Category Archives: news

Researchers plan trial for Lou Gehrig’s disease therapy

By Brooke Adams, The Salt Lake Tribune

The mice at the top of a column of stacked plastic bins at Q Therapeutics are shivering so hard they seem to be jumping.

Their nonstop shivering and seizures are caused by a genetic defect that robs the mice of the crucial myelin sheath that surrounds nerve cells and helps them send signals. Because of the defect, the mice are soon paralyzed and die prematurely.

It is a related problem — loss of this myelin sheath — that in humans causes the progressive loss of function in multiple sclerosis and several other diseases that can cause paralysis in humans.

And that’s why what has happened to the mice is so promising: After being treated with an adult stem cell therapy developed at Q Therapeutics, they are no longer shivering.

The product, called Q-Cells, also may be applicable to such neurodegenerative diseases as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS — better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Now, the National Institutes of Health have awarded a $5 million grant to Q Therapeutics, the University of Utah’s Cell Therapy Facility and Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, which as a team has had success in animal models of ALS.

The funding will help support work needed to get permission from the Food and Drug Administration to start human clinical trials at Johns Hopkins. If efforts to raise additional funds are successful, those trials would begin next year.

“This type of therapy can bring about a major change in modern health care,” said Deborah Eppstein, CEO of Q Therapeutics. “It’s not just a little step. It’s a pole vault change, a going to the moon change.”

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California Stem Cell Chief Seeks Trials in Four Years

By Rob Waters, Bloombeg.com

California’s $3 billion stem-cell funding agency wants to get 10 to 12 new therapies into human testing within four years, said the agency’s president, Alan Trounson.

In December, the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine plans to award grants of about $20 million each to 10 or 12 teams, with the goal of starting clinical trials within four years, Trounson said today in an interview. Most or all of the teams will include biotechnology companies, he said.

The San Francisco-based institute, established by voters in 2004, is putting greater emphasis on advancing research from laboratory testing to patient trials, said Trounson. After years of stem cell research being conducted largely by academics, companies are deepening their investment in the field, he said. The agency eventually would like to draw in big pharmaceutical companies to help fund the research.

“Pharma is moving into this space in a big way,” Trounson said. “They’re now generally interested in cell therapy. That’s a big change.”

Trounson, a former academic and biotechnology executive who assumed leadership of the institute in January 2008, said he is talking to companies on a regular basis about setting up partnerships.

While the agency now funds some small companies to advance promising stem-cell therapies, Trounson said he is looking for ways to attract investment by larger companies to develop treatments. In the long run, the agency may try to use industry funding to continue operating once its $3 billion in state bond revenue is exhausted by the end of the next decade, he said.

Grants to Companies, Academics
In April, the agency awarded 15 “early translational” grants totaling $67.7 million. Two of the grants totaling $11.1 million went to companies. Most of the $761 million the institute has given out so far have gone to academic institutions such as Stanford University, the Scripps Institute and various campuses of the University of California.

A deepening budget crisis in California caused by a 27 percent drop in revenue over the past year hasn’t stopped bond sales for the agency, which currently has enough cash to last through 2011, Trounson said.

Trounson said the institute receives no funding from the state’s general fund.

“Cuts to us would be purely symbolic,” he said. “Our focus is to do something to help people in the community suffering from horrible diseases.”

Institute funding of new research facilities throughout the state has also stimulated the economy and created thousands of construction jobs, Trounson said.

Contact lens stem cell sight aid

From BBC.co.uk

Scientists have used stem cells grown onto contact lenses to improve the sight of people with cornea damage.

The treatment was given to three patients by a team from Australia’s University of New South Wales. All saw improvements within weeks.

They used the patients’ own stem cells in the treatment, detailed in the journal Transplantation, and a type of lens already used after eye surgery.

UK experts said the small-scale study was promising.

The cornea is the transparent layer that covers the eye – but it can lose transparency, damaging sight.

In the most serious cases, people can need cornea grafts or transplants.

Corneal disease can be caused by genetic disorders, surgery, burns, infections or chemotherapy.

In this study, all three patients had damage to the epithelium – the layer of cells covering the front of the cornea.

Eye cells
The researchers in this study used limbal stem cells – found within the eye.

Stem cells are “master cells”, which have the power to transform themselves into other cell types.

The cells can be taken from any healthy part of the eye and, because they are from the patient’s own body, the transplant will not be rejected.

They removed small samples of stem cells from the eyes of the three patients – two men and a woman – and grew them on contact lenses.

The patients then wore the lenses for 10 days.

During that period, the stem cells moved off the lenses and onto the damaged corneas.

The patients were followed up for between eight and 13 months.

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Stem cells hold promise in treating retinal degeneration

From Louisville.edu

A team of University of Louisville scientists have discovered that stem cells taken from bone marrow can restore damaged retinal tissue by generating new cells. This is the first known study where stem cells derived from bone marrow have been used to restore the pigmented cell layer just outside the retina or the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE).

