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.

Massachusetts Scientists Make Stem Cell Discovery

Somerville, MA, March 30, 2009 –(PR.com)– Cell Multiplication Controlled by a Surprising set of Genes.

Stem cell researcher Dr. Ann Kiessling announced today the discovery of cell characteristics that may explain important differences between embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells. Scientists have for years been frustrated in their efforts to grow the trillions of adult stem cells needed for therapies, which is why embryonic stem cells seem promising — they can multiply endlessly and also develop into any cell in the body.

Kiessling discovered that early human embryo cells express CLOCK, and other circadian genes, that other human cells growing in laboratories did not. This was a surprise. Although scientists have recently become aware that human tissues have a circadian oscillator that cycles every 24 hours, in phase with the master circadian pacemaker in the brain that responds to light and dark, early embryos seemed too small to function like a tissue.

Kiessling also discovered that the RB gene, a powerful cell blockade, was turned off in the early embryo cells. This was also a surprise because RB is a well-studied blockade that prevents cells from multiplying unless needed and stimulated by growth factors. The lack of RB in the early embryo cells, in combination with the circadian oscillator, are unique characteristics that together enable independent, continuous cell duplication.

“These are exciting discoveries,” stated Dr. Kiessling. “To understand the cell machinery needed for independent, highly accurate cell multiplication, we need to understand early embryos, because they are the true stem cells. CLOCK expression and RB silence may be key elements in continuous cell duplication, and important to consider in the design of patient-specific stem cells capable of the expansion needed for therapeutic quantities.”

Developing conditions to inhibit RB and support the circadian oscillator may the combination long sought by scientists to multiply adult stem cells to the trillions needed for therapies for diseases such as heart failure, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, spinal cord injury, AIDS and cancer. “These findings are also essential to our research to improve the efficiency of deriving stem cells from unfertilized eggs, called parthenote stem cells. Parthenote stem cells do not have the ethical issues that embryos have, and appear to be as robust in multiplication as embryonic stem cells. Women with serious diseases, such as Huntington’s Disease, spinal cord injury, and Chrone’s disease, have volunteered to donate their eggs for stem cell research and derivation, a procedure well worth undertaking when this new knowledge can be implemented. Strategies to silence the RB gene will need to be carefully planned to allow it to turn back on when the cells are differentiated to specific cell types, ” Dr. Kiessling said. This ground-breaking work was the result of a collaboration between Dr. Kiessling’s team of scientists at the Massachusetts based Bedford Stem Cell Research Foundation with a team of clinician scientists at the University of Athens in Greece. The work is the first of its kind and was possible through the use of cutting-edge microarray technology. BRF scientists examined expression of 44,000 gene elements in discarded early-stage (8 cells of development) human embryos.

Professor Dimitris Loutradis, the clinician scientist leading the Greek team, adds “This new understanding of human embryos may, finally, help develop ways to determine which embryo is developing normally and should be selected for transfer to patients undergoing assisted reproduction.”

According to Professor Jose Cibelli of Michigan State University, “This is a seminal paper. I am sure we will be referring back to it 10, 20 years from now.”

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Bedford Stem Cell Research Foundation
Ann Kiessling
(617) 623-5670
kiessling@bedfordresearch.org
www.bedfordresearch.org
Loch Jones, 310-480-1234

Scientists may soon grow new teeth in lab

By Stephen Cauchi, Farmonline.com.au

AUSTRALIAN scientists are giving the dentally challenged something to smile about: the prospect of growing new teeth.

Stem cells are being used to grow new tissue around teeth in animals, a first step towards treating dental diseases in humans. The ultimate goal is for teeth to become the first complex organs to be created entirely from stem cells.

“I have no doubt that whole teeth regeneration is going to happen one day,” said Mark Bartold, from the University of Adelaide’s dentistry department.

Should the scientists’ ambitions be realised, whole teeth would be grown in a laboratory using stem cells taken from a patient’s baby or wisdom teeth. These live teeth would be implanted into empty gum sockets, replacing the current method of inserting artificial teeth on metal pins.

The science involves harvesting stem cells from the layer of dental pulp between the tooth’s dentine (the layer immediately underneath the enamel) and the cementum (the layer which covers the tooth’s root).

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UW researchers find safer way to reprogram cells

By Mark Johnson of the Journal Sentinel

Having mastered the ability to roll back a cell’s clock to its embryonic origin, scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison cleared a major technical hurdle this week, raising hopes that the technique could usher in a new kind of medicine that exploits the body’s own repair system.

Stem cell pioneer James Thomson and his colleagues reported Thursday that they have developed a safer way of turning cells from the foreskins of newborns into something very similar to embryonic stem cells.

