Category Archives: news

New method for mass-producing RPE cells paves way to treating age-related blindness

Durham, NC – Scientists have developed a new, simpler way to produce human pluripotent stem cells in quantities large enough that they can be used to develop treatments for age-related macular degeneration — the leading cause of irreversible blindness among the elderly. The results of this new study are published in the current issue of STEM CELLS Translational Medicine.

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which affects up to 50 million people worldwide, is associated with the dysfunction and death of retinal pigment epithelial (RPE) cells.

“As a result, there has been significant interest in developing RPE culture systems both to study AMD disease mechanisms and to provide substrate for possible cell-based therapies. Because of their indefinite self-renewal, human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs) have the potential to provide an unlimited supply of RPE-like cells,” noted Donald Zack, M.D., Ph.D., who with Julien Maruotti, Ph.D., led the team of researchers from the Wilmer Institute, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Md., and the Institute of Vision in Paris in conducting the study.

“However, most of the currently accepted methods in use for deriving RPE cells from hPSC involve time-and-labor-consuming  steps done by hand, and they don’t yield large enough amount of the differentiated cells – which has posed a problem when trying to use them to develop potential new therapies,” Dr. Maruotti added.

The Zack/Maruotti team simplified RPE cell production by modifying a standard protocol for isolating the cells from spontaneously differentiating hPSC monolayers. In the new method, hPSCs were amplified by clonal propagation and the RPE cells enriched by serial passage rather than mechanical picking.

“These modifications eliminate the need for the time- and labor consuming manual steps usually required to culture hPSCs and to purify the RPE population, and thereby provide a readily scalable approach to generate large numbers of high quality RPE cells — up to 36 times more than the best protocols previously reported during the same time interval,” Dr. Zack said.

“This improved process represents a step toward mass production of RPE and could prove useful for applications requiring large number of cells such as cell therapy, drug screening or disease modelling,” said Anthony Atala, M.D., Editor of STEM CELLS Translational Medicine and director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine.

Stem Cells Show Promise in Extending Transplanted Kidneys’ Survival Time

Can stem cells provide an answer to the perplexing question of how to ensure long-term survival of transplanted kidneys? The results of a new Phase 1 clinical trial say maybe so. Details of the trial, conducted by researchers at Leiden University Medical Center, The Netherlands, are published in the current issue of STEM CELLS Translational Medicine.

Kidney transplants have long been the treatment of choice for many patients with end-stage renal disease, and the short-term results are excellent. But unfortunately, the viability of these kidneys over time has not improved accordingly, often due to fibrosis, which is a scarring of the transplanted organ generally caused by the immune system rejecting it.

The LUMC team, led by Marlies E.J. Reinders, M.D, Ph.D., and Ton J. Rabelink, M.D., Ph.D., decided to test whether stem cells might keep fibrosis in check. They focused on mesenchymal stromal cells, a type of stem cell found throughout the body, including in bone marrow.

Scientists Create Stem Cells From Urine

Some scientists from China used an unlikely item to make stem cells and it could change the way people think about and treat stem cell research.

According to Reuters, A stem cell biologist and his team have found some success while trying to convert kidney cells found in urine into stem cells. They were using a retrovirus to reprogram the cells, but the stem cells they created were high-risk for tumors. Now they are using vectors, “a type of DNA molecule useful in transporting genetic information.”

Pei Duanqing, Director of the Guangzhou Institutes of Biomedicine and Health, told Reuters that this breakthrough could put the controversy over embryonic stem cell research to rest and give researchers plenty of stem cells to work with in the future.

“It’s an unlimited sources of cells. It’s non-invasive, and the whole procedure is more pleasant than having to take skin biopsies or pluck needles into people,” explained Duanging.

The stem cells formed in a culture in 12 days and quickly transformed into neural cells. After being injected into the brains of newborn rats, there have been no signs of mutations or tumors.

The team continues to make tweaks to their method but have high hopes for the procedure.