The research moves science a step closer to helping those who suffer from vision loss and blindness due to age-related macular degeneration and hereditary retinal degenerations.

During their experiments, UofL researchers found that bone-marrow derived stem cells (BMSCs) were attracted to damaged RPE, and were able to differentiate or move from less specialized cells into components of RPE.

According to researcher Suzanne Ildstad, “More research is needed to optimize the outcome and potential for repair of damaged retinal pigment epithelium. A combination with up-to-date tissue engineering might be critical for ultimate success.”

UofL Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences researcher Henry Kaplan is now expanding this research in conjunction with the Swine Institute at the University of Missouri. Kaplan says pigs have more optical similarities to humans.

“After learning more about how bone-marrow derived stem cells can help regenerate retinal pigment epithelium in swine, we hope to translate our research into the clinical setting,” Kaplan said.

This research has implications for a number of chronic diseases including congestive heart failure, diabetes, osteoporosis, Alzheimer and Parkinson diseases, spinal cord injuries, age-related macular degeneration and hereditary retinal degenerations.

Age-related macular degeneration affects 10 percent to 20 percent of people over the age of 65 years old. Hereditary retinal degeneration is another leading cause of blindness and typically involves an onset of night blindness, an early loss of peripheral vision and late loss of central vision.

The study, published recently in the Archives of Ophthalmology, is available online at archopht.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/short/127/4/563.

Free E-book Download

Emerging Technology Platforms for Stem Cells is available as a free download from ebook-share.net

This book focuses on practical applications for using adult and embryonic stem cells in the pharmaceutical development process. It emphasizes new technologies to help overcome the bottlenecks in developing stem cells as therapeutic agents. A key reference for professionals working in stem cell science, it presents the general principles and methodologies in stem cell research and covers topics such as derivitization and characterization of stem cells, stem cell culture and maintenance, stem cell engineering, applications of high-throughput screening, and stem cell genetic modification with their use for drug delivery.

Interact With Stem Cell Experts Live on brighttalk.com

WHAT: Stem Cell Summit hosted by BrightTALK™

At this free online summit, thought leaders present a series of webcasts sharing the latest innovations and breakthroughs in stem cell research and application.

These webcasts will feature live, interactive presentations by scientists, business leaders and academics addressing the latest discoveries in stem cell usage including reconstruction of the surface of the eye, research in embryonic stem cells, and delaying the onset of aging.

WHEN: Tuesday, May 12, 2009, from 7:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m. PDT (The webcasts will also be immediately recorded and viewable on-demand at brighttalk.com.)

TOPICS AND PRESENTERS:

“Reconstructing the Surface of the Eye Using Stem Cells” — Dr. Sajjad Ahmad, MRCOphth, PhD NESCI (UK)

“Beyond Embryonic Stem Cells” — Kenneth Aldrich, CEO, International Stem Cell Corporation

“Delaying the Onset of Aging via Rejuvenated Stem Cell Responses” — Professor Irina Conboy, PhD, UC Berkeley

WHERE: Summit program and registration is available on brighttalk.com: http://www.brighttalk.com/summit/stemcell

ADD WEB 2.0 CONTENT TO YOUR SITE: The summit can also be accessed (live and later on-demand) through the BrightTALK player, which can be embedded into any of your websites and blogs. For information on how to embed a player or to participate in future summits, contact Morgan Cantrell at (415) 955-0553 or mcantrell (at) brighttalk.com.

ABOUT BrightTALK:
BrightTALK is devoted to making webcasting the ultimate business tool for transferring knowledge. BrightTALK creates a vibrant exchange of ideas between presenters and viewers featuring live, interactive access to the world’s top thought leaders.

Scientists Find New Way to Create Stem Cells

‘Chemical’ programming avoids problems genetic manipulation poses, study finds
From Forbes.com

April 23 (HealthDay News) — Scientists have converted adult cells into embryonic-like stem cells by using chemical programming instead of genetic manipulation.

Gene manipulation is an older method that has posed the risk of serious health problems such as cancer, the researchers explained.

The ability to make stem cells without genetically altering them could lead to the development of many new types of therapies for a wide range of diseases, including type 1 diabetes and Parkinson’s disease, the team noted.

“We are very excited about this breakthrough in generating embryonic-like cells from fibroblasts [cells that give rise to connective tissue] without using any genetic material. Scientists have been dreaming about this for years,” research leader Sheng Ding, an associate professor at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif., said in a Scripps news release.

Ding and his colleagues reprogrammed adult cells by engineering and using recombinant proteins, which are proteins made from the recombination of fragments of DNA from different organisms. They experimented with these proteins until they found the exact mix that enabled them to gradually reprogram the adult cells.

The reprogrammed embryonic-like cells from fibroblasts behaved the same as embryonic stem cells in terms of molecular and functional features, including differentiation into various cell types, such as neurons, pancreatic cells and beating cardiac muscle cells.

The study, published online April 23 in the journal Cell Stem Cell, was supported by Fate Therapeutics.