Previous methods accomplished the trick but left behind viruses and outside genes, remnants of which could cause mutations, block the cells from growing into more specific types and even lead to tumors.

The UW team bypassed this obstacle by delivering the special genes with a plasmid, a small, very stable circle of DNA. This package reprogrammed the skin cells and was eventually diluted out of them. What remained were cells that appear to have the healing potential of embryonic stem cells, Thomson and his colleagues reported in the journal Science.

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Bedford researcher IDs genes separating adult, embryonic stem cells

By Marc Songini, MassHighTech.com

Scientists at the Bedford Research Foundation (BRF) believe they may have discovered the key genetic differences between embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells.

Working with a team of clinician scientists at the University of Athens in Greece, the Bedford-based BRF researchers found a connection between cell multiplication and a set of genes. It’s well known that stem cells have a widespread use in many therapies. The more controversial embryonic stem cells are capable of virtual endless multiplication and can replicate into any cell in the body. However, adult stem cells have proved they are limited in their scalability and adaptability.

For years, scientists have been trying to understand just what sets the two stem cell types apart. Now, according to BRF stem cell researcher Ann Kiessling, it appears that early human embryo cells have circadian genes — that is, genes that have a roughly 24-hour cycle. This was surprising; although scientists have learned that some human tissues cycle every 24 hours (in phase with a master pacemaker in the brain that responds to light and dark), it was assumed that early embryos were too small to function like fully-grown tissue.

Additionally, Kiessling saw that the RB gene, a powerful cell blockade, was de-activated in the early embryo cells. Because RB is a well-studied blockade that prevents cells from multiplying unless required, this also was surprising. The lack of RB and the presence of a circadian oscillator are unique characteristics that enable independent, continuous cell duplication, she claimed.

To understand the cell machinery needed for independent, highly accurate cell multiplication, it’s necessary to understand early embryos, “because they are the true stem cells,” she stated.

Early Stem Cell Mutation Linked To Autism

From Oneindia.in

A breakthrough study on mice has shown that mutations in neural stem cell development may be linked to autism.

Reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by experts at the Burnham Institute for Medical Research, the study showed that mice lacking the myocyte enhancer factor 2C (MEF2C) protein in neural stem cells had smaller brains, fewer nerve cells and showed behaviours similar to those seen in humans with a form of autism known as Rett Syndrome.

Dr. Stuart A. Lipton, a clinical neurologist who led the study, claims that his team”s study represents the first direct link between a developmental disorder of neural stem cells and the subsequent onset of autism.

“These results give us a good hint of how to look at Rett Syndrome and potentially other forms of autism in humans. Having identified a mutation that causes this defect, we can track what happens. Perhaps we can correct it in a mouse, and if so, eventually correct it in humans,” said Dr. Lipton.

Working in Dr. Lipton’s laboratory, the research team observed that MEF2C turns on specific genes, which drive stem cells to become nerve cells.

The researchers also observed a faulty distribution of neurons, accompanied by severe developmental problems, when they deleted MEF2C from neural stem cells in the animals.

They have revealed that adult mice lacking MEF2C in their brains displayed abnormal anxiety-like behaviours, decreased cognitive function, and marked paw clasping, a behaviour which may be analogous to hand wringing, a notable feature in humans with Rett syndrome.

“There’s a yin and yang to this MEF2C protein. My laboratory recently showed that MEF2C induces embryonic stem cells to become neurons. In this new research, we show that knocking out MEFC2 in the brain results in mice with smaller brains, fewer neurons and reduced neuronal activity. The commonality is the protein’s association in making new neurons,” said Dr. Lipton.

Reversal of Stem Cell Research Ban: 13 Stocks to Benefit

From SeekingAlpha.com

Earlier this week President Obama signed an executive order lifting the ban on federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research. In his speech made to the American people, he explained that scientific decisions must be “based on facts, not ideology.”

Back in 2001, President Bush moved to restrict federal funding for human embryonic stem cell research, making it the subject of his first prime-time televised speech from the White House. Now, Obama has flipped the tables with one swipe of the pen, a prospect that pleases many Democrats in the Congress. “Signing this executive order sends a clear signal around the world that our nation supports research based on science, not politics,” said Rep. Jim Langevin of Rhode Island, a strong backer of stem cell research.

While the Left argue that stem-cell research offers hope for millions of people suffering with debilitating conditions, right-to-life groups hotly oppose this move by the President because they equate it to murder.

This is clearly a very controversial topic. But for the time being, President Obama’s reversal this week of President Bush’s anti-embryonic stem cell policy has turned to the side of science and medicine. And while there is considerable uncertainty as to the ultimate benefits from embryonic stem-cells, companies involved in this research are going to clearly reap the benefits of this change in leadership and policy for at least the next four years.

