A Stem-Cell Discovery Could Help Diabetics

By Alice Park, Time.com

Researchers are inching ever closer to bringing the latest stem-cell technologies from bench to bedside — and are, in the process, learning more about some diseases that long have remained medical black boxes.

This week, scientists at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute (HSCI) reported the first success in generating new populations of insulin-producing cells using skin cells of Type 1 diabetes patients. The achievement involved the newer embryo-free technique for generating stem cells, and marked the first step toward building a treatment that could one day replace a patient’s faulty insulin-making cells with healthy, functioning ones.

The experiment, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, also provided the first good model — in a petri dish — of how Type 1 diabetes develops, giving scientists a peek at what goes wrong in patients affected by the disease. Such knowledge could lead to not only new stem-cell-based treatments, but also novel drug therapies that might improve the symptoms of the disease.

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Creation Of Multiple Types Of White Blood Cells Directly From Embryonic And Adult Stem Cells

From MedicalNewsToday.com

In an advance that could help transform embryonic stem cells into a multipurpose medical tool, scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have transformed these versatile cells into progenitors of white blood cells and into six types of mature white blood and immune cells.

While clinical use is some years away, the new technique could produce cells with enormous potential for studying the development and treatment of disease. The technique works equally well with stem cells grown from an embryo and with adult pluripotent stem cells, which are derived from adult cells that have been converted until they resemble embryonic stem cells.

If the adult cells came from people with certain bone marrow diseases, the new technique could produce blood cells with specific defects. It could also be used to grow specific varieties of immune cells that could target specific infections or tumors.

The likely most immediate benefit is cells that can be used for safety screening of new drugs, says study leader Igor Slukvin, an assistant professor in the university’s Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine.

“Toxicity to the blood-forming system is a key limit on drug development, so these cells could be used for safety testing in any drug development,” says Slukvin, who performs research at the National Primate Research Center in Madison.

Bone marrow stem cells are already used to screen drugs, but the new technique promises to produce large quantities of cells in a dish that can be more exactly tailored to the task at hand, without requiring a constant supply of bone marrow cells from donors.

The development of stem cells into mature, specialized cells is governed by trace amounts of biological signaling molecules, so Slukvin and colleagues Kyung-Dal Choi and Maxim Vodyanik exposed two types of highly versatile stem cells to various compounds.

Eventually they found a recipe that would cause the cells to move through a process of progressive specialization into a variety of adult cells. Slukvin’s study was published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

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U.S. Stem Cell Research Seems to Focus on Two Lines

From Drugs.com

Only two of 21 approved human embryonic stem cell lines are routinely used by researchers in the United States, says a new study.

The study found that two cell lines, known as H1 and H9, accounted for 941 of 1,217 requests, or 77 percent, placed by scientists since 1999 for human embryonic stem cell lines housed at the two largest stem cell banks in the country.

Another line, H7, was requested 111 times, and 13 other lines were requested fewer than 10 times.

The study’s authors also found that H9 was discussed in 83 percent of 534 published studies from 1999 to 2008, H1 was discussed in 61 percent and H7 in 24 percent. The total is more than 100 percent because many studies used more than one cell line.

“I was surprised by the results,” Christopher Scott, director of Stanford University’s Program on Stem Cells in Society, said in a news release. “I never imagined that we would find that three-fourths of the requests would be for the same two cell lines.”

The study appears in the Aug. 7 issue of Nature Biotechnology.

Scott and his fellow researchers said the findings raise concerns about the reauthorization process of stem cell lines under way at the U.S. National Institutes of Health. If the lines that have been in use are excluded from federal funding because of ethical considerations, they said, scientists might abandon research on them in favor of other cell lines.

However, they added, the two most-used lines might have abnormalities or other characteristics that would make them less useful than newer lines.

Future NIH policies should preserve scientists’ ability to continue work on the well-studied lines while also encouraging the study of ne

Mice created from skin cells

From Cox Newspapers

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Scientists at The Scripps Research Institute in San Diego have created healthy adult mice out of mouse skin cells — no sperm, no egg. Just skin.

The feat, described in the scientific journal Nature this week, was intended to prove that adult cells can be reprogrammed backward in their development, until they have all the desirable characteristics of embryonic stem cells.

According to Gerard McGill, a medical ethicist at Duquesne University’s Center for Healthcare Ethics, this means the ability to treat diabetes, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, hearing loss, or spinal cord damage with a patient’s own cells is within reach.

“It proves that reprogrammed cells are equivalent to embryonic stem cells,” McGill said. “Treatments are at least 15 or 20 years away, but they are reasonable.”

Reprogramming mouse skin cells to grow into complete mice required advances in mouse genetics, genetic engineering, stem cell biology and reproductive technology.

The scientists started using standard fetal mouse skin cells. They then genetically engineered viruses to carry genes for four key proteins believed to be able to reprogram a cell’s behavior. The viruses infected the skin cells, forcing them to produce the compounds.

The scientists hand-selected cells that had the most obvious stem-cell-like traits.

The cells were eventually transferred into fertile female mice.

Two of the embryos survived to become fertile adults.

