Stem cell stories that caught our eye: ups and downs of cloning, another windpipe, and the value of fat

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.

Roller coaster ride for a breakthrough. News that scientists in Oregon had finally made embryonic stem cells from cloned embryos ricocheted around the globe last week. Then for a time this week, claims of data inconsistencies called those results into question. By the time the dust settled late yesterday it looked like the errors were not major and were not likely to impact the validity of the scientific claims (both the author and Cell, which published the paper, say they are investigating). The stem cells they produced still need to be genetically analyzed by an outside lab, but it seems likely this long-sought milestone has been met. CNN online did a nice review of the events to date.

Printing a wind pipe. The most recent regenerative medicine story to go viral was the heart-warming tale of the Ohio boy who received a new windpipe made by a 3-D printer. The procedure, performed by a team at the University of Michigan, occurred last year and the boy, now 16 months old, is doing very well. The plastic windpipe will slowly dissolve over three years and be replaced by his own tissue, which is being laid down with help from his naturally circulating stem cells. The piece by the Associated Press’ lead science writer got the widest play.

And my colleague blogged about the procedure here putting it into perspective with the larger evolving field of tissue engineering.

Fat stem cells’ value goes up—maybe. The stem cells that can be isolated from fat are very similar to one of the two types of stem cells found in bone marrow. Those are mesenchymal stem cells, which can form fat, bone, cartilage, and other connective tissues. While there are a few clinical trials using mesenchymal stem cells to repair those tissues, more often, teams seeking to use them clinically are trying to harness a different skill they possess. They can modulate our immune response, which often results in reduced inflammation. But researchers have been divided on whether it is better to use mesenchymal cells harvested from bone or fat for this role. Now a Dutch team has published an article in the journal Stem Cells Translational Medicine that suggests stem cells from fat may secrete more of the factors that regulate inflammation than stem cells from bone. Here’s more about that work. CIRM has financially supported the start-up of this important journal for the past three years. I am proud to have written the request-for-proposals that resulted SCTM, which seems to be attracting important research. But like all new finding, this one needs to be replicated by other labs.

States picking up the slack in funding. When the Bush administration placed restrictions on much of embryonic stem cell research, California led the charge in filling the gap at the state level. But other states joined us, most significantly New York, Connecticut and Maryland. Although those restrictions have been lifted, federal budget cuts have made this state funding increasingly critical to keeping the field moving. Maryland became a formal collaborative funding partner with CIRM a few years ago. CIRM now has 22 collaborative agreements with countries, states and foundations around world, which you can review here. These arrangements allow the best scientist anywhere to work together leveraging the intellectual and financial resources of both California and the partner organization. And we think these arrangements accelerate the movement of potential therapies to the clinic. Maryland just announced its most recent round of grants here, which include a partnership with Stanford’s Roel Nusse. He does fascinating fundamental work that helps us learn how cells decide to become different types of tissue. A colleague wrote about his most recent research paper here.


2 thoughts on “Stem cell stories that caught our eye: ups and downs of cloning, another windpipe, and the value of fat

  1. Stem cell injections improve spinal injuries in rats

    An international team led by researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine reports that a single injection of human neural stem cells produced neuronal regeneration and improvement of function and mobility in rats impaired by an acute spinal cord injury (SCI).

    The findings are published in the May 28, 2013 online issue of Stem Cell Research & Therapy.

    Martin Marsala, MD, professor in the Department of Anesthesiology, with colleagues at UC San Diego and in Slovakia, the Czech Republic and The Netherlands, said grafting neural stem cells derived from a human fetal spinal cord to the rats' spinal injury site produced an array of therapeutic benefits – from less muscle spasticity to new connections between the injected stem cells and surviving host neurons.

    “The primary benefits were improvement in the positioning and control of paws during walking tests and suppression of muscle spasticity,” said Marsala, a specialist in spinal cord trauma and spinal injury-related disorders. Spasticity – exaggerated muscle tone or uncontrolled spasms – is a serious and common complication of traumatic injury to the spinal cord.

    The human stem cells, said the scientists, appeared to vigorously take root at the injury site.

    “In all cell-grafted animals, there was robust engraftment, and neuronal maturation of grafted human neurons was noted,” Marsala said. “Importantly, cysts or cavities that can form in or around spinal injuries were not present in any cell-treated animal. The injury-caused cavity was completely filled by grafted cells.”–sci052313.php

  2. New Legislation Seeks Creation of Provisional Approval Pathway for New Drugs
    A New Bill

    A statement from the co-sponsors of the bill—Reps. Morgan Griffith (R-VA), Scott Peters (D-CA) and Michael McCaul (R-TX)—however, indicate that as quickly as FDA might be moving, it's not quick enough for the estimated 500,000 patients who die each year from cancer. “For diseases like melanoma, Lou Gehrig’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease, either very few drugs are available or those in the pipeline cannot make it through FDA’s delays and regulations,” they said.

    The solution, they said, lies in their new bill, the Patient Choice Act of 2013, which allows patients to purchase access to experimental treatment options, giving them an additional chance at a life-saving therapy.

    “There are research facilities in San Diego developing potentially life-saving medicines and therapies, which have been proven safe after rigorous testing. Unfortunately, because of the lengthy FDA approval process, patients with the most urgent need aren’t able to access them,” Peters wrote in a statement. “We should be doing more to promote research and innovation here in the United States, and this bill is a way to incentivize researchers to stay here while getting patients remedies that they need.”

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