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Biotech Firms Want Federal $$ for Dubious Embryonic Stem Cell Research Method

Hundreds of MO People Rally in Kansas City Against Human Cloning

Adult Stem Cell Research Helps Children With Brain Tumors

Adult Stem Cell Research Provides Hope for Kidney & Liver Patients

Umbilical Cord Blood Stem Cell Research Produces Insulin for Diabetics

Gene Therapy Successfully Treats Cancer

TX Umbilical Cord Blood Bank Lacks Donations

Stroke Damage Reduced with Umbilical Cord Blood Stem Cells

Thalassemia Cured With Placental Cells

Multiple Studies: Adult Stem Cells Can Mimic Embryonic Stem Cells – No need to Kill Human Embryos

Adult Stem Cell Industry Growing

BIOTECH FIRMS WANT GOVT $ FOR DUBIOUS EMBRYONIC STEM CELL RESEARCH METHOD. Two leading biotech firms want the federal government to pay to distribute embryonic stem cells obtained through a dubious new method they claim does not destroy human life.

However, the method was proven false in previous weeks after a media explosion claimed it solved ethics problems. California-based Advanced Cell Technology (ACT) and WiCell Research Institute [Wisconsin company] plan to distribute new embryonic stem cell lines they say can be obtained without destroying human life. The cell lines would be produced with the Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD) technique ACT outlined in a recent paper in the scientific journal Nature.

However, Nature was forced to revise press statements about the article that made it appear the technique did not destroy unborn children. Instead, all 16 of the human embryos involved in the research were destroyed and the technique remains hypothetical. None of the 16 embryos involved in the study by medical director Robert Lanza of Advanced Cell Technology (ACT) survived.

All were harmed; none were viable; none were spared. Still, the companies say they can distribute morally acceptable embryonic stem cells and want the federal government to pay for it. "Provided that the federal government is willing to fund future human embryonic stem cell research where it can be demonstrated that the embryo was not harmed, we will do our part in scaling up many new lines," William Caldwell, ACT's CEO said in a statement.  [, 14Sept06] ACT misled the world about a supposedly ethical method of obtaining embryonic stem cells; it has made millions from that announcement: it has closed 2 financial deals generating approximately $13 million in cash. [, 10Sept06; Wesley J. Smith]]


TEXAS UMBILICAL CORD BLOOD BANK LACKING IN DONATIONS. In 2001, the state legislature established the Texas Cord Blood Bank in San Antonio to collect stem cells from umbilical cord blood to use in treatments. However, donations to the center are too low. Valley Baptist Medical Center [Harlingen & Brownsville], Medical City [Dallas] and Methodist Hospital [San Antonio] are the only 4 hospitals that are a part of the network sending adult stem cells to the center. More clinics are needed.

At the end of the year, the bank's inventory of cord blood, now just fewer than 1,000 units, will go online as a searchable database through the National Marrow Donor Program. But because there isn't enough cord blood to go around, thousands of patients may die who would otherwise get a transplant. The Texas Cord Blood Bank wants to increase the number of facilities involved in banking. To build an adequate supply of cord blood for transplantations, the Institute of Medicine has said the nation needs about 100,000 donations, besides the usable 50,000 cord blood donations already in stock at public cord blood banks around the country. [4Sept06, TX,]


ADULT STEM CELL RESEARCH PROVIDES HELP FOR CHILDREN WITH BRAIN TUMORS. The use of adult stem cells continues to outpace embryonic stem cell research as scientists report they have come up with a new treatment for children with brain tumors called medulloblastomas.

Children with the high-risk tumors have a low 30-40 percent chance of surviving and living to the age of 5 and chemotherapy can take as long as a year. But, Dr. Amar Gajjar of St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital in Memphis says using a patient's own stem cells is having an amazing effect in treating the cancer.

"Not only can we now cure about 70 percent of children with high-risk medulloblastoma, we can also cure more than 80 percent of those with standard-risk disease with a shorter, and therefore more convenient, chemotherapy approach," he says. The research team's results appear in the latest issue of The Lancet Oncology. The team used radiation therapy tailored to the severity of the disease followed by a shorter course of chemotherapy than is normally used. That's made possible because the adult stem cells are implanted after each round of chemotherapy allowing the child's body to recover from the damage the previous round caused before moving on. Of 134 children with medulloblastoma who underwent treatment (86 average-risk, 48 high-risk), 119 (89%) completed the study. Some 85 percent of the patients in the average-risk group and 70% of those in the high-risk group lived to the age of 5 years old. Overall, the adult stem cell treatment increased the survival rate by 70 percent. [8Sept06,]

ADULT STEM CELL RESEARCH STUDY PROVIDES HOPE FOR KIDNEY, LIVER PATIENTS. Italian scientists have made advances in adult stem cell research that may provide new hope for patients suffering from liver or kidney diseases. The research team has identified kidney stem cells that helped kidneys repair themselves and the discovery could lead to new treatments. A team led by top immunologist Sergio Romagnani said the new kidney cells appear to be able to turn into an array of other cells in the body.