Replacement teeth grown in mice

Researchers in Japan have successfully grown replacement teeth in mice, according to a report in PNAS journal.

Tissue containing the cells and instructions for building a tooth was transplanted into the jawbones of mice.

They report that these tissue “germs” regularly grew into fully functional teeth with a hardness comparable to that of the natural variety.

The work illustrates a technique that could lead to engineered organ replacements, according to the authors.

They found that nerve fibres were able to grow throughout the teeth and respond to pain stimulation.

The researchers also tracked gene expression in the engineered tooth “germ” with a fluorescent protein.

This revealed that genes that were normally activated in tooth development were also active during growth of the engineered replacement.

The study was led by Etsuko Ikeda from the Tokyo University of Science, Japan.

Stem Cells Primer – Video

From Sciencestage.com

Researchers May Have Found Equivalent of Embryonic Stem Cells

By Rob Stein, WashingtonPost.com

Chinese scientists have bred mice from cells that might offer an alternative to human embryonic stem cells, producing the most definitive evidence yet that the technique could help sidestep many of the explosive ethical issues engulfing the controversial field but raising alarm that the advance could lead to human cloning and designer babies.

In papers published online Thursday by two scientific journals, separate teams of researchers from Beijing and Shanghai reported that they had for the first time created virtual genetic duplicates of mice using skin cells from adult animals that had been coaxed into the equivalent of embryonic stem cells.

The findings were welcomed by supporters and opponents of human embryonic stem cell research as a long-sought vital step in proving that the cells could be as useful as embryonic cells for studying and curing many illnesses.

The results come just as the Obama administration has eased federal restrictions on government funding for embryonic stem cell research, and they could influence how to prioritize millions of dollars in new spending in the field.

But because of concerns that the techniques might make cloning and genetic engineering of embryos easier, the work could reignite calls for a ban on attempts to clone people and for restrictions on genetic manipulation of embryos.

“The implications of this are both enormously important and troublesome,” said Robert Lanza, a stem cell researcher at Advanced Cell Technology in Worcester, Mass. “It revives many of the issues raised by reproductive cloning.”

Many scientists believe human embryonic stem cell research could revolutionize medicine by enabling doctors to use genetically matched tissue to treat many diseases. But the field has been mired in controversy because embryos are destroyed to obtain the cells.

In 2006, scientists discovered that they could induce adult cells to regress to a stage that appeared identical to embryonic stem cells, called induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells. Although scientists have become increasingly adept at creating and manipulating such cells, questions have lingered about whether they are truly equivalent. The new experiments were designed to put the cells to what has long been considered the most rigorous test.

In the studies, published in the journals Nature and Cell Stem Cell, the researchers used viruses to flip genetic switches in the DNA of skin cells from adult mice to turn them into iPS cells in the laboratory. The researchers then injected some of the iPS cells into very early embryos that are capable of forming a placenta but not of fully developing on their own. The resulting embryos were then transferred into the wombs of surrogate mice.

One team of scientists led by Qi Zhou of the Chinese Academy of Sciences created 37 iPS cell lines, three of which produced 27 live offspring, the first of which they named Tiny. One of the offspring, a 7-week-old male, went on to impregnate a female and produce young of its own. Altogether, the researchers bred at least 100 first-generation mice and hundreds of second-generation mice that were nearly identical genetically to the mice from which the iPS cells were derived.

“This gives us hope for future therapeutic interventions using patients’ own reprogrammed cells,” Fanyi Zeng of Shanghai Jiao Tong University, who worked with Zhou, said during a telephone briefing for reporters.

The second group of researchers, led by Shaorong Gao of the National Institute of Biological Sciences in Beijing, created five iPS cell lines, one of which was able to produce embryos that survived until birth. Although four animals were born, only one lived to adulthood. Nevertheless, the work is “proof that iPS cells are functionally equivalent to embryonic stem cells,” Gao said in a telephone interview.

Other researchers agreed, praising the work as a long-awaited confirmation of the cells’ equivalence.

“This clearly says for the first time that iPS cells pass the most stringent test,” said Konrad Hochedlinger, a stem cell researcher at Harvard University.

Opponents of human embryonic stem cell research said the findings provide the latest in a growing body of evidence for why such research is no longer necessary.

“Nobody has been able to find anything that embryonic stem cells can do that these cells can’t do,” said Richard M. Doerflinger of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “This was the last remaining barrier.”

The Chinese scientists and others, however, said continued research on embryonic stem cells remains crucial to validate iPS cells and because it remains unclear which cells will turn out to be most useful for different purposes.

But the cells’ ability to produce almost genetically identical offspring raised the fear that rogue scientists might misuse the technique to attempt to clone humans.

“The culture wars are not over,” said Jonathan D. Moreno, a University of Pennsylvania bioethicist. “There was a lot of celebration about the end of the ethical issues with induced pluripotent stem cells. But this is the paradigm case that shows that the old debates are rapidly being transformed into something even more complicated.”

