Fate of our nerve stem cells determined early in embryo so the few we have as adults have very specific roles

Adult nerve stem cells fall in the category of allusive creatures. A few scientists still question their existence and most suggest they exist in small numbers only in one or two locations in the adult brain. In any case, all agree they are not particularly good at the normal function of stem cells—making repairs to their surrounding tissue.

A research team at the University of California, San Francisco, recently published results providing two reasons why adult nerve stem cells are not very robust. First they don’t self-renew—make more copies of themselves—on a regular basis.

While we have many types of nerves in our brains, our adult stem cells seem preprogrammed to form certain ones.

While we have many types of nerves in our brains, our adult stem cells seem preprogrammed to form certain ones.

Second, the ones you were born with were preprogrammed before birth to become only a narrow subset of the many nerves we need for a fully functioning brain.

Working in mice, the team led by Arturo Alvarez-Buylla found several types of stem cells on the walls of cavities in the brain and each was pre-programmed to be “progenitors” for a specific subset of nerves. Like progenitors appeared to be lumped together by location and the team also tracked the time during embryo development when these destiny designations are made.

These results could make folks reconsider how they might use adult nerve stem cells for therapy. Alvarez-Buylla explained in a UCSF press release picked up by ScienceNewsline:

“It may be unwelcome news for those who thought of adult neural stem cells as having a wide potential for neural repair. Instead, it looks as if that potential is narrowed down very early during embryonic development. It’s almost as if the embryo is planning for the future.”

He went on to argue that the study points out the critical importance of understanding how stem cells develop and change in the embryo because that knowledge will guide how we use the various stem cells in therapy.

CIRM did not fund this study, but we do fund work in the Alvarez-Buylla lab that seeks to create nerve cells that can be implanted into people with diseases like epilepsy that result from an imbalance between different types of nerves.

Help us chart a new direction

It’s hard to get where you want to go without a map. Even if you have a pretty good idea of where you are heading it’s all too easy to get sidetracked or take a wrong turn. Having a good map helps you stay on course.

Charting a course for success

Charting a course for success

That’s why we are creating our own map, to help us reach our goal, of accelerating stem cell therapies to patients with unmet medical needs.

We’re putting together a new Strategic Plan, something that will help shape our future as we head into our second decade. The idea is simple, how can we best use the money we have left (almost one billion dollars) and all our other resources.

To do that we’re asking the usual suspects for their thoughts and ideas, but we’re also asking some unusual suspects, in fact, we’re asking anyone who is interested to help us develop the plan.

As our President and CEO, Dr. C. Randal Mills, said in a news release LINK:

“No one has a monopoly on good ideas, that’s why we want to hear from a diverse group of people, scientists and non-scientists alike, to learn what they think about how we should best use our money, resources, and expertise to reach our goal. This new Strategic Plan will help create a clear vision for how we move forward, one that sets priorities and an actionable approach to accomplish our mission.”

Anyone wishing to add their voice to those helping us develop the plan can take the online anonymous survey. The deadline is the end of the day Friday, June 26th.

YOU CAN FIND THE SURVEY HERE

As the Chair of our governing Board, Jonathan Thomas, Ph.D., J.D., says:

“We are a state agency. We were created by the people of California and we answer to the people of California. It makes sense that for something this important, a Strategic Plan that will help shape our future for years to come, that we ask the people of California for their thoughts and suggestions.”

Science is filled with uncertainty. Even the most promising therapeutic approach can take a wrong turn. Having a clear road map, a well thought out Strategic Plan, is no guarantee of success, but it certainly means we’ll have a much better idea of how to get where we want to go.

Hed: Stem cell stories that caught our eye: the why’s of heart failure, harnessing stem cells’ repair kits and growing organs

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 model sheds light on heat failure. Pretty much everyone who has heart failure due to cardiomyopathy—where the heart muscle doesn’t work as effectively as it should—or has a condition that could lead there, is taking a beta blocker. The beta-andrenergic pathway, a key molecular pathway in the heart, dysfunctions in patients with cardiomyopathy and we have never known exactly why. We just know these drugs help.

Now, a team at Stanford led by Joseph Wu has used skin samples from patients and normal subjects to create reprogrammed iPS type stem cells, grown them into heart muscle, and compared them at a very fine-tuned molecular level.