"Chronic renal diseases and terminal renal insufficiency are viewed as the medical emergency of the new century," Romagnani told a press conference, according to the ANSA Italian news agency. He said the team found that the adult stem cells repaired kidney damage in the mice used in the study. That's important because current treatments merely slow the disease but don't repair damage it causes. "This is particularly important because the drugs we currently have are only able to slow down kidney damage," he said. [7Sept06,, Florence, Italy]

GENE THERAPY SUCCESSFULLY TREATS CANCER. Researchers at the National Cancer Institute have performed the first successful use of gene therapy as a cancer treatment, in a study of 17 patients with advanced melanoma, a deadly form of skin cancer that kills almost 8,000 Americans annually.

The scientists genetically altered the white blood cells of the patients, converting their normal immune cells into cancer-fighters. Two patients have remained disease-free for at least 18 months, the federal investigators reported yesterday in a study in the online version of the journal Science. 

"These results represent the first time gene therapy has been used successfully to treat cancer. Moreover, we hope it will be applicable not only to melanoma, but also for a broad range of common cancers, such as breast and lung cancer," said Dr. Elias A. Zerhouni, director of the National Institutes of Health, of which NCI is a part.  Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society, called the study, which he had seen but was not involved with, "important and exciting, since it shows you can effectively use gene therapy to treat cancer…This is the first demonstration in people that this concept works, and it is the result of many decades of research efforts. The investigators found no significant side effects from the treatment," which has not always been the case in trials involving gene therapy, Dr. Lichtenfeld said. 

The NCI researchers who conducted the study, led by Dr. Steven Rosenberg, already knew that autologous lymphocytes — or a person's own white blood cells — can be used to treat melanoma that has spread throughout the body. But only some people have that specialized type of white blood cell in their body naturally. 

Dr. Rosenberg, long a leader in cutting-edge cancer research at NCI and President Reagan's surgeon for his 1985 operation for colon cancer, strove to find a way to transform white blood cells into those specialized anti-cancer blood cells, which recognize tumors as abnormal cells and fight them.  Dr. Rosenberg and his team drew a small blood sample containing normal lymphocytes from melanoma patients who had failed previous therapy, and then infected those cells with a retrovirus, another type of cell that, like a cancer, attaches itself to normal human cells though a specific protein called T-cell receptors. 

Like a vaccine introduced into the body to "teach" it how to fight off a disease, the white blood cells then "learn" to destroy the melanoma cells through their similarity to retroviruses. The anti-cancer cells are then multiplied in the laboratory and reintroduced into the patient.  "This approach takes advantage of markings on the surface of cells that distinguish cancer cells from normal cells," Dr. Lichtenfeld said. "They insert a genetic code into the lymphocytes to find cancer cells and destroy them." The process did not slow down the cancer in the first three patients in the NCI experiment. "The [cancer-fighting] lymphocytes in those patients did not last long enough to work," Dr. Lichtenfeld said. So the researchers modified the treatment for the remaining patients in the study, making sure the anti-cancer cells were put into the patients in their most active growth phase. 

After one month of gene therapy, the cancer-fighting white blood cells remained in the patients' bodies, in strengths ranging from 9 percent to 56 percent of the initial infusion. No toxic side effects attributed to the genetically modified cells were reported in any patient.   The two male patients who have been free of cancer for a year and a half, ages 52 and 30, experienced both cancer regression and sustained high levels of the genetically altered cells in their systems.

When gene therapy began, their cancers already had spread, respectively, to their liver and lungs. But those problems are gone at this time.  "Getting a complete response like this in patients in their circumstances — having liver and lung disease — is unusual, as is the fact that they have had no evidence of disease for so long," Dr. Lichtenfeld said. 

