Stem cell stories that caught our eye; Parkinson’s, drug boosts stem cells in MS and gender equity in science

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 survive and aid Parkinson’s in monkey.
Ole Isacson, a pioneer in the effort to figure out how to use stem cells to treat Parkinson’s Disease, has published new research that suggests a good option. His Harvard team used nerves grown from reprogrammed iPS type stem cells created from the monkey’s own skin.

Dopamine producing nerves created from skin cells of primates

Dopamine producing nerves created from skin cells of primates

His earlier efforts using nerves grown from embryonic stem cells did not result in production of the dopamine that Parkinson’s patients need. He speculates that this was because they were donor cells and required immune suppression to avoid rejection. With the iPS-derived nerves no immune suppressants were needed and the cells survived two years and reversed much of the Parkinson’s symptoms in the one animal that got that type of cell.

ScienceBlog picked up the university’s press release, which described the therapeutic benefit this way:

Isacson said the conclusion of this experiment marks “the first time that an animal has recovered to the same activity level he had before.” He noted that the animal was “able to move as fast around its home cage” as an animal without Parkinson’s, and had normal agility, though individual motions were still slowed by the disease.

He also cautioned that it would be at least three years before he could do the experiments needed to prove the procedure was safe enough to use in patients.

Nerve cells for memory created from stem cells.
The cerebral cortex is the most complex part of our brains. This large outer layer processes memory, vision and language. Its complexity has always given researcher pause in thinking about ways to use stem cells to repair damage in it. Now, an international team working in Belgium and France has grown cortex nerves in the lab, transplanted them in mice with damaged cortices and seen the nerves survive and integrate into the healthy neighboring tissue.

In these experiments the damaged area in the mice was in the visual cortex and some of the animals did show a return of visual stimulus after the transplants. The researchers published their results in the journal Neuron and Science Daily picked up a release from the Belgium university, Libre de Bruxelles.

Drug gets brain stem cells to do better job. We retain a few brain stem cells throughout our life, but they are often not up to the task of repairing large areas of damage. This is the case in multiple sclerosis when our immune system destroys much of the myelin sheath that coats and protects the nerves.

Using a drug already approved by the Food and Drug Administration for other uses, researchers at the University of Buffalo were able to increase the production of myelin in a mouse model of the disease. The drug targets the middleman cells that are half way between stem cells and mature myelin called oligodendrocyte progenitor cells.

They found the drug by first stepping back to look to see what molecules inside the cell are normally active as the stem cells mature to progenitors and then to myelin. They identified a specific molecular pathway needed for this maturation and then looked for drugs that might impact that pathway. They hit upon solifenacin, an agent used for overactive bladder, which results from activity in that same molecular pathway. They told Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News that they are now looking for funding to conduct human clinical trails.

Stem cell foundation pushes for gender equality. The New York Stem Cell Foundation launched its “Initiative on Women in Science and Engineering (IWISE)” in February 2014 and this week the journal Cell Stem Cell published the resulting recommendations.

The IWISE working group’s first meeting a year ago resulted in seven actionable strategies to advance women in science, medicine and engineering. The group continued to refine those over the year, met again last month to finalize them prior to publication.

The seven strategies include:
1) Implement flexible family care spending
2) Provide “extra hands” awards
3) Recruit gender-balanced external review committees and speaker selection committees
4) Incorporate implicit bias statements
5) Focus on education as a tool
6) Create an institutional report card for gender equality
7) Partner to expand upon existing searchable databases of women in science, medicine, and engineering

The press release from NYSCF was picked up on the web site ECN and has a quote from former CIRM governing board member, Claire Pomeroy, who is now president of the Lasker Foundation.

“The brain power provided by women in science is essential to sustaining a thriving US society and economy. It is time to move beyond just lamenting its loss and embrace the actions called for in this timely report.”

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