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.