There are only a limited number of stocks which are pure plays or semi-pure plays in the stem cell industry. However, with the reversal of this ban, this could become a very huge industry. The following list includes stocks that investors should keep on their radars.

Aastrom Biosciences (ASTM) – Aastrom Biosciences is involved in the development of cell products for the regeneration or repair of human tissues, based on its proprietary Tissue Repair Cell [TRC] technology.

Advanced Cell Technology (ACTC) – ACTC is involved in the development and marketing of human stem cell technology in the area of regenerative medicine and stem cell therapy.

Alexion Pharmaceuticals (ALXN) – Alexion Pharmaceuticals is involved in the development of biologic therapeutic products for the treatment of hematologic and cardiovascular disorders, autoimmune diseases, and cancer.

ARIAD Pharmaceuticals (ARIA) – Ariad is involved in the development of medicines for the treatment of cancer by regulating cell signaling with small molecules. Their cancer products are used to treat sarcomas, hormone refractory prostate cancer, and endometrial cancer.

BioTime, Inc. (BTIM) – BioTime develops blood plasma volume expanders and blood replacement solutions for hypothermic (low temperature) surgery, and organ preservation solutions and technology for use in surgery, emergency trauma treatment, and other applications.

Celera Group (CRA) – This NYSE company, founded in 1937, is involved in the discovery and validation of new diagnostic markers, using proprietary genomics and proteomics discovery platforms and diagnostic products based on those markers.

Cellgene (CELG) – Cellgene is involved in the discovery, production, and marketing of therapies designed to treat cancer and immune-inflammatory-related diseases. Their primary product includes THALOMID, for the treatment of erythema nodosum leprosum. Last year, the company received patent on placental stem cell recovery.

Cord Blood America Inc. (CBAI) – CBAI provides private cord blood stem cell preservation services to families in the United States. The company also engages in the collection, testing, processing, and preservation of peripheral blood and adipose tissue stem cells, which allows individuals to privately preserve their stem cells for potential future use in stem cell therapy.

Dendreon Corporation (DNDN) – This company is involved in the discovery, development, and marketing of active immunotherapies, monoclonal antibodies, and small molecule product candidates to treat cancer. They manufacture the DACSÒSC stem cell enrichment device.

Geron (GERN) – This Menlo Park, California company develops cell-based therapies derived from human embryonic stem cell platforms for treatment of various diseases.

Integra Lifesciences Holdings (IART) – Integra develops, manufactures, and sells medical devices, implants, biomaterials, and instruments to the neurosurgery, surgery, and soft tissue repair markets.

Invitrogen Corporation (IVGN) – Invitrogen sells products and services which support academic and government research institutions, pharmaceutical companies and biotechnology companies, including tools for gene acquisition, gene cloning, gene expression,

StemCells Inc. (STEM) – This Palo Alto company is involved in the discovery and development of adult stem cell therapeutics for treating damage to the central nervous system, liver, and pancreas.

Obama Issues Executive Order To Lift Some Federal Restrictions On Embryonic Stem Cell Research

President Obama on Monday at an event with Democratic and Republican lawmakers is expected to announce that he will reverse restrictions put in place by former President George W. Bush on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, in keeping with campaign promises to “separate science and politics,” the New York Times reports. Although the decision to reverse the restrictions is “not surprising,” it is “nonetheless of great interest, involving a long-controversial intersection of science and personal moral beliefs,” the Times reports (Stout/Harris, New York Times, 3/7). According to the Washington Post, Bush imposed restrictions in August 2001 that limited federal funding to studies involving stem cell lines that were already in existence — about 21 lines. By lifting the restrictions, Obama will “allow thousands of scientists to study hundreds” of stem cell lines that have been developed during the last eight years, the Post reports. Researchers also will be able to “dismantle cumbersome bureaucracies constructed to work around the constraints and let them exchange scientific ideas more easily,” the Post reports (Stein, Washington Post, 3/7).

Obama’s announcement that he intends to lift the restrictions “is not likely to lead to any immediate change in government policy,” the Times reports. It may take many months for NIH to develop new guidelines for the research, but advocates are expected “to push for the process to go as quickly as possible” so universities can have adequate time to submit grant proposals before September 2010, when NIH must give out the last of the $10.4 billion allotted to the agency in the economic stimulus law.

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Multiple Sclerosis Stem Cell Therapy News Coverage

Creating Embryonic Stem Cell Lines


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The inner cell mass (ICM) cells of blastocyst-stage early human embryos can be removed and cultured. These cells can be grown in the lab indefinitely. Various growth factors cause these cells to develop into a variety of differentiated cells, such as muscle or nerve cells.