The researchers are working to improve their 13 percent success rate. Toward that end, they are seeking to engineer more-powerful white blood cells through such means as developing cells that bind to tumor cells more tightly and by inserting molecules that can assist in directing the cells to cancerous tissues.
 "We have now [developed] other lymphocyte receptors that recognize breast, lung and other cancers," Dr. Rosenberg said. [Price, Washington Times, 1Sept06,]

STROKE DAMAGE REDUCED WITH UMBILICAL CORD STEM CELLS.  [Medical College of GA & Univ of So FL] researchers “first administered Mannitol to animals to breech the blood barrier then delivered the stem cells intravenously. This caused the size of the stroke in the animals to decrease by 40%.” [Cincinnati Rt to Life, 5/06]

THALASSEMIA CURED WITH PLACENTA STEM CELLS. At the San Mateo Clinic [Pavia, Italy], doctors used stem cells from a newborn’s twin brother. The genetic blood disorder was previously incurable. [Reuters, 6Sept05; Cincinnati Rt to Life, 5/06]

ADULT STEM CELL RESEARCH BREAKTHROUGH PRODUCES INSULIN FOR DIABETICS. A scientist in Ireland has made a major breakthrough in the field of adult stem cell research by producing insulin needed by diabetic patients from the
stem cells from the umbilical cords of living babies.

The result provides real hope for diabetics because the insulin from embryonic stem cells doesn't work as effectively and involves the destruction of human life. Colin McGuckin, professor of regenerative medicine at the University of Newcastle, will soon present the findings. “We have been able to produce insulin-secreting cells from cord blood, which is pretty much a first,” McGuckin told the London Times.

McGuckin said that insulin produced from adult stem cells will be more effective for those with diabetes. “Although people have been able to do it from embryonic stem cells, they are not transplantable because they don't have a tissue match for the patient. Cord blood gives a big advantage,” he explained. McGuckin also said the process is so effective that embryonic stem cells are not needed altogether. “We are able to produce many different tissues from cord blood stem cells so we are really the first to rival embryonic stem cells,” he said [Dublin,11July06,]

STEM CELLS DERIVED FROM 'DEAD' HUMAN EMBRYO. Scientists say they have created a stem cell line from a human embryo that had stopped developing naturally, and so was considered dead. Using such embryos might ease ethical concerns about creating such cells, they suggested. One expert said the technique makes harvesting stem cells no more ethically troublesome than organ donation.

But others said it still carries scientific and ethical problems. Scientists want to use human embryonic stem cells to study diseases and create transplant tissue for treating illnesses such as diabetes and Parkinson's disease. Such cells are taken from human embryos that are a few days old, and the harvesting process destroys the embryo. That raises ethical objections.

The new work [pub’d online 21Sept06, journal Stem Cells] comes from Miodrag Stojkovic [Prince Felipe Research Ctr, Valencia, Spain] with colleagues there and in England. They studied embryos donated by an in vitro fertilization clinic with consent of the patients. Part of the work focused on 132 “arrested” embryos, those that had stopped dividing for 24 or 48 hours after reaching various stages of development. Thirteen of these embryos had developed more than the others, reaching 16 to 24 cells before cell division stopped.

Scientists were able to create a stem cell line from just one of these embryos. These stem cells performed normally on a series of tests, Stojkovic said in a telephone interview. He said he did not know whether the result indicated a solution to ethical concerns about embryonic stem cells. The point of the research was to show that such embryos provide an additional source of the cells beyond healthy embryos, rather than to set up any kind of a competition, he said.

Dr. Donald W. Landry, director of the division of experimental therapeutics at the Columbia University Medical Center in New York, who proposed the idea of getting stem cells from arrested embryos in 2004, called the work an important addition to the field. But others said the approach fails to solve the ethical problems.

There is no way to prove that an arrested embryo would have stopped growing if it had been put into a woman's womb rather than a lab dish, said Robin Lovell-Badge of the Medical Research Council's National Institute for Medical Research in London. So that leaves open the possibility that it was the lab conditions that halted their growth, he said.

Tad Pacholczyk [dir, education NCBC, Philadelphia] said he believed an embryo may not be dead if individual cells are still alive and able to create stem cell lines. Landry says an embryo is dead if its cells irreversibly stop working together to function as a single organism. But even under that definition, Pacholczyk said, scientists know too little about early embryos to discern when one is truly dead.