BioCision Launches New Program to Support Stem Cell Training and Research

Program Provides Academic Centers in the U.S. and EU Cutting Edge Cryopreservation Tools

LARKSPUR, Calif. – Dec. 10, 2012 – As part of its ongoing effort to support the scientific community, BioCision LLC, a leader in the advanced temperature management of biomedical samples, announced the availability of free “Cool Stem Kits” to academic stem cell research programs in the U.S. and Europe. Stem cells are a promising area of research for an array of treatments and cures, but cultures require frequent handling and many labs lack the equipment needed to ensure the reproducibility required for clinical research.

“Nearly everyone inside and outside of the scientific community agrees that stem cell research represents one of the most exciting and promising frontiers for treating a myriad of diseases and conditions,” said Rolf Ehrhardt, CEO, BioCision. “As an innovator of sample handing, cooling and freezing products, we felt a program like this would be of great service to the stem cell community.”

Each “Cool Stem Kit” includes recently launch, second generation cooling products:

~ CoolBox XT™ Cell Freezing Workstation for ice-free, power-free sample cooling while preparing stem cells for cryopreservation or assays
~ CoolCell® LX Freezing Containers for alcohol-free cell cryopreservation to provide highly reproducible controlled-rate freezing
~ CoolSink™ XT module to eliminate temperature variability in the incubator or at 4° C
~ TruCool™ leak proof and barcoded cryovials
~ TruCool™ ergonomic microcentrifuge tubes
~ CryoCeps™ cryovials grippers

“The area of stem cell research is full of unknowns, which is part of what motivates scientists,” said Rick I. Cohen, Ph.D., Director of the Stem Cell Training Course at Rutgers University. “When we discovered BioCision’s cryopreservation products, we were eager to incorporate them into our research protocol to further standardize our research methods. The new system has not only increased overall efficiency, it has improved cell viability post thaw.”

To request a kit, please contact CoolStem@biocision.com. For more information about BioCision and the company’s full line of sample standardization products, please visit www.biocision.com.

About BioCision
BioCision’s mission is to standardize pre-analytical sample handling. BioCision develops novel products that eliminate variability in common, often-overlooked, laboratory procedures. The products are marketed globally and are widely used by the leading institutions in the biotech, pharmaceutical, clinical, diagnostic, academic and government scientific community. BioCision’s products include CoolRack®, CoolSink™ and ThermalTray™ laboratory tube and plate temperature standardizing modules, CoolBox™ ice-free benchtop coolers, CoolCell® alcohol-free cell freezing containers and TruCool™ accessories and consumables.

Low-cost, widely used diabetes drug could be key to treating deadliest brain cancer

Durham, NC – Researchers have discovered a protein that stops stem cells from forming the most common and lethal type of brain tumor. At the same time, they located a trigger that activates this protein — metformin, a low-cost drug widely prescribed to treat type 2 diabetes.

The findings published today in STEM CELLS Translational Medicine suggest a new treatment path for glioblastoma, a highly aggressive, deadly malignancy. The median survival time for adults diagnosed with glioblastoma is just one to two years.

“Researchers have been seeking a way to control the initiating cancer stem cell population, considered key to realizing the long-term survival of these patients,” said Drs. Chifumi Kitanaka and Atsushi Sato, who led the team of scientists from Yamagata University in Japan on the study. “Previous reports have underscored the idea that differentiation therapy, which involves controlling stem cells’ development into particular cells or tissue, is a promising approach to depleting the tumor-initiating cells in glioblastomas and in preventing their recurrence.”

In an earlier study, the Yamagata team had shown that a protein called FOXO3 promotes the differentiation of stem-like cells within human gliomas into non-cancerous cells in vitro. FOX (Forkhead box) proteins are important in regulating the expression of genes involved in cell growth, proliferation, differentiation and longevity. Undifferentiated tumor cells are associated with having much high tumor-initiating potential than differentiated cells.

The scientists next went in search of a therapeutic activator of FOXO3 and came up with metformin. This drug is widely used to control the amount of glucose in the blood by decreasing the amounts of glucose absorbed from food and produced by the liver, while at the same time increasing the body’s response to insulin.

