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.
Enlisting stem cells to tolerate chemotherapy. When we talk about stem cells and cancer we are usually talking about the dark side of stem cells, the cancer stem cells that many researchers think are responsible for the spread of tumors in our bodies. This report provides a nice counterpoint. Most tumors could be killed if doctors could give large enough doses of chemotherapy or radiation. Problem is, those doses too often would kill the patient. A team at the University of Michigan found a molecule that revs up the resident stem cells in the gut and greatly enhances their ability to repair damage to the lining of the gut caused by the therapy. More than half of the mice treated with the molecule survived doses of chemo that killed all the mice that did not get the stem cell-directed treatment. Here’s more about the work.
First clinical trial with reprogrammed stem cells set. A team at Japan’s Riken institute announced that they would begin this week the early steps of the first ever clinical trial using stem cells created by reprogramming adult cells. They said they would begin recruiting six patients with Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD). They will then reprogram skin cells from those patients into iPS type stem cells. Following that will be a long period of testing those cells to make sure they don’t cause cancer. So, the first patient will not receive a transplant of retinal cells made from their own skin until next summer.
This type of personalized therapy using cells that are an immunological match for the patient has been a touch stone goal for our field. This is faster progress than I would have guessed. iPS cells were not even created from human cells until 2007. Here is a report on the project from an official Japanese news service.
CIRM funds a number of teams looking into therapies for AMD and other forms of blindness. You can read about that work here.
CIRM team launches Alzheimer’s project. Never underestimate the difficulty in moving a project from the lab bench to the clinic. There are decisions to make and roadblocks to get around along every stretch of the path to clinical trials. How do you design the pre-clinical safety tests to assure the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that your therapy is safe. You have to make sure your therapy—cells in this case—are pure and consistent. Also you have line up all the financing you need to carry out all these steps. CIRM granted nearly $20 million to Stem Cells Inc. late last summer to conduct all the preclinical work to get FDA permission to begin a trial in Alzheimer’s disease within four years. They have worked for the last nine months or so to get all these things coordinated. So it was nice to see this press release officially announcing the commencement of our project.
The work of the team, which includes CIRM grantees at UC Irvine, is described here along with other research we fund on the devastating disease.
The following day the company issued another press release, this one providing two-year follow-up data on its trial using the same type of stem cells to treat a rare neurologic disease in children. That trial, for Pelizaeus-Merzbacher disease, sought to replace some of the myelin sheath that normally protects neurons and is lost in the disease. The new data showed that the myelin replacement they saw after one year was maintained at two years, and somewhat increased. Money News picked up the press release here.
Guilty plea in questionable stem cell therapy. A doctor who admits he has no training in processing stem cells pleaded guilty in federal court to illegally shipping stem cells across state lines. He harvested stem cells from umbilical cord blood and processed them for shipment to firms in other states that are also under investigation for offering stem cell therapies for ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis even though there is no FDA approved stem cell therapies for any of those diseases. Here is one article on the case.
CIRM has long cautioned against participating in unauthorized clinical procedures. Here is our web page offering suggestions on gaging various clinical options.