British House of Lords Allows Human-Animal Cloning, Passes Embryo Bill
Scientists Use Female Adult Stem Cells to Make "Female Sperm"
Insurance companies are beginning to include limited coverage for umbilical cord storage costs
New Embryonic-Like Stem Cell Method Ethical, But Tissue from Aborted Human Fetuses Used Indirectly
NEW! Frozen Stem Cells Save British Toddler's Life
U.S. Cardiovascular Disease Research Using Adult Stem Cells is Progressing
NEW! Finnish Patient Gets New Custom Jaw from Own Stem Cells
NEW! Breast Milk Contains Stem Cells
NEW! Artery Procedure Raises New Hopes to Avoid Amputation…
BRITISH HOUSE OF LORDS ALLOWS HUMAN-ANIMAL CLONING, PASSES EMBRYO BILL. The British House of Lords has approved a controversial bill that could pave the way for scientific research that greatly concerns the pro-life community and could open the door for expanding abortions. The chamber also turned back an amendment to stop the human-animal cloning.
The House of Lords supported the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill and defeated 268-96 an amendment to it to stop scientists from cloning human embryos with a little bit of animal DNA.
Scientists want to create the clones to conduct experiments on diseases and how to alleviate them but pro-life groups say they should not be creating human life for the purpose of destroying it.
The bill allows them to make the cloned embryos and experiment on them for 14 days before killing them.
Lord Alton, a leading pro-life advocate, proposed the amendment and, with its failure, said he hoped to at least make it more difficult for scientists to get the licenses to clone the embryos.
"I have always believed that life begins at conception, and after that I don't believe we should destroy life," he said.
Lord Tebbit, the former Conservative Party chairman, agreed that the bill and the human-animal cloning caused problems.
"Because it is possible to do something doesn't mean it should be done, because it might bring some great benefit to some people doesn't mean it should be done," he said, according to the Independent newspaper.
"If we accept arguments of that kind we are effectively saying that the end justifies the means," he added. As the vote took place, hundreds of pro-life advocates protested outside the legislative chamber. [16Jan08, Ertelt, LifeNews.com, London, England]
SCIENTISTS USE FEMALE ADULT STEM CELLS TO MAKE 'FEMALE SPERM': Men No Longer Needed? 'Female sperm', 'male eggs' and 'same-sex reproduction' – whether these terms fill you with hope or disgust, a reproductive revolution is already in progress," begins a recent New Scientist report on some of the most bizarre and disturbing scientific research being conducted by stem cell scientists.
"In a handful of labs across the world, biologists are trying to make genetically male cells develop into eggs, and female cells into sperm. If successful, their efforts might one day allow lesbian and gay couples to have children that are genetically their own," the report continues.
Scientists at Newcastle upon Tyne University in the U.K. claim to have already used adult stem cells to create primitive sperm, reports New Scientist. Karim Nayernia, a stem-cell biologist at Newcastle, made adult stem cells derived from male bone marrow develop into spermatogonia, and then coaxed the spermatgonia to undergo meisois, thereby becoming mature sperm with sufficient genetic information to impregnate a human egg.
According to the New Scientist report, Nayernia claims to have developed the spermatogonia from female bone marrow as well, but has not yet been able to make the female spermatogonia undergo meiosis.
Theoretically, were Nayernia to be successful in his attempt to create "female sperm", a lesbian couple could give birth to a child that is a composite of both of the partner's genetic material, with no man having contributed to the process of procreation.
Scientists are also working on developing a human egg from male stem cells. In such a scenario it would be possible that a human egg would be made using skin cells of one of the male partners in a homosexual relationship, which would then be impregnated with the sperm of the other partner. The fertilized embryo would then be implanted in the womb of a surrogate mother.
In Brazil, stem-cell scientist Irina Kerkis claims to have already created sperm and eggs from male mouse embryonic stem cells. "We are starting experiments with human embryonic stem cells," Kerkis told New Scientist.
At the same time, in the U.S., patent analyst Greg Aharonian is attempting to obtain a patent for technologies that would allow scientists to create sperm or eggs, allowing same-sex couples thereby to have their own children.