Dr. George Daley of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute said the new paper's approach also raises a scientific concern: Stem cells from arrested embryos might carry the risk of some undetected defect. "If there was something wrong with the embryo that made it arrest, isn't there something wrong with these cells?'' that could cause problems with their use, he asked. "We don't know.'' (all types of stem cell research)
[,  22Sept06, AP]


STUDIES SHOW ADULT STEM CELLS CAN MIMIC EMBRYONIC. Just one day after President Bush vetoed a bill funding embryonic stem cell research, saying adult stem cells were showing strong success, the University of Louisville reports that studies have confirmed its research showing adult stem cells can mimic the properties of embryonic ones.

In 12/05, UL scientists said they discovered a certain kind of adult stem cell that can change into brain, nerve, heart muscle and pancreatic cells. The ability to take on the characteristics of other cells is the primary selling point for using embryonic stem cells, which can only be obtained by destroying unborn children in their earliest days.

Now, scientists around the world are confirming UL's breakthrough. Dr. Mariusz Ratajczak, leader of the research team and director of the stem cell biology program at the university's James Graham Brown Cancer Center, says "a lot of people report the presence of embryonic-like cells in adults." He told the Louisville Courier-Journal newspaper that at least five other laboratories have discovered the same cells.

At the University of Illinois, researchers identified a similar embryonic-like stem cell in umbilical cord blood, and researchers in Germany and at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York have found them as well. Ratajczak first discovered the very small embryonic-like cells," or VSELs, in his lab two years ago and they were considered rare and difficult to grow. However, the newspaper reports that his team has changed that notion by taking bone marrow cells from adult mice, isolating the VSELs and growing them using a new process they've not yet divulged. They were able to change the VSEL's into many other types of cells.

Within the next few years, Ratajczak says he wants to replicate the studies in humans using their adult VSELs. If they succeed, their research could lead to a host of therapies that wouldn't have the same rejection issues embryonic stem cells do. If the VSEL stem cells in human act l

ike the special ones they found in mice and other scientists can duplicate the process, the discovery goes from "very important" to "incredibly important," says Dr. Stephen Emerson [chief, hematology/oncology, Univ of PA] where Ratajczak once worked. [21July06, Louisville, KY; first reported in January 2006 Stem Cell & Cloning Research, on this website]

RESEARCHER TURNS ADULT MOUSE SKIN CELLS INTO EMBRYONIC STEM CELLS. A Japanese researcher presented the results of new studies he conducted showing the ability to turn mouse skin cells into cells that closely resemble embryonic stem cells. The discovery could provide another method for stem cell research that can be effective but doesn't require the destruction of human life for stem cells.

Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University in Japan reported he was able to boost the activity of just four genes to turn the skin cells into embryonic ones. He presented his results at a meeting of the International Society for Stem Cell Research. Yamanaka said his research team thought they could reprogram adult stem cells to have embryonic properties. His team identified 24 genes that were specifically expressed in mouse embryonic cells and used viral vectors to introduce extra copies of the genes into skin cells taken from mouse tails, according to ScienceNOW Daily News. When the team inserted copies of the 24 genes into the adult cells, they found a small percentage of the cells took on the embryonic characteristics. [Toronto, Canada 5July06,]

RESEARCHERS: WE CAN DO MORE WITH ADULT STEM CELLS. At a American Chemical Society this week, teams of stem cell researchers told participants that they can get more out of adult stem cells than previously thought.

The scientists said that adult stem cells can become any cell in the body with a little bit of coaxing.

If so, then one of the big reasons given for embryonic stem cell research is no longer valid and human life doesn't need to be destroyed for stem cells. Three presentations at the ACS conference touched on the possibility, according to a WebMD report. The papers used different studies but showed similar findings.

The papers all found that adult stem cells taken from bone marrow ordinarily would have become blood cells but can be persuaded to become organ or even nerve cells.

The changes occurred when the scientists altered the physical environment in which the cells grew. Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley used a workout of sorts to prompt adult stem cells to become blood vessel cells. They attached the bone marrow cells to an elastic membrane that stretched and relaxed over the course of several days to get them to grow. Eventually the adult stem cells turned into smooth muscle cells. [15Sept06,, San Francisco]

ADULT STEM CELL INDUSTRY GROWING, e.g. “the Cord Blood Registry, the world’s largest adult stem cell bank, reported an 83% growth rate.

This has been done with private venture capital indicating that those with money to invest are anticipating further rapid growth and profits. In contrast, there is almost no private money being invested in ESCR” probably “because it so far has shown almost no promise for treating and curing diseases. [Cincinnati Rt to Life, 5/06]