brivanlou, a researcher at Rockefeller University. “They even had to repaint the walls to ensure no contamination by federal funds.”

July 3, 2009

Stem cell news — differences and ethics

Two releases from yesterday on stem cells. Number one is on the found differences between reprogrammed skin cells and embryonic stem cells. Second is a call for stem cell debates by bioethicists before the science gets too far ahead of ethical considerations.

The first release:

UCLA scientists find molecular differences between embryonic stem cells and reprogrammed skin cells

UCLA researchers have found that embryonic stem cells and skin cells reprogrammed into embryonic-like cells have inherent molecular differences, demonstrating for the first time that the two cell types are clearly distinguishable from one another.

The data from the study suggest that embryonic stem cells and the reprogrammed cells, known as induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells, have overlapping but still distinct gene expression signatures. The differing signatures were evident regardless of where the cell lines were generated, the methods by which they were derived or the species from which they were isolated, said Bill Lowry, a researcher with the Broad Stem Cell Research Center and a study author.

“We need to keep in mind that iPS cells are not perfectly similar to embryonic stem cells,” said Lowry, an assistant professor of molecular, cell and developmental biology. “We’re not sure what this means with regard to the biology of pluripotent stem cells. At this point our analyses comprise just an observation. It could be biologically irrelevant, or it could be manifested as an advantage or a disadvantage.”

The study appears in the July 2, 2009 issue of the journal Cell Stem Cell.

The iPS cells, like embryonic stem cells, have the potential to become all of the tissues in the body. However, iPS cells don’t require the destruction of an embryo.

The study was a collaboration between the labs of Lowry and UCLA researcher Kathrin Plath, who were among the first scientists and the first in California to reprogram human skin cells into iPS cells. The researchers performed microarray gene expression profiles on embryonic stem cells and iPS cells to measure the expression of thousands of genes at once, creating a global picture of cellular function.

Lowry and Plath noted that, when the molecular signatures were compared, it was clear that certain genes were expressed differently in embryonic stem cells than they were in iPS cells. They then compared their data to that stored on a National Institutes of Health data base, submitted by laboratories worldwide. They analyzed that data to see if the genetic profiling conducted in other labs validated their findings, and again they found overlapping but distinct differences in gene expression, Lowry said.

“This suggested to us that there could be something biologically relevant causing the distinct differences to arise in multiple labs in different experiments,” Lowry said. “That answered our first question: Would the same observation be made with cell lines created and maintained in other laboratories?”

Next, UCLA researchers wanted to confirm their findings in iPS cell lines created using the latest derivation methods. The cells from the UCLA labs were derived using an older method that used integrative viruses to insert four genes into the genome of the skin cells, including some genes known to cause cancer. They analyzed cell lines derived with newer methods that do not require integration of the reprogramming factors. Their analysis again showed different molecular signatures between iPS cells and their embryo-derived counterparts, and these signatures showed a significant degree of overlap with those generated with integrative methods.

To determine if this was a phenomenon limited to human embryonic stem cells, Lowry and Plath analyzed mouse embryonic stem cells and iPS lines derived from mouse skin cells and again validated their findings. They also analyzed iPS cell lines made from mouse blood cells with the same result

“We can’t explain this, but it appears something is different about iPS cells and embryonic stem cells,” Lowry said. “And the differences are there, no matter whose lab the cells come from, whether they’re human or mouse cells or the method used to derive the iPS cells. Perhaps most importantly, many of these differences are shared amongst lines made in various ways.”

Going forward, UCLA researchers will conduct more sophisticated analyses on the genes being expressed differently in the two cell types and try to understand what is causing that differential expression. They also plan to differentiate the iPS cells into various lineages to determine if the molecular signature is carried through to the mature cells. In their current study, Lowry and Plath did not look at differentiated cells, only the iPS and embryonic stem cells themselves.

Further study is crucial, said Mark Chin, a postdoctoral fellow and first author of the study.

“It will be important to further examine these cells lines in a careful and systematic manner, as has been done with other stem cell lines, if we are to understand the role they can play in clinical therapies and what effect the observed differences have on these cells,” he said.

 

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The stem cell center was launched in 2005 with a UCLA commitment of $20 million over five years. A $20 million gift from the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation in 2007 resulted in the renaming of the center. With more than 150 members, the Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research is committed to a multi-disciplinary, integrated collaboration of scientific, academic and medical disciplines for the purpose of understanding adult and human embryonic stem cells. The center supports innovation, excellence and the highest ethical standards focused on stem cell research with the intent of facilitating basic scientific inquiry directed towards future clinical applications to treat disease. The center is a collaboration of the David Geffen School of Medicine, UCLA’s Jonsson Cancer Center, the Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science and the UCLA College of Letters and Science. To learn more about the center, visit our web site at http://www.stemcell.ucla.edu.