In his patent application, Aharonian states, "The present invention includes methods for developing sperm containing a female's chromosomes, or developing eggs containing a male's chromosomes, and the sperm or eggs so produced."
In the "background to the invention" section of the application, Aharonian claims that this technology could overcome the "only" objection to allowing same-sex couples to "marry" – that is, their present inability to procreate.
"The main, if not only, objective reason for opposing same-sex marriage is that same sex procreation is impossible – two men cannot conceive a child that has genetic material only from both men, and similarly for two women," writes Aharonian.
"But is same sex procreation impossible, so that same-sex couples are forever denied equal protection under marriage laws? Or like brain surgery, face transplants and other 'unnatural' medical technologies, are there clinical techniques to achieve same-sex procreation?"
Aharonian told the New Scientist, "I'm a troublemaker."
As with most stem-cell technologies, however, there are safety concerns about the process. Reportedly Nayernia pioneered his "female sperm" techniques first on mice, impregnating female mouse eggs with sperm derived from female stem cells. The mice that were subsequently born, however, suffered severe health problems.
One other problem with creating "female sperm" is t
hat such sperm would always lack the Y chromosome necessary to conceive a male child. Hence the process could only ever produce a female child.
There are also still a host of technological problems to be solved, which has lead some scientists to conclude that useable "female sperm" and "male eggs" are still a long ways off. "I think it will take far more than 10 years," said Robin Lovell-Bade of the London-based National Institute for Medical Research. [1Feb08, John Jalsevac, UK, LifeSiteNews.com]
INSURANCE COMPANIES BEGINNING TO INCLUDE LIMITED COVERAGE FOR UMBILICAL CORD STORAGE COSTS. The fact that some companies are including this information at all shows the growth of the procedure in recent years.
The use of umbilical cord blood as a source of stem cells for hematopoietic transplantation was first proposed by Edward Boyse in 1983. Until that time, blood which remained in the umbilical cord and placenta after delivery was routinely discarded as medical waste. Gluckman et al. performed the first related umbilical cord transplant in a child with Fanconi anemia in 1988. To date, over 7000 umbilical cord transplants have taken place worldwide, surpassing the number of peripheral blood stem-cell transplants performed. Cord blood is now known to contain both hematopoietic stem cells and pluripotent mesenchymal cells, which may be used in the treatment of leukemias, hemoglobinopathies, and inborn errors of metabolism. More recently isolation of mesenchymal cells found in umbilical cord blood has been used in research for regenerative treatment of disease, primarily neurologic disorders (Moise, 2005).
Umbilical cord blood transplantation is established practice in the pediatric setting.
Advantages to the use of umbilical cord blood compared to peripheral blood or bone marrow include a limitless supply, the units are available on short notice, ethnic diversity is easier to achieve, painless collection of stem cells, higher proliferative capacity, and a lower rate of acute graft-versus-host disease.
Coverage Position Number: 0466
Disadvantages include the inability to obtain additional donor cells, fewer total cells due to small volumes, slower engraftment and high up-front costs (Moise, 2005).
Umbilical cord blood is effective as a source of hematopoietic cells for transplantation; compared with adult cells, they have immune naiveté because of their minimal previous exposure to antigens. As such, the cord blood cells have a reduced capacity to illicit an alloreactive response, and there is somewhat less likelihood of graft-versus-host disease. Although cord blood units have high concentrations of hematopoietic progenitor cells, they have relatively small volumes and fewer total cells. Very low cell doses can result in a higher risk of non-engraftment, especially in larger children and adults.
Cord blood is collected at the time of delivery by one of two methods: in vivo or in vitro collection. In vivo collection is done while the placenta still remains in the uterus. Larger unit volumes and higher total nucleated cell counts may result with this method. Conversely, bacterial contamination may occur due to the proximity to the perineum.
