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The Stem Cell Rat Race

Adult Stem Cells Used to Treat Emergency Heart Attack Victims

Adult Stem Cell Research in China Helps Parkinson's Patient from Hawaii

Biologists Want To Drop the Word 'Cloning'

THE STEM CELL RAT RACE. In pursuit of cures, scientists have continued to press for the fastest routes–ignoring every ethical caution sign in their path. But news from the University of Rochester Medical Center suggests that researchers are now running into lethal roadblocks.

Steven Goldman, a neurology professor at the Center, found that using human embryonic stem cells in the brains of Parkinson's patients may cause deadly tumors. In the latest journal Nature Medicine, he wrote that his team injected human embryonic stem cells (hESC) into rat brains to cure symptoms similar to Parkinson's disease. While the cells helped to stabilize the disorder, they also caused growths that ultimately killed the rats. In Dr. Goldman's words, "The behavioral data validate the utility of the approach. But it also raises a cautionary flag and says we are not ready for prime time yet." [Wash. Post]

He conceded that considerably more research would need to be done to determine whether the tumor problems could ever be overcome. Parkinson's is a disease where dopamine-releasing cells in the brain die out, which leads to muscle dysfunction and can eventually cause paralysis. The goal of stem cell research in Parkinson's is to replace the dead cells with stem cells that form into new dopamine cells.

Goldman's team used human embryonic stem cells obtained by killing days-old unborn human embryos that were grown in a special chemical used to coax them into becoming brain cells. The team killed the rats before they could determine that the tumors that appeared to be growing actually finished appearing and they said that any embryonic stem cell treatments on humans [ed. have not arrived at the level of human treatments – not one successful human treatment has been achieved with embryo-destructive stem cells] would have to be closely monitored.

Some autopsies on the rats found tumors and that the embryonic stem cells began to grow uncontrollably rather than becoming the dopamine cells as intended.

Another team led by Ole Isacson [Harvard Medical School prof, neuroscience, neurology] published similar results earlier this month in the online journal Stem Cells and found that the embryonic stem cells also produced tumors.

Many scientists [e.g. University of Melbourne Emeritus Professor of Medicine & internationally recognized Fellow of the Royal Society Thomas Martin] now say they don't think embryonic stem cell research will ever lead to cures for major diseases such as diabetes or Parkinson's.

How ironic, then, that Parkinson's spokesman Michael J. Fox appeared in a TV ad before millions during a World Series TV break talking about the Missouri cloning initiative: "Senator Talent opposes the expansion of stem cell research. He wants to criminalize science that gives us a chance…" Despite Fox's ads, embryonic stem cells have yet to help even one patient. But the issue in Missouri is about human cloning, not stem cell research.

Previous experiments with fetal cells have also led to some disastrous failures. In August 2003, an experiment using cells derived from aborted human fetal tissue, repeating an earlier experiment, resulted in what researchers called “catastrophic” and irreversible side effects. That study, published in the Annals of Neurology, showed that of the 23 Parkinson's patients who received transplants of aborted fetal tissue, 13 developed irreversible spasmodic movements in their limbs.

The only accurate thing Fox said is that what Missouri does, matters to millions of Americans. Voters who believe in real cures should follow a compassionate course that helps the sick and protects the unborn.

In the case of Parkinson’s, much progress has been made already with ethically acceptable Adult Stem Cells that do not show the same propensity as embryonic cells to form tumors or “go wild” and form unpredictable types of tissue. [Related: Fetal Tissue Transplants Cause Disaster Again for Parkinson's Patients in Experimental Treatment [23Oct06, White,] [Stem Cell Research: Beyond Hype, Real Hope (Video) [FRC, 23Oct06; 24Oct06, Rochester,]



ADULT STEM CELLS USED TO TREAT EMERGENCY HEART ATTACK PATIENTS. Heart attack victims will receive stem cell treatment using cells taken from their own bone marrow, in a breakthrough new technique scheduled to begin trials Jan07 in two London hospitals, [Daily Mail, 7Nov]. In research being carried out at University College London Hospital and Barts and the London NHS, patients suffering a heart attack will undergo regular treatment of an angioplasty to remove blockage to an artery, and then will receive an injection into the artery of stem cells harvested from the bone marrow in their hip, under local anesthetic. The whole procedure will take place within 5 hours of their attack.
 The treatment has shown remarkable success in growing heart tissue, in trials in other countries. Doctors hope the technique will lead to repairing damaged heart muscles and preventing further attacks and the development of heart failure.
 Only patients who sign a consent form will receive the experimental therapy, headed up by Professor John Martin of the British Heart Foundation and Dr. Anthony Mathur of Barts and the London NHS trust.
 “This is the first time in the world that stem cells have been used to stop the damage of acute heart attack,” Professor Martin told the Daily Mail. “It is very exciting. We feel we can make a considerable reduction in deaths and suffering from heart failure.”
The use of adult stem cells or of cells harvested from umbilical cord blood shortly after the birth of a baby have been used successfully to treat multiple conditions, including spinal injury and blindness. 
“Because the cells are taken from the patient themselves there are minimal ethical issues surrounding this procedure,” Dr. Mathur said. “There is also less likelihood of rejection complications.”
Stem cell research using human embryonic stem cells, which destroys the embryos, has had no success in treating any disease or disorder despite massive funding support internationally.
This is the second major discovery in non-embryonic stem cell research reported by the Daily Mail in the past two weeks. Last month, a group of British scientists were successful in growing the world’s first artificial human liver late, using stem cells obtained from umbilical cord blood.
Related: Human Liver Grown from Cord Blood Stem Cells–Media Ignores UK Breakthrough
[8Nov06, London, Schultz,]


ADULT STEM CELL RESEARCH HELPS PARKINSON'S PATIENT. A hospital in China has announced that it has successfully treated a 52 year-old patient with Parkinson's disease using Adult stem cells. Penny Thomas of Hawaii who says she has seen tremendous improvement in her condition since a recent therapy.

