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South Africa Duo Made Fortune Selling Fake Stem Cell Treatments

USA Leads World In Stem Cell Research Despite Embryo-Destructive Funding Limits 

Australia Retains Ban on Human Cloning

Iran Scientists Clone Sheep, Dies Minutes after Birth

Adult Mouse Muscle Stem Cells Found Capable of Long-Term Self-Renewal

Adult Stem Cell Research Companies Deemed Better Investment


U.S. LEADS WORLD IN STEM CELL RESEARCH DESPITE EMBRYONIC FUNDING LIMITS. Advocates of embryonic stem cell research have complained saying the United States is lagging behind in the field of stem cell research because of limits on funding embryonic stem cell research with taxpayer dollars. A new list of the top stem cell research labs in the world shows otherwise.

The Ion Channel Media Group, a private biotechnology and advertising firm, has released a list of the top stem cell research laboratories in the world. The ranking was compiled using the publication and citation history of nearly 5000 stem cell research labs. The survey found that most of the laboratories in the top 25 are from the USA, despite limits on using taxpayer funds to pay for any new embryonic stem cell research.

All of the top 8 stem cell research labs hail from the U.S., including the #1 center, Irving Weissman's lab at Stanford. Catherine Verfaillie's laboratory [Univ of MN] earned the number two spot based upon her work with adult stem cells derived from bone marrow. The Whitehead Institute in Massachusetts came third, the Department of Veteran Affairs Medical Center was fourth and the Walther Oncology Center at the Indiana University School of Medicine was fifth. Hesketh, the CEO of Ion Channel Media Group said, "It is remarkable that the US is still the clear leader in stem cell research despite the significant [funding] restrictions placed upon [embryo-destructive] stem cell research in that country."

The leading foreign stem cell research labs are the Paterson Institute for Cancer Research in England, which came in ninth, and Australia's Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, which rounded out the top 10. Fourteen of the top 20 centers are based in the U.S.

The survey appears to indicate that leading American scientists are not fleeing to other nations at the high rate that backers of embryonic stem cell research funding claim. Jeanne Loring, who directs human embryonic stem cell research at the Burnham Institute for Medical Research in California, said the patent debate is what is driving some scientists to relocate, not any lack of taxpayer funding. "The patents are impeding our research," Loring said during the debate in Congress on funding. "They're more important than what's going on in the Senate right now…It is making scientists go overseas to do this sort of research," she added. "It isn't the funding that's sending us overseas. It's the patent issues." [16Aug06, Washington, DC]

MORE FINANCIAL ANALYSIS: ADULT STEM CELL RESEARCH COMPANIES BETTER INVESTMENT. Recently, an investment advisor said companies relying on adult stem cells are more likely to provide payoffs for investors. Other analysts now say that adult stem cell companies like Osiris, Cytori, Aastrom should be monitored by investors for possible buys because they are more likely to get therapies on the market than companies using embryonic stem cells. "From a Wall Street perspective, adult stem cells are a much better investment," Stephen Dunn of Dawson James Securities, told CNN. "These are the guys who are going to be in the news in 2007 and 2008…Embryonic stem cell research hasn't kept up pace with adult stem cell research…Adult stem cell research is advancing so far you might not need embryonic stem cells. If the federal government is reluctant to put their money into it, then Wall Street is as well." [ 10 Aug06]

SOUTH AFRICA DUO MADE FORTUNE SELLING FAKE STEM CELL RESEARCH THERAPY. A businessman and his American girlfriend are headed to court after making a fortune selling fraudulent stem cell therapies to unsuspecting patients. Terminally ill patients paid as much as $24,000 for an injection of stem cells that were not targeted towards the disease the patient had. South African Stephen van Rooyen and American Laura Brown appeared at a hearing 11Aug in a South African court after Interpol agents tracked them down. The couple also face a 51-count indictment in the USA and will attend a hearing here in March.

According to the Cape Argus newspaper, the couple charged thousands of dollars for a one-time injection of 1.5 million stem cells. Seeking to make money off what has become a global issue where lawmakers and lobbyists promise miracle cures, patients received the same injection regardless of their disease, and the injections were not part of any approved stem cell therapy for a specific condition. The couple ran a U.S.-based company called Biomark that was shut down by a federal district attorney in 2003, according to the Cape Argus. After that, they opened Advanced Cell Therapeutics (ACT) in South Africa and marketed their treatments on the Internet to patients worldwide. A former employee revealed the stem cell therapy scam and told the newspaper that patients came to South African for treatments from as far away as Europe, Asia and Australia. [ 10 Aug06, CapeTown]

IRAN SCIENTISTS USE ANIMAL CLONING TO CREATE SHEEP, DIED MINUTES AFTER BIRTH. Scientists in Iran celebrated the birth of a cloned lamb, the first birth in their animal cloning program, but the sheep died minutes later. The researchers said they would push on with more cloning experiments despite the failure. Iran hopes to become a regional center for science and technology in the Middle East and their nuclear programs have drawn international scrutiny and criticism. Dr. Morteza Hosseini [member, team of cloning scientists, Isfahan Royan Institute]: "We learned a lot about cloning during the experiment. It made us more hopeful about further cases." [AP] The cloning of the sheep came only after Hosseini's team had months of unsuccessful attempts cloning cows and mice. He indicated the cloned sheep died 5 minutes after its birth on 2August because of respiratory problems. The mother sheep gave birth a week ahead of schedule, Hosseini indicated. More animal cloning experiments are expected in the coming months.