Additionally, in the case of cesarean section, in vivo collection may result in increased operative time and make removal of the uterus more difficult once collection has occurred. In
vitro collection is usually performed by trained personnel outside of the delivery room. Macroscopic clot formation may occur with the prolonged handling times necessary for this type of collection. The collected umbilical cord blood is then sent to a specified blood bank for processing and storage. For most parents, cord blood donation is not an option because the number of locations served by registries is very limited.
Use of cord blood as a source of hematopoietic stem cells has led to the establishment of cord blood banks worldwide. The American Association of Blood Banks (AABB) and the Foundation for Accreditation of Cellular Therapy (FACT-NETCORD) have created guidelines pertaining to collection, testing, processing and banking of umbilical cord blood for transplantation and provide the accreditation of banks.
The banking of cord blood for private or public use is a controversial issue. Banks may be public, private or directed-donation banks. Currently, there are over 20 public and 24 private cord blood banks in the United States.
Public banks involve allogeneic donation. Blood is collected from the general public in a manner similar to whole blood banking, specifically by women delivering healthy babies at term. The cells are stored in a general facility for public use. In 1991, the New York Blood Center established the first public blood bank for umbilical cord blood through funding provided by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Although most public banks receive start-up funding from the NIH, many of them struggle financially because the revenues gained from the sale of the units for transplantation are not sufficient to support the basic operations of a bank that is building inventory (Kurtzberg, 2005).
In 2004, Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) division of the Department of Health and Human Services asked the Institute of Medicine (IOM) to make recommendations about the feasibility of establishing a national cord blood program. The IOM recommendations were released in 2005.
Private cord blood banks were initially established for autologous use by a child who might develop a disease later in life. The premise is one of biological insurance for the potential need of stem cells; however, the likelihood of a child requiring a transplant with its own cord blood is small. More recently, private banks have promoted their services for collection and storage of cord blood for potential use by siblings and parents. Cord blood is collected in the case in which a sibling or parent is affected with a disorder in which cord blood transplantation may be beneficial. The type of disorder and the need for autologous cells versus allogeneic cells determines the actual potential for use of these cells (Moise, 2005).
U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
The FDA has passed Good Tissue Practice regulations in the Federal Register of 2001 which apply to human cellular and tissue products used for transplantation. These regulations lay the groundwork for standards for collection, storage, documentation and labeling, and cord blood banking operations, and require establishments supplying human cells, tissue, and cellular and tissue-based products to register and list their products with the FDA.
Coverage Position Number: 0466
The Institute of Medicine recommended that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services should establish a new National Cord Blood Policy Board to set rules for the banking and use of lifesaving stem cells derived from donated umbilical cord blood (IOM, 2005). In an updated policy statement, the American Academy of Pediatrics (2007) stated that, “Cord blood donation should be discouraged when cord blood stored in a bank is to be directed for later personal or family use, because most conditions that might be helped by cord blood stem cells already exist in the infant’s cord blood.”
In addition, “Cord blood donation should be encouraged when the cord blood is stored in a bank for public use.” The Guidelines further state that, “Given the difficulty of making an accurate estimate of the need for autologous transplantation and the ready availability of a
llogeneic transplantation, private storage of cord blood as “biologic insurance” is unwise.”
In Europe, the practice of private cord banking has been banned by law in Italy since 2002. The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (2006) says, “There is still insufficient evidence to recommend directed commercial cord blood collection and stem-cell storage in low-risk families.“ Likewise, the French National Consultative Ethics Committee’s “…recommendation to decision makers is that they should encourage a considerable extension of cord blood public banks for essentially allogeneic purposes, rather than subscribing to the creation of private banks for strictly autologous purposes, the potential therapeutic usefulness of which, is, as of yet, in no way corroborated” (Moise, 2005).
CIGNA HealthCare covers collection and storage costs associated with the banking of umbilical
cord blood as medically necessary when hematopoietic transplantation using cord blood cells is
planned within the next 36 months for a member-recipient.
In the absence of a planned or expected hematopoietic transplantation where cord blood cells will be required, CIGNA HealthCare does not cover collection and storage costs associated with the banking of umbilical cord blood because it is considered not medically necessary.
