Stem cell stories that caught our eye: tendon repair, disc disease and cancer drugs’ impact on normal stem cells

Here are some stem cell stories that caught our eye this past week. Some are groundbreaking science, others are of personal interest to us, and still others are just fun.

Stem-cell embedded sutures for tendon repair. I love it when a simple idea seems to work. Repairing a torn tendon surgically often results in a joint less strong and durable than the original, so some teams have tried injecting stem cells at the site of injury hoping they would strengthen the tendon. But as is often the case, just injecting stem cells offers no guarantee the cells will stay where you put them and aid in the healing. So a team from the MedStar Union Memorial Hospital in Baltimore performed the surgery—in rats—using sutures that had been embedded with stem cells. Those animals healed better than others treated with just surgery and surgery plus injected stem cells. They published their work in Foot and Ankle International and it was written about on the Science Codex web site.

Analysis of stem cells for disc disease. A Mayo clinic team has done a much-needed analysis of six of the better animal studies that looked at the impact of stem cell therapy on degenerative disc disease. They found that the therapy increased the height of the damaged spinal cord discs by an average of 24 percent. The therapy seemed to benefit the discs by restoring the nucleus pulposus structure, the jelly-like substance that gives the disc its cushioning effect. They presented the work at a meeting of the American Academy of Pain Medicine and it was featured in ScienceDaily. CIRM funds a team at Cedars-Sinai that is looking for ways to use stem cells for vertebral compression fractures.

Some cancer drugs activate cancer stem cells. A large and growing camp of the research community lays the blame for cancer recurrence on cancer stem cells. Now a team at Harvard and the University of Massachusetts suggests part of the blame should go to the interaction between ordinary stem cells and chemotherapy agents. They found that several different chemotherapeutics that halt rapidly growing tumors have the opposite effect on stem cells causing them to proliferate too rapidly, which they suggested could lead to new tumors. They published their research in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and it was written up by Fierce Biotech Research.

Video shows how to grow a beating heart. This brief YouTube video does a nice job explaining the steps of how you could use a cadaver heart, remove all the soft tissue and then seed the remaining scaffold of the old heart with a patient’s own stem cells. This would theoretically lead to a new heart that was immunologically compatible with the patient so the patient could avoid a lifetime of immune suppressant drugs. The video features Doris Taylor of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. You can read about CIRM-funded efforts to mend damaged hearts on our heart failure fact sheet.

Don Gibbons

A mother’s plea – find a stem cell therapy to help my son escape autism

When a mother says “I’ve never heard my son speak, never heard him tell me he loves me” it’s hard not to feel deeply moved.

Those are the words that Jennifer Bidlovski used to describe her son Milo, who has a severe form of autism spectrum disorder, in a video presentation she made to our Board at it’s meeting last week.

Jennifer made the video as part of our Spotlight on Disease presentation at the meeting. These Spotlights are important opportunities for us to update the Board on the research that is being done in specific disease areas, but it’s also an important way of connecting them with the people who are waiting for stem cell therapies, who are looking to us to help them or their loved ones.

We all need to be reminded from time to time why we do what we do. It’s all too easy to get caught up in the day-to-day business around the office and lose sight of our ultimate goal – finding treatments and cures for currently incurable diseases.

Jennifer helped remind us why we are here. To help parents like her. To help children like Milo. Jennifer says she feels like her son has been stolen from her. Through the work we fund we hope to be able to help her find him.

The other segment of last week’s Spotlight presentation featured Alysson Muotri, a scientist from the University of California at San Diego who discussed his research using stem cells to create laboratory models of various types of autism spectrum disorder. We will post that video shortly.

kevin mccormack