Some patients have a mutation in a protein called TNNT2 in heart muscle fibers, which regulates muscle contraction. So, one thing they looked at was the impact of that mutation. Wu’s team followed the actions triggered by this mutation and found they lead to the beta-andrenergic pathway. Wu explained the value he sees in this fundamental understanding of the disease in a Stanford press release:

“As a cardiologist, I feel this basic research study is very clinically relevant. The beta-andrenergic pathway is a major pharmaceutical target for many cardiac conditions. This study confirms that iPS-cell-derived cardiomyocytes can help us understand biologically important pathways at a molecular level, which can aid in drug screening.”

CIRM did not fund this project but we do fund other projects in Wu’s lab including one to advance the use of iPS cells as models of heart disease, one using tissue engineering to repair damaged areas of the heart and one using embryonic stem cells to generate new heart muscle.

Harnessing stem cells’ repair kits. Stem cells repair tissue in multiple ways, but primarily by maturing into cells that replace damaged ones or by excreting various chemicals that give marching orders to neighboring cells to get busy and make the repairs. Those chemicals, collectively called paracrine factors, get excreted by the stem cells in vessels known as exosomes. So, a team at Temple University in Philadelphia decided to try injecting just the exosomes, rather than whole stem cells to repair heart damage. It seemed to work pretty well in mice.

Stem cells release exosomes, tiny vessels that act as repair kits.

Stem cells release exosomes, tiny vessels that act as repair kits.


After treatment with the exosomes, mice with induced heart attacks showed fewer heart cells dying, less scar tissue, more development of new blood vessels and a stronger heart function. The head of the Temple team, Raj Kishore, described the result in a university press release distributed by EuekaAlert:

“You can robustly increase the heart’s ability to repair itself without using the stem cells themselves. Our work shows a unique way to regenerate the heart using secreted vesicles from embryonic stem cells.”

The team went on to isolate a specific regulatory chemical that was among the most abundant in the exosomes. That compound, a type of RNA, produced much of the same results when administered by itself to the mice—intriguing results for further study.

Good primer on using stem cells to grow organs. The Wisconsin State Journal ran a nice primer in both video and prose about what would theoretically go into building a replacement organ from stem cells and some of the basic stem cell principals involved. The piece is part of a series the paper produces with the Morgridge Institute at the University of Wisconsin. This one features an interview with Michael Treiman of Epic Systems:

“The biggest challenge right now is that we can push a stem cell to be a particular type of cell, but in a tissue there’s multiple cells. And an organ like your heart or brain isn’t just made of one cell type; it’s made of many cell types working together.”

Holy Guacamole! Nutrient in Avocado Kills Cancer Stem Cells

Over four billion avocados were sold last year in the U.S. and for good reason – they’re so darn delicious and good for you too (wish you could say the same for doughnuts). Often called the world’s perfect food, avocados are high in fiber and packed with vitamins. Even the fat they contain is the healthy kind that’s associated with lower cholesterol levels and healthier hearts. As if the news couldn’t get any better, research published this week now suggests that a nutrient found in avocado can kill cancer stem cells – a cell type thought to be the source of a cancer’s unlimited growth and spread.

avocado, the world's perfect food

avocado, the world’s perfect food

The study, reported in Cancer Research by a Canadian research team at the University of Waterloo, focuses on a particularly deadly form of blood cancer called acute myeloid leukemia (AML). Often striking adults over 65, AML has a poor prognosis with only 10% survival after five years for this age group.

The cancer is caused by rapid, abnormal growth of white blood cells in the bone marrow that eventually crowds out normal blood cells leading to a deterioration of vital functions of the blood like carrying oxygen to the body. Chemotherapy or bone marrow transplants are standard treatments but unfortunately, even when successful, a majority of AML patients will relapse.

Though they make up a tiny portion of the leukemia, cancer stem cells are thought to be the main culprits behind AML relapse due to their stem cell-like ability for unlimited growth. The research team identified a nutrient in avocados called avocatin B with the ability to kill AML cancer stem cells. The killing mechanism of avocatin B was pinpointed to its disruption of the mitochondria, the cell’s energy “factory”, in leukemia cells, which led to cell death. As senior author Professor Paul Spagnuolo points out in a university press release, this cancer killing property of avocatin B promises to have limited side effects:

“We’ve performed many rounds of testing to determine how this new drug works at a molecular level and confirmed that it targets [cancer] stem cells selectively, leaving healthy cells unharmed.”