[Coverage Position Number 0466, CIGNA Healthcare Coverage Position, 6/15/2007, Subject: Umbilical Cord Blood Banking, http://www.cordblood.org/sources/umbilical_cord_blood_banking.pdf]
NEW EMBRYONIC-LIKE STEM CELL METHOD ETHICAL EVEN THOUGH ABORTED TISSUE WAS USED INDIRECTLY. A new method of generating embryonic-like stem cells by getting adult stem cells to reverse back to their former embryonic state is still ethical a top pro-life bioethicist says. That's despite new information showing the studies involved the use of viruses containing fetal tissue from babies who were victims of abortion.
Children of God for Life, a pro-life group dedicated to exposing how fetal tissue obtained from abortions is used in vaccines, contacted LifeNews.com earlier in the week with the new information.
Debi Vinnedge, the director of the group, told LifeNews.com that she has concerns about the November studies authored by Shinya Yamanaka and James Thomson that were hailed as pro-life alternatives to embryonic stem cell research.
The two scientists released studies in the medical journals Science and Cell that claim to have found a way — called direct reprogramming — to make adult stem cells revert to their embryonic form.
The studies confirm that human skin cells (fibroblasts) can be used to make pluripotent stem cells (called iPSCs) sharing essentially all the features of human embryonic stem cells. Unlike "normal" embryonic stem cell research, they didn't destroy human embryos to obtain the cells.
However, Vinnedge told LifeNews.com early Tuesday that researchers used several versions of the 293 aborted fetal cell lines to modify the DNA of the host adult skin cells in order to accomplish the reprogramming.
"Unless you read the papers published by Dr Yamanaka in Cell and Dr Thomson in Science, you would have no idea where the DNA came from that was used to transform the adult cells," she said.
"And even then you would have to know what you were looking for to understand it," she added.
Vinnedge says both scientists used the same aborted fetal cell line to produce DNA for use in their experiments.
However, though the use of fetal tissue from babies killed in abortions is morally repugnant, Dr. David Prentice of the Family Research Council told LifeNews.com on Wednesday that the technique itself is ethical because it doesn't have to involve the use of it.
"Scientists will tend to use the easiest, cheapest tools at hand, and what they're used to, not always the best tools," the former Indiana State University professor said. "They are using older, established cell lines, commonly used for virus production, but the cell lines were indeed derived from aborted fetal tissue."
Prentice said the concerns with the reprogramming research are similar to those with vaccines.
"The criticism is about their starting material, not the iPSC technique, just as the vaccine criticism is about which cells are used to grow the viruses for vaccines, not the concept of vaccination,' he told LifeNews.com.
"So, they could have used adult or newborn cells exclusively, both for virus production and for starting material for the experiment, and there would have been no criticism," he said.
Prentice said Vinnedge's efforts to get scientists to stop using tissue or cells from abortions in otherwise ethical research is "certainly an admirable goal" — and it's one that eventually may be accomplished.
Scientists are working feverishly to overcome the possibility of tumor production and other problems of these new induced Pluripotent Stem Cells (iPSCs), as well as any remaining ethical concerns, such as the transport by viruses originating from unethical sources.
"Frankly, given that scientists want to get away from viruses altogether, this will soon be a moot point," Dr. Prentice explained. "My sources indicate that probably within 12 months we will see non-viral (and also possibly non-DNA) tools used for the reprogramming."
As pro-life advocates yearn for ethical ways to use stem cells to help patients with devastating diseases that possibility would be another victory for ethical science. [9Jan08, Ertelt, LifeNews.com, http://www.lifenews.com/printpage.php, DC]
FROZEN STEM CELLS SAVE BRITISH TODDLER'S LIFE. She was given just a 30 percent chance of survival before treatment.
A toddler with a rare form of cancer has been saved after she became the second person in Britain to be given a transplant using frozen umbilical-cord stem cells, Fox News reported.
Two-year-old Sorrel Mason, from Great Wratting in Suffolk, was given only a 30 percent chance of survival after being diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia.
Millions of stem-cell samples across the world were checked after no match was found in Europe. Doctors eventually found a partial match from stem cells taken from an umbilical cord frozen in Tokyo.