Head below the fold for the second release on a call for an ethics debate on stem cells. (more…)

February 11, 2009

Stem cell research – free at last!

Well not quite free just yet, but the day is coming and it couldn’t come too soon. Among many, many bad science policies the US suffered under Bush 43, completely wrecking stem cell research through withholding federal funds was up there.

Thankfully some private and state money came through to keep the US from completely falling behind other countries in this vital medical research area, but Bush 43’s policies hurt and probably have cost American lives because of so-far-undiscovered breakthroughs related to stem cell research.

From the Technology Review link:

Three years ago, when Rene Rejo Pera was setting up a new lab at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), she had to make sure she had two of everything: one microscope for her federally funded lab, for example, and one for a privately funded replica next door. Because of funding restrictions on stem-cell research ordered by President George W. Bush in 2001, this was a redundant scenario played out in labs across the country. The edict specifically limited federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research to a small number of cell lines already in existence, leaving scientists who wanted to conduct cutting-edge research in this area scrambling for private money.

Scientists are now looking forward to an end of that edict. President Barack Obama promised during his campaign to overturn the order, and most expect the action to happen soon. “The imminent change in policy will quite literally allow us to take down these walls and integrate the laboratories in a way that will make the work move much more efficiently,” says Arnold Kriegstein, director of the Broad Center of Regeneration Medicine and Stem Cell Research at UCSF.

September 26, 2008

Stem cells from adult cells

I’m for stem cell research of all stripes, but it is encouraging that research is ongoing beyond just embryonic stem cells such as this application using adult cells.

This is good medical news. But no reason to not lift the asinine theocratic ban on US government support of embryonic stem cell research.

From the link:

Last year, researchers announcedone of the most promising methods yet for creating ethically neutral stem cells: reprogramming adult human cells to act like embryonic stem cells. This involved using four transcription factor proteins to turn specific genes on and off. But the resulting cells, called induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells for their ability to develop into just about any tissue, have one huge flaw. They’re made with a virus that embeds itself into the cells’ DNA and, over time, can induce cancer. Now, scientists at Harvard University have found a way to effect the same reprogramming without using a harmful virus–a method that paves the way for tissue transplants made from a patient’s own cells.

August 28, 2008

GOP heading toward dark ages

Hit this National Review Corner link for all the details— and party platforms are all but a joke — but if the GOP has become this anti-science and anti-research and basically so stupidly christianist, I’m going to have a serious problem pulling the lever for any but very deserving self-described Republicans for a while.

This party must be punished for general idiocy if nothing else.

From the link:

The 2008 Republican Platform calls for a ban on all embryonic stem-cell research, public or private.

August 1, 2008

Creating stem cells through reprogramming

Filed under: Science — Tags: , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 12:44 am

Interesting article at Technology Review on creating stem cells from an 82-year-old ALS patient by “reprogramming” skin cells. Developments like this don’t lessen my enthusiasm for embryonic stem cell research, but all breakthroughs are good for research.

From the link:

To create the stem cells, researchers used a novel technique, recently developed by scientists in Japan, that doesn’t require human eggs or the creation or destruction of embryos, and thus bypasses major ethical and technical hurdles that have plagued the field of embryonic stem-cell research. Eggan’s team exposed the patient’s skin cells to four genetic factors found in the developing embryo. The procedure turned back the clock on the cells, triggering them to look and behave like embryonic stem cells.

While scientists had alreadyused these reprogramming techniques to create stem cells from skin cells, this is the first time that these cells–called induced pluripotent stem cells, or IPS cells–have been generated from a patient. The ability to do so is key to creating models for studying complex genetic diseases, such as Alzheimer’s. The findings also confirm that it’s possible to use reprogramming techniques in older people and in those with a serious disease. “It was unclear if the fact that the patient had been sick for many years would interfere with our ability to reprogram [the cells],” says Eggan.

July 29, 2008

GlaxoSmithKline putting over $25M in stem cell research

Filed under: Business, Science — Tags: , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 1:54 am

Big pharma is getting into stem cell research in a big way — more than $25 million worth of ways. GlaxoSmithKline announced a five-year, $25M-plus collaboration with the Harvard Stem Cell Institute. This agreement is expected to develop new methods for using stem cells to screen drugs with stem cells.

From the Technology Review link:

“GSK believes stem cell science has great potential to aid the discovery of new medicines by improving the screening, identification, and development of new compounds,” said Patrick Vallance, head of drug discovery at GSK, in a statement released by the company.

Big Pharma has mostly shied away from investing in stem-cell research. But drug screening, which some scientists say is likely to be one of the biggest near-term benefits of stem cells, is a growing area of interest.