Now, before you rush out to the grocery store and stock up on nothing but avocados, keep in mind this is a preliminary study in petri dishes. Extensive follow up studies will be required before testing in humans can begin. Also, it’s not clear if eating avocado or an avocado extract would be a sufficient method of delivering avocatin B to keep cancer stem cells at bay. It’s more likely that avocatin B would be purified and provided as a food nutrient drug or a so-called nutraceutical:

“Extracts are less refined. The contents of an extract can vary from plant to plant and year to year, depending on lots of factors – on the soil, the location, the amount of sunlight, the rain,” explains Spagnuolo. “Evaluating a nutraceutical as a potential clinical drug requires in-depth evaluation at the molecular level. This approach provides a clearer understanding of how the nutraceutical works, and it means we can reproduce the effects more accurately and consistently. This is critical to safely translating our lab work into a reliable drug that could be used in oncology clinics.”

I look forward to following this story in the months and years to come with the hope that families devastated by an AML diagnosis will have more treatment options.

New stem cell could unlock key to colon cancer

One of the fascinating things about stem cell research is how quickly the field is evolving. It seems like every other day a new study is published that highlights a new discovery that makes us stop and think how this new knowledge affects our understanding of stem cells and the diseases we are trying to treat.

The latest example came this week with research from Canada identifying a new kind of stem cell population found in the colon that can lead to cancer growth.

shutterstock_280962560The study, published in the journal Cell Stem Cell,  is important because colon cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer and the second leading cause of cancer death in both men and women, claiming around 50,000 lives in the U.S. alone every year.

Stem cells are essential for helping replace the lining of our colon and intestine every three or four days. In the intestine there are two kinds of stem cells, a rapidly recycling one called Lgr5+ and a slower one. However, scientists had only been able to identify Lgr5+ stem cells in the colon. Because this stem cell type is sensitive to radiation physicians believed that radiation therapy would be effective against colon cancer.

Now, researchers at Lawson Health Research Institute in Ontario, Canada, have identified another stem cell in the colon, one that is both long-lived and radiation resistant.

They also found that this new stem cell population can not only give rise to tumors in the colon, it can also help sustain and support the growth of the cancer.

In a news release Dr. Samuel Asfaha, a clinician-scientist at Lawson and the lead author of the study, says this new piece of information gives them vital new information in fighting the cancer:

 “The identification of more than one stem cell pool in the colon has proven challenging. These findings are exciting, as we have identified an important new target for cancer therapy. It is also proof that more than one stem cell can give rise to and sustain tumors, telling us that our cancer therapy needs to target more than one stem cell pool.”

Asfaha says knowing that there is a pool of stem cells that don’t respond to radiation means researchers must now look for new, more effective ways of tackling them, so we are better able to help patients with colon cancer.

CIRM is funding a number of therapies that target solid tumor cancers, the kind that includes colon cancer. One, run by Dr. Dennis Slamon of University College, Los Angeles, is now in clinical trials. You can read about that work here.

Neat trick grows two parts of the brain and gets them to communicate

Over the past year or so, teams around the world have reported using stem cells to make increasingly complex portions of the brain. Earlier this month we wrote about a team at Stanford who had grown “organoids” that simulated the brain’s cortex with both nerves and support cells that communicated back and forth with each other. Now, a team at the National Institutes of Health has created nerves from two distinct parts of the brain and got them to make connections for the cross-talk that makes our brains so wonderfully complex.

Cortex nerves (green) and mDA nerves (red) shown connecting with fine tendrils.

Cortex nerves (green) and mDA nerves (red) shown connecting with fine tendrils.

The researchers used reprogrammed iPS type stem cells made from skin samples to create two types of nerves in two separate chambers of a lab container. One, called mesencephalic dopaminergic (mDA) nerves, has been linked to disorders like drug abuse, schizophrenia and attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder. In the other chamber they grew nerves that became part of the brain’s cortex responsible for memory, attention and language.

After coaxing the stem cells to become the two distinct nerve types in their own chamber, the researchers removed a barrier between the chambers and observed the two cell types making the kind of connections needed for thought.