“In mice studies, the administration of metformin had several benefits. It depleted the self-renewing and tumor-initiating cell population within established tumors, inhibited tumor formation by stem-like glioma-initiating cells in the brain and provided substantial survival benefit,” Dr. Sato said.

Dr. Kitanaka added, “Combined with the fact that metformin has already been used safely in the clinic and that it efficiently penetrates the blood-brain barrier and accumulates in the brain, our findings suggest that metformin is a strong candidate for clinical use as a cancer stem/initiating cell-targeting drug against glioblastoma as well as against some other human cancers.”

“This research team has established a novel link between glucose metabolism and cancer stem cells,” said Anthony Atala, MD, editor of STEM CELLS Translational Medicine and director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine. “Their finding suggests a potential new line of clinical research directed at this deadly form of brain cancer.”

The full article, “Glioma-initiating cell elimination by metformin activation of FOXO3 via AMPK,” can be accessed at http://www.stemcellstm.com.

Early Results Show Promise for Stem Cells in Treating Chronic Liver Failure

Stem cell transfusions may someday replace the need for transplants in patients who suffer from liver failure caused by hepatitis B, according to a new study coming out of Beijing. . The results are published in the October issue of STEM CELLS Translational Medicine. Worldwide more than 500,000 people die each year from this condition.

“In China, hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection accounts for the highest proportion of liver failure cases. While liver transplantation is considered the standard treatment, it has several drawbacks including a limited number of donors, long waiting lists, high cost and multiple complications. Our study shows that mesenchymal stem cell (MSCs) transfusions might be a good, safe alternative,” said Fu-Sheng Wang, Ph.D., M.D., the study’s lead author and director of the Research Center for Biological Therapy (RCBT) in Beijing.

Wang along with RCBT colleague, Drs. Ming Shi and Zheng Zhang of the Research Center for Biological Therapy, The Institute of Translational Hepatology led the group of physician-scientists from the centers and Beijing 302 Hospital who conducted the study.

MSC transfusions had already been shown to improve liver function in patients with end-stage liver diseases. This time, the researchers wanted to gauge the safety and initial efficacy of treating acute-on-chronic liver failure (ACLF) with MSCs. The American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases and the European Association for the Study of the Liver define ACLF as an “acute deterioration of pre-existing chronic liver disease usually related to a precipitating event and associated with increased mortality at three months due to multisystem organ failure.” The short-term mortality rate for this condition is more than 50 percent.

MSCs have self-renewing abilities and the potential to differentiate into various types of cells. More importantly, they can interact with immune cells and cause the immune system to adjust to the desired level.

Of the 43 patients in this pilot study — each of whom had liver failure resulting from chronic HBV infection — 24 were treated with MSCs taken from donated umbilical cords and 19 were treated with saline as the control group. All received conventional therapy as well. The liver function, adverse events and survival rates were then evaluated during the 48-week or 72-week follow-up period.

Along with increased survival rates, the patients’ liver function improved and platelet count increased. No significant side effects were observed throughout the treatment and follow-up period.

“While the results are preliminary and this pilot study includes a small number of patients, MSC transfusions appear to be safe and may serve as a novel therapeutic approach for HBV-associated ACLF patients,” Dr. Shi said.

“The study also highlights several key issues that will need to be considered in the design of future clinical studies, such as the optimal type of stem cells that will be infused, the minimum effective number of the cells and the best route of administration,” Dr. Wang added.

“These results are certainly promising and the strategy merits additional study, especially considering the shortage of donor organs”  said Anthony Atala, MD, Editor of STEM CELLS Translational Medicine and director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine.

Celebrate International Stem Cell Awareness Day Online

On Oct. 3, scientists, researchers and supporters around the world will celebrate International Stem Cell Awareness Day. Advocates are asked to visit a new interactive website, www.StemCellsOfferHope.com, to share a wide range of key facts, downloadable images and links to other valuable resources within their social networks. It also features links that enable visitors to easily post information and images with family and friends on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. Supporters are also encouraged to help drive visitors to this website through the use of blogs and social media networks.