[ 10 Aug06, Tehran, Iran]

AUSTRALIA RETAINS BAN ON HUMAN CLONING. Parliament has decided to retain a country-wide ban on human cloning for the purposes of embryonic stem cell research (ESCR). Federal Health Minister Tony Abbott warned that Australia must not pursue human cloning and embryo-destructive SCR, calling such a move “a bridge too far”. A prominent senior official of Australia’s largest trade union meanwhile also denounced attempts to legalize human cloning for ESCR, comparing the practice to human experiments made by Germany’s Nazi doctors: "They experimented on human life, and that’s what this is.” Bishop added that despite the ban, destructive research on already-created embryonic babies – so-called leftovers from in-vitro fertilization – will still continue, as an additional $100 million has been allotted for the practice. [9Aug06,]

ADULT MOUSE MUSCLE STEM CELLS ARE CAPABLE OF LONG-TERM SELF-RENEWAL. Researchers have recently discovered that a subpopulation of muscle-generating stem cells in adult mice can replicate themselves up to 300 times over a six-month period.

The finding, they believe, demonstrates the feasibility of generating large quantities of adult skeletal muscle stem cells required for use in clinical applications, such as transplantation into the damaged muscles of people with muscular dystrophy. Their work was partly supported by the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS). The research was carried out by J. Huard, Ph.D., et al [Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh & Univ of Pittsburgh].

The scientists showed that a subpopulation of adult muscle stem cells, obtained from skeletal muscles of normal mice, could undergo up to 300 Population Doublings (PDs) under laboratory conditions. A population doubling is a one-hundred percent (100%) increase in the total number of cells in a culture. In theory, after 300 PDs, one single cell can eventually give rise to 10100 cells.

More importantly, the researchers successfully showed that these cells were able to maintain their ability to regenerate skeletal muscles when expanded to the level of 200 PDs. When expanded beyond 200 PDs, however, the cells lost some of their ability to regenerate muscles and started to demonstrate some of the characteristics of cancer cells. The causes of these changes are not well understood, according to the researchers. The scientists also genetically marked some muscle stem cells obtained from normal mice, and transplanted them into the muscles of "mdx mice," an animal model of muscular dystrophy. Two weeks later, the scientists were able to remove the marked stem cells from the mdx mice that had received the transplantation. Once these marked stem cells were retrieved, they were expanded (multiplied) under laboratory conditions, and then transplanted into muscles of another group of mdx mice. Two weeks after the second transplantation, the same kind of genetically marked cells were again successfully retrieved from the mouse muscles. Successful serial transplantations of stem cells in two groups of mdx mice suggest that this type of stem cells can renew itself in the muscles of living mice.

Dr. Huard and his colleagues suggested that more research needs to be done before using adult muscle stem cell therapy in MD patients, e.g. the biological behaviors of stem cells need to be further studied. Another issue of importance is the potential of highly expanded muscle stem cells to become cancerous. These issues are among the many hurdles ahead to overcome before closing the gap between laboratory bench discovery and bedside application. Muscular dystrophy (MD) is a collection of genetic disorders in which muscle cells become progressively more damaged and die. The most common and severe type of MD is Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD), characterized by the absence of dystrophin, a protein involved in maintaining the integrity of muscle fiber.

 Although enormous progress has been made in elucidating the molecular basis of MD, there is currently no cure for the disorders. Several different methods have been studied for treating MD, including gene therapy, pharmacological therapy and cell therapy. Several types of adult stem cells are currently being studied to see if they are capable of regenerating skeletal muscles. Other support for this research came from the Muscular Dystrophy Association. The mission of the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS), a part of the Department of Health and Human Services’ National Institutes of Health, is to support research into the causes, treatment, and prevention of arthritis and musculoskeletal and skin diseases; the training of basic and clinical scientists to carry out this research; and the dissemination of information on research progress in these diseases. [NIAMS (301) 495-4484 or (877) 22-NIAMS;] Deasy BM, et al.. Long-term self-renewal of postnatal muscle-derived stem cells. Mol Biol Cell. 2005;16(7):3323-33.] Deasy BM, et al.. Long-term self-renewal of postnatal muscle-derived stem cells. Mol Biol Cell. 2005;16(7):3323-33.