The lead researcher, Chun-Ting Lee described the value of this new system in understanding disease using human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs), either iPS or embryonic:

“This method, therefore, has the potential to expand the potential of hPSC-derived neurons to allow for studies of human neural systems and interconnections that have previously not been possible to model in vitro.”

A press release from the journal Restorative Neurology and Neuroscience was picked up by ScienceNewsline.

Do patient advocacy groups and pharmaceutical companies need marriage counseling?

A new study suggests that the relationship between patient advocacy groups and pharmaceutical companies, particularly those carrying out clinical trials, is hitting a bit of a rough patch. And that could have big consequences for both parties.

Working together to make a clinical trial succeed

Working together to make a clinical trial succeed

In the past, patients and patient advocacy groups were very much an afterthought when it came to planning clinical trials. Many times they were only brought in to the discussion when pharmaceutical companies had a product they wanted to market or when researchers needed help recruiting patients. Today it’s quite different. Many patient advocate groups are more closely connected with those behind the clinical trials, offering support and advice in helping shape those trials.

Now a report from InVentiv Health, a provider of drug development services for the global pharmaceutical market, suggests that relationship might be experiencing some tension.

Heather Gartman, the regional managing director of InVentiv Health, talked about the report in an interview on Daniel Levine’s *Rare Cast podcast.

“I view the relationship between Patient Advocates and Pharmaceutical companies as similar to a marriage, it’s a good marriage, but like all marriages it has its up and downs.”

InVentiv surveyed more than forty different patient advocacy groups and found that they want to play a bigger role in the way they work with pharmaceutical groups:

  • They want to be involved earlier and play a bigger role in the design and execution of clinical trials.
  • They want greater transparency from their pharmaceutical partners.
  • They want to have a role in the education of patients enrolling in these clinical trials and the physicians involved in deliver the therapies.

Gartman says the patient advocates feel they have a much better understanding of the needs of the patients and so they should be involved right from the start of planning a clinical trial. They believe their early engagement would be helpful in preparing the company for what it needs to do to better serve the patient community, and in particular in helping recruit and retain patients in these clinical trials.

When asked if these groups had unrealistic expectations of companies, who after all are in the business of making money, she said that the patient advocate groups understand that big Pharma is big business, but that by working together they will actually benefit each other, by speeding up the recruitment for and completion of clinical trials and, hopefully, speeding up the delivery of new treatments to patients.

Gartman says she thinks this is just the natural tension that emerges in any relationship but that long-term the “marriage” is strong, with both parties realizing they have too many shared interests to split up.

“It’s a good marriage, all it needs is a little marriage counseling or some small tweaks to help iron out the bumps.”

At CIRM we try to engage the patient advocate right from the start. Under CIRM 2.0, our new way of funding research, as soon as a company or researcher is approved for funding for a clinical trial we set up a Clinical Advisory Panel or CAP. This consists of one of our Science Officers, an outside expert in stem cell research, and a patient advocate. The role of the CAP is to help guide, advise and counsel the research team at every step along the way. We feel it’s important to have the voice of the patient involved right from the start because they have the most at stake here and they bring a unique perspective to the work.

* RARECast is a weekly series by Daniel S. Levine. Levine is an award-winning business journalist who has reported on the life sciences, economic development, and business policy issues throughout his 25-year career. He founded Levine Media Group in 2013, which produces The Bio Report and RARECast podcasts.

Stem cell stories that caught our eye: Parkinson’s trial revived, aspirin kills cancer stem cells and a stem cell role in mother-child obesity

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.

Parkinson’s clinical trials back on track.
After nearly 20 years of being stuck on the clinical trial “bookshelf”, an international team from Cambridge, UK revived a cell therapy for Parkinson’s disease.

In an announcement picked up this week by the Genetic Literacy Project, the team reported they had treated their first patient. Specifically, fetal brain cells were injected into the brain of a man in his mid-50’s with the disease.

Neurons derived from human embryonic stem cells

A fluorescent microscopic image of numerous dopaminergic neurons (the type of neurons that are degenerated in Parkinson’s disease patients) generated from human embryonic stem cells. Image courtesy of the Xianmin Zeng lab at the Buck Institute for Age Research.

In Parkinson’s, nerve cells controlling movement die for poorly understood reasons. An accumulation of data through the 60’s and 70’s suggested transplantation of fetal brain cells into the Parkinson’s brain would replace the lost nerve cells and restore movement control. After initial promising results in the 80’s and 90’s, larger clinical trials showed no significant benefit and even led to a worsening of symptoms in some patients.

