New intestines for babies, new muscles for soldiers

Over the past three days the New York Times has been running a fascinating series of stories on regenerative medicine and the use of stem cells to treat a number of serious medical conditions from a cancerous windpipe to a leg shattered by a Taliban bomb. It’s a interesting glimpse into the hope and promise of regenerative medicine, and to the tremendous progress that has already been made.

In one story, the focus is on Dr. Tracy Grikscheit, a CIRM-funded pediatric surgeon at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, and the work she does in helping treat children who are born with a disorder that causes their intestinal tissue to die. Much of her work is done surgically, trying to conserve as much of the intestine as possible so that the child can lead as normal a life as possible.

But surgery can only do so much so Dr. Grikscheit spends a lot of time in the lab, working with stem cells to try and find a way to make replacement intestines for infants. As she points out in the story:

Not much new intestine would be required. “You only need to engineer an organ up to the point where you fix the missing function,” Dr. Grikscheit said. Even a couple of inches might be enough. “That will tip them back over into having enough absorptive function to get off of I.V. nutrition and live a full life.”

This is clearly important work and we are helping her do it. Dr. Grikscheit is a recipient of a CIRM New Faculty Award. She got almost $2.4 million to help support her and fund the research she is doing. Grants like this are particularly important for researchers who are doing innovative work and who are at an early point in their career where finding funding can be difficult.

Dr. Grikscheit has already had some success in her work, and although she knows it may be many years before the techniques she is developing are ready to be tested in people she says in the New York Times article that she is optimistic she’ll get there:

“The really fascinating thing is how to put something together that came out wrong and make it as right as possible.”

If you want to hear more about Grikscheit’s work, listen to her explanation in this video we shot. She was at a tissue engineering workshop we hosted last year, which brought together some of the leading researchers who are combing stem cells and engineering to help generate new intestines, windpipes, bones and a range of other therapies.


3 thoughts on “New intestines for babies, new muscles for soldiers

  1. Canadian stem cell trials impeded by federal regulations, doctors say
    Such non-human primate studies would be “extraordinarily” costly, highly time-consuming and ethically challenging, said Dr. Fehlings, medical director of the Krembil Neuroscience Centre at Toronto Western Hospital. And he said little would be gained by conducting them.

    “It probably would have delayed the field by another 10 years,” said the neurosurgeon. “When you think about a condition as serious and life-threatening and damaging as spinal cord injury … is that a reasonable bar, or is that setting the bar at a level that is not appropriate?”

    Canada appears to have set itself apart from regulators in Europe and the United States, who have recently approved human stem-cell trials without primate studies first, said Dr. Fehlings.

    Dr. Curt said he left Canada for Switzerland’s Balgrist University Hospital after four years at the University of British Columbia partly because of the government’s request that such trials be duplicated in primates.

    “I want to do meaningful research and I want to eventually go from pre-clinical studies to patients. If the regulators are so rigid or whatever, this has an impact,” he said in an interview from Zurich. “It is a challenge and an additional kind of burden to the stem-cell researchers in Canada … There is such a roadblock.”

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