Sorrel made a complete recovery after undergoing treatment with the umbilical-cord stem cells from Japan at a Bristol children's hospital last year.
"We've known for some time that leukemia has been successfully treated using adult stem cells," said Dawn Vargo, associate bioethics analyst for Focus on the Family Action. "This story provides hope that the healing properties of adult stem cells can be harnessed even when the cells have been frozen."
Sorrel's mother, Samantha Mason, 38, thanked doctors for "pulling off a miracle."
CARDIOVASCULAR DISEASE RESEARCH USING ADULT STEM CELLS. The Stem Cell Center at TX Heart Institute is one of five centers selected by the National Institutes of Health to study stem cell treatments for patients with cardiovascular disease. For more information, visit their website at www.texasheart.org/stemcell. You may also contact the Stem Cell Center at 832.355.9404, or email stemce
[InTown Magazine, February 2008 http://www.intownmag.com/archives/08-02-february-2008/006.htm; http://www.al.com/news/independent/index.ssf?/base/news/120164130549660.xml&coll=4]
FINNISH PATIENT GETS NEW JAW FROM OWN STEM CELLS. Scientists in Finland said they had replaced a 65-year-old patient's upper jaw with a bone transplant cultivated from stem cells isolated from his own fatty tissue and grown inside his abdomen.
Researchers said the breakthrough opened up new ways to treat severe tissue damage and made the prospect of custom-made living spares parts for humans a step closer to reality.
"There have been a couple of similar-sounding procedures before, but these didn't use the patient's own stem cells that were first cultured and
expanded in laboratory and differentiated into bone tissue," said Riitta Suuronen of the Regea Institute of Regenerative Medicine, part of the
University of Tampere.
She told a news conference the patient was recovering more quickly than he would have if he had received a bone graft from his leg.
"From the outside nobody would be able to tell he has been through such a procedure," she said.
She said the team used no materials from animals — preventing the risk of transmitting viruses than can be hidden in an animal's DNA, and followed European Union guidelines.
Stem cells are the body's master cells and they can be found throughout the blood and tissues. Researchers have recently found that fat contains stem cells which can be directed to form a variety of different tissues.
Using a patient's own stem cells provides a tailor-made transplant that the body should not reject.
Dr Suuronen and her colleagues isolated stem cells from the patient's fat and grew them for two weeks in a specially formulated nutritious soup that included the patient's own blood serum.
In this case they identified and pulled out cells called mesenchymal stem cells — immature cells than can give rise to bone, muscle or blood vessels.
When they had enough cells to work with, they attached them to a scaffold made out of a calcium phosphate biomaterial and then put it inside the
patient's abdomen to grow for nine months. The cells turned into a variety of tissues and even produced blood vessels, the researchers said.
The block was later transplanted into the patient's head and connected to the skull bone using screws and microsurgery to connect arteries and veins to the vessels of the neck.
The patient's upper jaw had previously been removed due to a benign tumour and he was unable to eat or speak without the use of a removable prosthesis.
Dr Suuronen said her team had submitted a report on the procedure to a medical journal to be reviewed. [2Feb2008, Reuters,
http://www.abc. net.au/news/ stories/2008/ 02/02/2152899. htm]
BREAST MILK CONTAINS STEM CELLS. The Perth scientist who made the world-first discovery that human breast milk contains stem cells is confident that within five years scientists will be harvesting them to research treatment for conditions as far-reaching as spinal injuries, diabetes and Parkinson’s disease.
But what Dr Mark Cregan is excited about right now is the promise that his discovery could be the start of many more exciting revelations about the potency of breast milk.
He believes that it not only meets all the nutritional needs of a growing infant but contains key markers that guide his or her development into adulthood.
“We already know how breast milk provides for the baby’s nutritional needs, but we are only just beginning to understand that it probably performs many other functions,” says Dr Cregan, a molecular biologist at The University of Western Australia.
He says that, in essence, a new mother’s mammary glands take over from the placenta to provide the development guidance to ensure a baby’s genetic destiny is fulfilled.