Due to these outcomes, the research community shelved the approach. Insights gained in the interim pointed to more ideal brain injection sites in order to help avoid side effects. Also, follow up on patients beyond the two-year run of those early trials suggested that positive effects of the cell therapy may not emerge for at least three to five years. So this latest trial will run longer to capture this time window.

One remaining snag for this therapeutic strategy is the limited number of available cells for each transplant. So in the meantime, scientists including some of our grantees are working hard at getting embryonic stem cell- or iPS cell-based therapies to the clinic. Since stem cells divide indefinitely, this approach could provide an off-the-shelf, limitless supply of the nerve cells. Stay tuned.

Targeting cancer stem cells with the Wonder Drug.
Aspirin: it’s the wonder drug that may turn out to be even more wonderful.

Ball and stick model of aspirin, the wonder drug: relieves pain and prevents cancer

Ball and stick model of aspirin, the wonder drug: relieves pain and prevents cancer

Famous for relieving pain and preventing heart attacks, aspirin may add breast cancer-killer to its resume. This week a cancer research team at the Kansas City (Mo.) Veteran Affairs Medical Center published experiments picked up by Eureka Alert showing a daily dose of aspirin could put the brakes on breast cancer.

The analysis attributed this anti-cancer effect to aspirin’s capacity to reduce the growth of cancer stem cells. These cells make up a tiny portion of a tumor but if chemotherapy or radiation treatment leaves any behind, it’s thought the cells’ stem cell-like ability for unlimited growth drives cancer relapse and spread (metastasis).

In the study, mice with tumors given a daily low dose of aspirin for 15 days had, on average, tumors nearly 50% smaller than the aspirin-free mice. In another set of experiments, the team showed aspirin could prevent tumors as well. Mice were given aspirin for 10 days before exposing them to cancer cells. After another 15 days, the aspirin treated animals had significantly less tumor growth compared to an untreated group.

Senior author Sushanta Banerjee stands behind these findings: he’s been taking an aspirin a day for three years but stresses that you should consult with your doctor before trying it yourself.

A stem cell link to the passing on of obesity from mom to child?
It’s been observed that children of obese moms have a high risk for obesity and diabetes. You might conclude that genetics are the culprit as well as lifestyle habits passed down from parent to child. But research published this week by researchers at the University of Colorado School of Medicine suggests another mechanism: they conclude the mere presence of the growing embryo in the uterus of an obese mother may instruct the child’s cells to take on more fat.

The team’s reasoning is based on an analysis of umbilical cord blood stem cells collected from babies born to 12 obese mothers and 12 normal weight mothers. In the lab, the stem cells were specialized into fat and muscle cells. The cells from babies of obese mothers showed increased fat accumulation and a lower production of proteins important for uptake of blood sugar (a state that could eventually tip the scales towards diabetes).

Certainly it’s a leap to link the property of cells in a dish to the eventual health of a child. But the results are intriguing enough that the researchers intend to follow the children as they get older to look for more connections between the state of the kids’ stem cells and their health profile.

How one strong ARM can create a community

I spent the last two days at the annual Washington meeting of the Alliance for Regenerative Medicine (ARM), the advocacy organization that CIRM became a founding member of in 2009. Having been CIRM’s representative at that first organizing meeting it has been a pleasure to see the organization mature into an effective advocacy group for our field. It has lived up to its goal of creating a community where all the stakeholders in the field, from academic and industry leaders to patient advocates and investors, can come together in a coordinated front.

ARM and CIRM share the goal of accelerating the development of regenerative therapies to patients with unmet medical needs. The organization also dovetails well with our effort to inform the public about the great hope in the field. To quote ARM’s website: “ARM also works to increase public understanding of the field and its potential to transform human healthcare.”

But that transformation can be fostered or impeded by actions in our nation’s capital, both regulatory and legislative, the main thrust of the past two days’ activities.

While the iconic Capitol building is the most recognized footprint of our Congress, it is the House and Senate office buildings that ring three sides of the Capitol where most of the work gets done, like in the Rayburn building, which houses the office of Dianna DeGette, the Colorado congresswoman and champion of regenerative medicine.

