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 cells from a drop of blood. One reason Shinya Yamanaka won the Nobel Prize in 2012 was his discovery of iPS type stem cells had the potential to create replacement tissue that matched the patients. But reprogramming adult cells from every patient to be stem cells would be very expensive and time consuming—maybe too time consuming for acutely ill patients. So, many groups have proposed banks of iPS cells from diverse populations so that most people could get donor cells quickly that were closely matched immunologically. CIRM President Alan Trounson is working with an international group to start one such stem cell bank initiative that we wrote about last year.
But, collecting adult tissue from all the diverse populations of the world is problematic. Although the early method of taking skin biopsies to collect adult cells can now be replaced by blood draws, that is still not an optimal solution. So, a team in Singapore has developed a technique that allows the creation of iPS cells from a drop of blood from a simple finger stick, not the tablespoon or more that is currently required. They even devised a system that allows the donors to store and ship the sample themselves. Other researchers will need to verify the efficiency of the new procedure and the quality of the stem cells it creates, but the technique could make a world-wide tissue bank much more feasible.
Stem Cells Translational Medicine, the journal CIRM helped to found, published the study and the web site benzinga picked up the publisher’s press release.
The triumph of keeping leukemia alive in a dish. As resilient as leukemia stem cells can be in patients, you would think it would be easy to culture them in the lab. But that has not been the case. They lose their “stemness” when cultured, which has made it difficult for researchers to find the method to their cancer-causing madness. A team at the University of Montreal has isolated two chemicals that preserve the character of leukemia stem cells in lab culture. This should allow researcher to better understand what regulates their survival and growth and develop drugs to target their vulnerabilities. Nature Methods published the work and Fierce Biotech Research wrote about it.
CIRM funds several projects targeting these treacherous cells including two that hope to begin clinical trials this year. You can read about those projects on our leukemia fact sheet.
Mourning a stem cell champion. Jim Stowers was a hero to friends of mine who work at Washington University in St. Louis. Without him, embryonic stem cell research would probably be illegal in Missouri. He and his wife bankrolled the campaign to fight an effort to criminalize the work in 2006. They had earlier proven their commitment to biomedical research when they created the Stowers Institute in Kansas City in 2000 with a $2 billion endowment. In an obituary in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch William Danforth, chancellor emeritus at Wash U, said Stowers was committed to making the world a better place. We salute him and his efforts.