Guidelines for broader stem cell research unveiled

By Saundra Young, CNN.com

The Obama administration released a draft of guidelines for federal funding of human embryonic stem cell research Friday.

Under the new guidelines, federal funding would be allowed only for research using human embryonic stem cells from embryos created solely for reproductive purposes by in vitro fertilization. The embryos would have to no longer be needed for reproduction, and the donors would have to consent to their use for research.

Funding for research using adult stem cells and induced pluripotent stem cells will continue. Funding will not be allowed for stem cells obtained from other sources, including somatic cell nuclear transfer, also known as cloning; in vitro fertilization embryos created specifically for research purposes; and parthenogenesis, the development of an unfertilized egg.

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Stem Cell Therapy Makes Cloudy Corneas Clear, According to Pitt Researchers

From UPMC.com

Stem cells collected from human corneas restore transparency and don’t trigger a rejection response when injected into eyes that are scarred and hazy, according to experiments conducted in mice by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. Their study will be published in the journal Stem Cells and appears online today.

The findings suggest that cell-based therapies might be an effective way to treat human corneal blindness and vision impairment due to the scarring that occurs after infection, trauma and other common eye problems, said senior investigator James L. Funderburgh, Ph.D., associate professor, Department of Ophthalmology. The Pitt corneal stem cells were able to remodel scar-like tissue back to normal.

“Our experiments indicate that after stem cell treatment, mouse eyes that initially had corneal defects looked no different than mouse eyes that had never been damaged,” Dr. Funderburgh said.

The ability to grow millions of the cells in the lab could make it possible to create an off-the-shelf product, which would be especially useful in countries that have limited medical and surgical resources but a great burden of eye disease due to infections and trauma.

Click link above for complete article.

Surprise! Heart Muscle Can Replenish Itself

By Bernadine Healy, M.D., U.S. News and World Report

It’s humbling to see medical dogma overturned, but that is exactly what happened when, contrary to deeply embedded thought, scientists led by Jonas Frisen from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm reported in Science today that the heart can grow new muscle cells, and does so regularly, albeit slowly, in the course of a lifetime.

To cardiologists, this is a blockbuster discovery, since the heart has been pegged as a disadvantaged organ in terms of injury, healing, and repair. Susceptible to coronary blockages that can cut off blood and destroy major hunks of heart muscle at one time in a heart attack, the heart can only heal itself slowly, often leaving behind thinned and baggy scar tissue devoid of healthy, beating muscle. And the distortion and remodeling of the heart that comes with this muscle loss sets the patient up for cardiac failure, blood clots, and nasty heart rhythms. It was always assumed the heart could do no better. But that does not seem to be so.

The clever piece of work from Sweden used carbon dating to figure out the age of human heart cells. The spike in concentration of atmospheric radioactive carbon-14 triggered by above-ground Cold War nuclear tests between 1955 and 1963 allowed the researchers (with the help of physicists and sophisticated mass spectrometry from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California) to discover that, lo and behold, the heart has slow and silent regenerative abilities. The evidence: the many heart cells whose nuclei—which last the life of the cell—had radioactive carbon levels that coincided with the atmospheric spikes, occurring many years after the person was born. The study found that younger adults renew about 1 percent of their heart cells per year. The growth falls off to roughly half of that in the elderly.

This is no abstract, ho-hum science factoid. It makes incredible sense of something that has always puzzled me: If hearts can’t make new heart tissue, why did ever efficient Mother Nature give them stem cells? Yes, for years, scientists have known that adult stem cells can be found in the heart. This has prompted numerous centers in many countries to pursue stem cell therapeutics in patients with heart attacks, heart failure, and even severe angina to repair muscle and improve blood supply.

The work looks more than promising. In several studies, using cocktails of patients’ own bone marrow stem cells, which can be sifted out of the bloodstream and infused back into the patients in a concentrated and enriched form, has produced better-than-expected heart function and blood flow. (Adult stem cells circulating in the blood are known repairmen that can hone in on injured tissue anywhere in the body.) Recent studies in rats have gone so far as to create a matrix for these cells to grow on that can become a healthy looking, growing and beating tissue graft after being implanted in damaged heart wall.

The work is moving fast and furiously to make stem cell technology a standard part of cardiac care. Even the greatest skeptics have taken note. The Cochrane Collaboration, a well-respected international group that assesses the latest technology with a very tough eye, concluded late last year that, based on its review of reports involving over 800 patients from several centers, stem cell infusions after heart attacks have shown some definite benefits. To be sure, more work needs to be done, though.

Smart medicine honors the rules of the human body as best they can be determined. For example, a sturdy immune system fights off most microbes we encounter; and vaccines and antibiotics work because they complement that already finely tuned inborn system. The discovery that the wounded heart can renew itself over time, giving reason for the naturally occurring stem cells found in its muscle, provides great encouragement that harnessing and accelerating the body’s own regenerative capacity will become a powerful technology in the not-too-distant future.