Lanza also raised the prospect that the techniques could one day be used essentially to steal someone’s DNA to make a baby. “With just a little piece of your skin, or some blood from the hospital, anyone could have your child — even an ex-girlfriend or neighbor,” he wrote in an e-mail. “This isn’t rocket science — with a little practice, any IVF clinic in the world could probably figure out how to get it to work.”

In addition, researchers could genetically engineer traits into the cells before using them to create embryos for designer babies.

“For instance, the technology already exists to genetically increase the muscle mass in animals by knocking out a gene known as mystatin, and could be used by a couple who wants a great child athlete,” Lanza wrote.

Others dismissed such concerns, saying many scientific, ethical and regulatory hurdles remain. They said that just because the process works in mice does not necessarily mean it would work in humans, that many states outlaw human cloning and that federal regulators could step in to prevent it.

Sperm From Stem Cells

By Peter Allen, cbsnews.com

This week, British researchers announced another extraordinary breakthrough in medical research. They have taken stem cells from an embryo and created human sperm.

It’s very exciting, said the man who led the team. They have heads, they have tails, and they move. They have all the essential qualities for creating life. The aim, we are told, is to revolutionize the treatment of infertility.

But this discovery has created some interesting dilemmas. Sperm could be produced from female stem cells. That would mean women would no longer need men to create babies. It could also be theoretically used to produce an unlimited supply of babies from one stem cell line — millions of babies who are exactly the same. Will it happen? Probably not. Could it happen? Almost certainly, yes.

One of the opponents of this kind of research called it an example of man at his maddest. There are those who doubt the claims made by these researchers, but the truth is, it is only one of a remarkable series of medical breakthroughs involving stem cells. What these and other researchers are doing is ripping up the codes of law and morality by which we conduct our lives. The pace of discovery has left our legislators floundering.

And to make the whole matter more alarming, the pace of that change is increasing. Take these fine shining teeth, for instance — currently being rebuilt by a top man down the road with the aid of bone implants and titanium bolts. High tech – I said to my dental surgeon. It will soon be out of date, he replied. In future we will grow you nice new teeth from stem cells.

In fact, he said, some people are already trying it. But the rats they are using tend to grow the right teeth in the wrong places. So not quite suitable for me yet.

Stem cells, he said, can grow into anything — not just your teeth, but any failing organ. Think of it. Heart attack? Have a new heart. Kidneys in trouble? Here’s some more. Maybe when the treatments are perfected I will be able to live forever, as will you. Me — here — forever? I suspect for you the proposition does not attract. As a matter of fact it does not do much for me either.

Scientists Reprogram Clearly Defined Adult Cells Into Pluripotent Stem Cells — Directly And Without Viruses

From ScienceDaily.com

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Feds ease restrictions on use of stem cells

By Shankar Vedantam, Washington Post

From SFGate.com

Hundreds of embryonic stem cell lines, whose use in the United States had been curtailed by the Bush administration, can be used to study disorders and develop cures if researchers can show the cells were derived using ethical procedures, according to new rules issued by the federal government Monday.

President Obama had promised during last year’s campaign to ease restrictions on the use of stem cells in research, and has cited the promise of stem cells in finding cures for disorders that have so far proved intractable.

The use of embryonic stem cells was not prohibited under the Bush administration, but federal funds were limited to a very small number of stem cell lines, which choked off most research. The new guidelines, issued by the National Institutes of Health, permit federal funding for research using many of the approximately 700 embryonic stem cell lines that are believed to be in existence.

In a move that drew praise from advocates of stem cell research and bitter criticism from opponents, the NIH said it will allow the use of any existing stem cell line that followed broad ethical principles. Acting NIH Director Raynard Kington said an NIH committee including scientists, ethicists and advocates will evaluate older stem cell lines to assess how each was derived.

He said all embryonic stem cell lines that qualified for federal funding would have to meet a series of ethical requirements: The embryo that was destroyed to create a stem cell line must have been discarded by couples following an in vitro fertilization procedure, and the donors must have been informed that the embryo would be destroyed for stem cell research and made fully cognizant of their choices, including donating the embryo to another couple who want a baby. No donors could have been paid for an embryo, and no threats or inducements could have been used to nudge couples toward donating an embryo.

Kington said the NIH would set up a Web site that would list all the approved stem cell lines.

Almost all of the stem cell lines developed in California are expected to meet the NIH ethics guidelines, said Geoffrey Lomax, senior officer for medical and ethical standards with the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine. The institute was created by a voter initiative in 2004 to support stem cell research.

Lomax said the registry should be a boon to researchers in California by making it easier to use stem cell lines from other states. Previously, scientists would have spent valuable time and money determining whether an out-of-state line met California ethical criteria before they could begin their research. With a national database, they can skip that first step, Lomax said.

“This (registry) will speed things up a bit,” Lomax said. “It creates a level of standardization that is extraordinarily helpful and it removes a lot of uncertainty.”

The use of stem cells in research has become the subject of bitter national controversy, with advocates suggesting it is immoral for the federal government not to fund research that could save thousands of lives, and with opponents arguing it is immoral to fund research that involves destroying embryos.

Chronicle staff writer Erin Allday contributed to this report.