“It is setting the baby up for the perfect development,” he says. “We already know that babies who are breast fed have an IQ advantage and that there’s a raft of other health benefits. Researchers also believe that the protective effects of being breast fed continue well into adult life.
“The point is that many mothers see milks as identical – formula milk and breast milk look the same so they must be the same. But we know now that they are quite different and a lot of the effects of breast milk versus formula don’t become apparent for decades. Formula companies have focussed on matching breast milk’s nutritional qualities but formula can never provide the developmental guidance.”
It was Dr Cregan’s interest in infant health that led him to investigate the complex cellular components of human milk. “I was looking at this vast complexity of cells and I thought, ‘No one knows anything about them’.”
His hunch was that if breast milk contains all these cells, surely it has their precursors, too?
His team cultured cells from human breast milk and found a population that tested positive for the stem cell marker, nestin. Further analysis showed that a side population of the stem cells were of multiple lineages with the potential to differentiate into multiple cell types. This means the cells could potentially be “reprogrammed” to form many types of human tissue.
He presented his research at the end of January to 200 of the world’s leading experts in the field at the International Conference of the Society for Research on Human Milk and Lactation in Perth.
“We have shown these cells have all the physical characteristics of stem cells. What we will do next is to see if they behave like stem cells,” he says.
If so, they promise to provide researchers with an entirely ethical means of harvesting stem cells for research without the debate that has dogged the harvesting of cells from embryos.
Further research on immune cells, which have also been found in breast milk and have already been shown to survive the baby’s digestive process, could provide a pathway to developing targets to beat certain viruses or bacteria.
[11 February 2008, ScienceNetwork Western Australia, by Catherine Madden, http://www.sciencealert.com.au/news/20081102-16879.html; Sheila Kippley, nfpprofessionals, 13Feb08]
ARTERY PROCEDURE RAISES NEW HOPES. A new procedure launched at the Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago in January offers hope to patients with critical limb ischemia (CLI), or severely blocked leg arteries.
Doctors transplanted a purified form of the patients' own stem cells into their leg muscles to grow new, small blood vessels and restore cir
culation in their legs. Two patients underwent the procedure. They are the first subjects in a 20-site national trial.
Without successful treatment, CLI patients have diminished blood flow, which causes wounds that don't heal and gangrene, which can lead to loss of toes, feet or legs. It results in more than 100,000 amputations a year.
"This is a dreadful disease, and the profession has failed to offer much in the way of relief for these patients," said Dr. Douglas Losordo, director of Northwestern University's Feinberg Cardiovascular Research Institute and principal national investigator for the trial. "Amputation rates are the same now as they were 30 years ago. We hope these trials will lead to treatment."
A CLI patient has pain when walking, and, as the disease progresses, even when sitting. Because blood flow is decreased even more when lying down, many patients have to sleep sitting up to lessen the pain.
Although people who smoke or have high cholesterol, diabetes or high blood pressure are more likely to get CLI, Losordo said, he has seen patients develop it without these risk factors.
After the trials are completed in late 2009, a larger study will be conducted for FDA approval. Losordo said a treatment for CLI could be available by 2012.
[http://www.chicagotribune.com/features/lifestyle/health/chi-0219_health_artery_rfeb19,1,2951699.story, Leslie Mann, Chicago Tribune, February 19, 2008]
Going out on a Limb with Adult Stem Cells
New success with adult stem cells may translate into 100,000 fewer U.S. amputations a year, say researchers at Chicago's Northwestern Memorial Hospital. After 10 years of clinical trials in mice and rats, scientists have moved on to human patients, whose own stem cells helped their leg muscles grow new blood vessels to reestablish circulation. This study could renew the hope of people suffering from the painful condition known as critical limb ischemia (CLI) as soon as 2012.
Every day, it seems, adult stem cells are blowing away the competition with their ability to ethically address so many medical challenges. Their versatility and ability to treat patients now just go to show that there is no reason for America's leaders to abandon the pro-life posture on embryonic stem cell research. [FRC, 20Feb08]