“This is a critical and historic time for stem cell research,” said Peter Donovan, Ph.D., director, Sue & Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center, UC Irvine. “We’re literally on the brink of developing new treatments to some of the world’s most devastating diseases and injuries and the act of simply raising awareness about this research is one of the best things people can do to help accelerate the process.”

Researchers have been working diligently to unlock the potential of stem cells and have made significant strides since the discovery of a method to grow and duplicate human stem cells less than 15 years ago. Their efforts to develop cures for conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, macular degeneration, Huntington’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, as well as traumatic brain injuries and paralysis caused by spinal cord injuries are moving forward at a rapid pace. For more information visit www.stemcellsofferhope.com.

About the Sue & Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center, UC Irvine:
The Sue & Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center, UC Irvine is one of the largest most technologically advanced stem cell research facilities in the world. The center was established in 2010 in part through a $10 million gift from Bill Gross, founder and co-chief investment officer of international investment firm PIMCO, and his wife Sue. For more than 40 years, its team of scientists and multiple research and graduate assistants have worked to unlock the potential of stem cells for treating and curing an estimated 70 major diseases and disorders. The research center has devised new methods for growing stems cells that are 100 percent more effective than previous techniques. Other advances have led to the world’s first clinical trial of a human neural stem cell-based therapy for chronic spinal cord injury and the first FDA-approved clinical trial using human embryonic stem cells. The embryonic stem cells are produced from embryos donated for research purposes during fertility treatments. These cells would otherwise be destroyed. For more information, visit stemcell.uci.edu.

Deaf gerbils ‘hear again’ after stem cell cure

UK researchers say they have taken a huge step forward in treating deafness after stem cells were used to restore hearing in animals for the first time.

Hearing partially improved when nerves in the ear, which pass sounds into the brain, were rebuilt in gerbils – a UK study in the journal Nature reports.

Getting the same improvement in people would be a shift from being unable to hear traffic to hearing a conversation. However, treating humans is still a distant prospect.

Read more from BBCNews – Deaf ‘hear again’ with stem cells

Film Review: Stem Cell Revolutions

STEM CELL REVOLUTIONS is a new documentary about the burgeoning field of stem cells. Featuring beautiful hand-drawn animations and interviews with leading stem cell scientists, STEM CELL REVOLUTIONS charts the history and scientific evolution of stem cell research – from the earliest experiments that first revealed stem cells in the body, to leading current scientific and clinical developments.

It was very interesting to see how the radiation fallout from Hiroshima indirectly led to the discovery of stem cells. It was also fascinating to view the early successes of stem cells that encouraged both scientists and their students to forge forward with their research.

The ethical debate of stem cells is visited as well with the film discussing embryonic stem cells vs. induced pluripotent stem cells. Also to the filmmakers’ credit, they do not shy away from the negative aspects of stem cell research, in particular, those who are being exploited by untried and untested drugs.

Director/Producer Amy Hardie and Science Producer Dr Clare Blackburn do a great job of taking such a scientific/technical issue as stem cells and making it approachable, entertaining, and easy to follow. The film is a great way to introduce stem cells to non-technical audiences such as teachers and students.

To view the film online please visit http://stemcellrevolutions.com

Alzheimer’s Stem Cell Research: Ask the Expert – Larry Goldstein, UCSD

In this first installment of CIRM TV’s “Ask the Expert” video series, Larry Goldstein of the University of California, San Diego answers questions about finding stem cell based therapies for Alzheimer’s disease. Readers of CIRM’s Facebook, Twitter, and research blog sent in the questions over the past few weeks. Dr. Goldstein is a CIRM grantee and director of the UC San Diego stem cell program.

For more information about CIRM-funded Alzheimer’s research, visit our fact sheet at: http://www.cirm.ca.gov/Alzheimers_Disease_Facts

To learn more about the efforts of California’s Stem Cell Agency to accelerate the development of new therapies for chronic disease and injury, visit our home page at: http://www.cirm.ca.gov