Yesterday, Tiantan Puhua Neurosurgical Hospital announced the first known Parkinson’s treatment in China, and one of the first in the world. Tiantan Puhua applied the unique procedure, specifically designed for Parkinson's patients. Hospital staff completed the initial stage of careful monitoring of Penny's progress during and after the treatment to ensure that the procedure was a success.

"I was on the verge of dying" says Penny in a statement obtained. "Now, I feel that I have my life back after this new stem cell treatment. My body has calmed down, I can walk fluidly, I can hold a knife and a fork and cut my food by myself, I can get out of bed on my own, brush my hair, and even do Yoga. I feel like a kid again," she said.

Tiantan Puhua Hospital's groundbreaking treatment introduces 'Human Retinal Pigment Epithelial cells' (hRPE) to patients' bodies causing them to naturally produce Dopamine, enhancing Dopamine levels in the brain. The Hospital's use of hRPE cells means that patients do not have immunosuppressive reactions and therefore do not need to take additional drugs during the treatment.

"Our medical solution gives a new ray of hope for all patients around the world suffering from formerly untreatable neural diseases like Parkinson's, Cerebral Palsy and Stroke," Dr. Sherwood Yang, Vice President of Tiantan Puhua Hospital said. "We are all very happy for Penny and are excited to see the improvement in her condition."

Parkinson disease is a brain disorder that occurs when certain nerve cells in the brain die or become damaged. The normal function of these nerve cells is the production of Dopamine – a vital chemical which is responsible of our body's smooth and well coordinated movement.

Thomas was diagnosed with Parkinson by doctors in the USA 4 years ago and has since suffered from almost every symptom of the disease. She experienced constant shaking in her hands, had severe difficulty getting out of a bed or chair by herself, and could only eat if her food was prepared for her in a way that allowed her to use a spoon or her fingers.

She had given up reading and writing and had extreme difficulty performing operations most people take for granted, such as holding a telephone, getting dressed, brushing her hair or even turning her neck. Penny often experienced "freeze ups" while walking whereby she would stop and not be able to continue her motion.

After 2 months of the hRPE Adult Stem Cell therapy, which included neurological nutritional balancing and rehabilitation in Tiantan Puhua Hospital in Beijing that started on 11May06, Penny said she regained her life back. While the treatment cannot completely remove all symptoms of the disease, Penny's shaking was greatly reduced, muscle tension disappeared, her strength increased, movement became more fluid, and her freeze ups stopped. After the treatment, Penny was able to get out of bed immediately and without help. [26Oct06, Beijing, China,]


FIRST LIVER GROWN FROM UMBILICAL CORD STEM CELLS OFFERS HOPE FOR TRANSPLANT PATIENTS. An artificial liver has been grown for the first time from Umbilical Cord Blood Stem Cells. The breakthrough by British scientists is considered the vital first step towards creating a fully artificial liver within as little as ten years, that could be used to tackle ever-growing waiting lists for transplants.

A team based at Newcastle University grew the miniature liver, using stem cells from umbilical cords. Dr Nico Forraz and Professor Colin McGuckin worked with scientists from NASA in Houston, Texas.

Using some of the skills they obtained at NASA they were able to produce the miniature livers. These can now be used for drug and pharmaceutical testing, eradicating the need to test on animals and humans. Professor McGuckin said the transplant of a section of liver – grown from umbilical cord blood – could be possible within the next ten to 15 years. However, he said a full transplant using a liver grown in a laboratory is decades away.

Professor McGuckin: "We take the stem cells from the umbilical cord blood and make small mini-livers. We then give them to pharmaceutical companies and they can use them to test new drugs on", he said. "It could prevent the situation that happened earlier this year [at Northwick Park Hospital] when those six patients had a massive reaction to the drugs they were testing."

Professor McGuckin said this development could also mean the end of animal testing: "When a drug company is developing a new drug it first tests it on human cells and then tests it on animals before beginning trials on humans. Moving from testing on animals to humans is a massive leap and there is still a risk, as was shown earlier this year. But by using the mini-livers we have developed, there is no need to test on animals or humans."

Dr Forraz, a researcher at the university, and Professor McGuckin have now co-founded a company
called ConoStem and have teamed up with the Tyneside-based Centre of Excellence for Life Sciences (CELS) to look at marketing their work. Last year, Prof McGuckin, while working at London's Kingston University, announced he had obtained stem cells from babies' umbilical cord blood, which appeared to be very similar to human embryonic stem cells, and used them to grow liver tissue…[31Oct06,, Shan Ross; 1. UBSotOS, USA / 31 Oct 2006; N ValkoRN]

BIOLOGISTS WANT TO DROP THE WORD 'CLONING'. Don't say cloning, say “somatic cell nuclear transfer”. That at least is the view of biologists who want the term to be used instead of "therapeutic cloning" to describe the technique that produces cloned embryos from which stem cells can then be isolated.

This, they argue, will help to distinguish it from attempts to clone a human being. But will it?

Kathy Hudson and her colleagues at the Genetics and Public Policy Center in Washington DC asked more than 2000 Americans whether they approved of deriving stem cells from embryos produced by cloning. For half of the sample they used the term "SCNT" instead of "cloning", and this raised approval ratings from 29 per cent to 46 per cent, Hudson told a meeting of the American Society of Human Genetics in New Orleans last week.

SCNT would also be used in any attempt to clone a human being, so Hudson also asked about creating babies using SCNT. This too raised the approval rate from 10 per cent to 24 per cent. [From issue 2574 of New Scientist magazine, 21 October 2006, page 7]