Stem cell stories that caught our eye: stroke, growing bladder tissue and a clinical trial roundup

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.

Early data on stem cells for stroke promising. The British company ReNeuron reported preliminary data on its clinical trial in stroke patients at the European Stroke Conference in Nice last week. In an article in the New Scientist the CEO of the company gave an appropriately cautious assessment: “we are seeing what seems to be a general trend towards improvement.” The data represented only 11 patients, but they were chosen well. They were all at least six month out from their stroke, the generally accepted outer limit of time when neurologist expect any spontaneous improvement. They measured five indicators of neurologic health and while they saw some improvement in all of them, the greatest gain was on the measure of quality of life, which increased by an average of 40 percent. You can read about CIRM-funded projects in the field on our stroke fact page.

From skin to stem cell to bladder tissue. While Tony Atala at Wake Forest has fashioned replacement bladders for several children using scaffolds and adult cells, researchers had not succeeded in coaxing pluripotent stem cells into becoming viable bladder tissue. A team at the University of California, Davis has now reported that achievement in Stem Cells Translational Medicine, the journal Tony edits and CIRM helped to found. They started with iPS type reprogramed stem cells that could theoretically be made from any patient and provide them with new bladders that matched their own genetics. Such replacement bladders might not have some of the limitations of those made at Wake Forest. The Davis team’s success came through an elaborately develop protocol to prod the stem cells into becoming the desired tissues. The Davis Enterprise reported on the work.

Therapies reaching patients. Brad Fikes, who clearly enjoys writing about biotechnology for the San Diego Union Tribune, did a nice roundup on stem cell research reaching clinical trials. He noted that the master registry for these human tests, clinicaltrials.gov, lists 774 stem cell trials, with 147 of those taking place in California. In particular, he wrote about a spinal cord injury trial scheduled to begin this fall at the University of California, San Diego. He described that trial’s use of a specially designed device that delivers precisely targeted micro-injections of cells to the site of the injury. A trial CIRM is funding to begin within the next year or so will use the same device to try to treat amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Brad also devoted a fair amount of ink to describe the use of mesenchymal stem cells found in bone marrow and fat. The experts he quoted did a good job of explaining that most of the therapeutic potential of these cells comes from their ability to modulate our immune response.

Multiple disciplines needed to develop therapies. A scientist from Charles River Labs contributed an opinion piece in The Scientist that made a good case for the value of building project teams that use people with very different perspectives. She noted that no team from a single institution is likely to have all the expertise in the science, regulatory issue and manufacturing scale up to bring a product to market. She noted that CIRM actively works with its research teams to educate them about the full continuum of activities needed to move stem cell research from the research bench to routine patient care. One example is the Critical Path Workshop that we organize at our periodic all-grantee meetings.

Don Gibbons

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