While the iconic Capitol building is the most recognized footprint of our Congress, it is the House and Senate office buildings that ring three sides of the Capitol where most of the work gets done, like in the Rayburn building, which houses the office of Dianna DeGette, the Colorado congresswoman and champion of regenerative medicine.

ARM members presented three specific proposals for advancing the field to members of congress and their staffs. These would:

  • Create a center of excellence to develop technical and process standards for regenerative medicine. Not very sexy on the surface, but agreement in advance on what regulators will accept in creating a new product can shave months or years off the development of needed therapies.
  • Create a special pathway within the Food and Drug Administration—much like the one created for orphan diseases—for “Qualified Regenerative Medicine Products (QRMPs). These products would have shown potential to change the course of a disease with currently unmet medical needs and the FDA would be required to meet with their sponsors to discuss expedited review of the product.
  • Advocate for the adoption of a national regenerative medicine strategy that includes federal agency coordination, support for research and regulatory reform to create a clear and predictable pathway that enables quick approval of safe and effective products. To accomplish that ARM has promoted the establishment of a Regenerative Medicine Coordinating Council within the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.
Jamie Goldfarb with her son Kai and husband Jeff. Photo courtesy Melanoma Research Alliance

Jamie Goldfarb with her son Kai and husband Jeff.
Photo courtesy Melanoma Research Alliance

Jamie Goldfarb, who beat back melanoma with the help of a cell-based immune therapy, made a clear and passionate case for the urgency of making it easier to get these therapies to patients at the ARM member dinner Tuesday night:

“Enhanced awareness for the power of regenerative medicine means a world of difference. It means less suffering, less pain, less fear, less expense, less hardship, less loss. It also means more hope, more determination, more love, more strength for individuals and for society as a whole. Every person in this room and those organizations you represent are improving lives.”

Don Gibbons

Hey, don’t throw out that kidney – I can use it

A new approach to recycling old kidneys

A new approach to recycling old kidneys

Researchers at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine have come up with what may be the ultimate in recycling programs. They want to take old, discarded kidneys and, using stem cells, turn them into healthy, functioning kidneys for transplant patients.

Well, that’s the ultimate goal. They’ve still got a way to go, but they’re off to a good start, as shown in two studies published in the journals Transplantation and CellR4.

Their work has a real sense of urgency to it. In the US in 2014 there were around 17,000 kidney transplants, but the waiting list for a kidney is more than 100,000. Every year around 4,000 people die waiting for a transplant. Many others drop off the list because they are too sick to undergo transplantation. Clearly we need more donor kidneys, but how to get them has been a problem for years.

That’s where the Wake Forest work could come in. They want to use the 2,600 kidneys that are donated every year but have to be thrown away because they are not healthy enough for transplantation.

In a news release accompanying the article Dr. Giuseppe Orlando, M.D., Ph.D., a researcher at Wake Forest, said:

“We believe the two studies we are reporting provide critical information to the booming field of organ bioengineering as it applies to the kidney.”

First the team took a discarded kidney and washed it in a mild detergent to remove all the cells, leaving just a kind of kidney scaffold behind. In one experiment they then seeded the kidney scaffold with stem cells taken from amniotic fluid. Over time the scientists say the cells not only settled onto the scaffold but they also started working the way kidney cells should, secreting chemicals and growth factors that are necessary to create new blood vessels.

In a second experiment the researchers wanted to see if washing away the original kidney cells affected a small section of blood vessels called the glomerulus. These are vital to the kidney’s ability to filter out contaminants. So they injected resin into the scaffold to measure if the glomerulus changed in any way. Orlando says they found that the size, structure and function of the micro-vessels in the glomerulus were all preserved after the washing.

“These results indicate that discarded human kidneys are a suitable platform for engineering replacement kidneys and that when cells are added, the structures behave as an effective and viable biosystem.”

The beauty of this approach is that if it works it might allow researchers to take stem cells from a person with kidney problems, and create a new kidney that would match their own immune system, meaning they wouldn’t have to take powerful anti-rejection medications for the rest of their life.

There is still a long way to go before they know if this approach will work. In the meantime there are tens of thousands of people waiting for a transplant, and not just of kidneys but of livers and hearts and other organs.

That’s where we all can help, by signing up to become an organ donor. You can find out more information by going to the websites like Donate California or to the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS).

Researchers aren’t the only ones who can help save a life. We all can play our part.