Stem cell stories that caught our eye: hopeful stroke data, new target for muscular dystrophy and a rave from Silicon Valley

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.

Stroke study offers hope.  The dogma in stroke recovery says six months after the event patients will have recovered as much as they ever will. A research team at Stanford and the University of Pittsburg may have proven that wrong. They injected mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) from donor bone marrow directly into the brains of 18 patients and saw significant improvement in the patients’ mobility.

Gary Steinberg, the lead researcher at Stanford where 12 of the patients were treated, offered appropriate caution in a university release stating that more and bigger clinical trials will be needed to verify these results:

“This was just a single trial, and a small one. It was designed primarily to test the procedure’s safety. But patients improved by several standard measures, and their improvement was not only statistically significant, but clinically meaningful. Their ability to move around has recovered visibly. That’s unprecedented.”


At least one patient was able to abandon her wheel chair

At least one patient was able to abandon here wheel chair.

News outlets around the world ran the story including CNBC and Hufffington Post, which included an interview with Sonia Olea Coontz who had one of the more dramatic recoveries. Like most of the patients, Coontz was more than a year out from her stroke and generally considered unable to regain any lost function, but after the injection her right arm and leg “woke up” in her words.

The team used MSCs from two donors that had been modified to enhance their ability to secrete factors that can foster the innate healing ability of the brain. Steinberg noted that the stem cells did not stay in the brain for much more than a month. But, during that time they seem to have done something pretty amazing. Can’t wait to see if the team repeats this result in a planned 156-patient trial.


 Stem cell decisions and muscular dystrophy. While most muscle repair relies on a type of stem cell that can only become muscle, a second type of stem cell that can become muscle or fat also has a role and might provide a way to intervene in the muscle wasting of muscular dystrophy. A team at Rockefeller University in New York City has found a gene that can direct those cells, called pericytes and PICs, to preferentially become muscle.

Previous work had shown that the loss of the protein laminin was associated with some forms of muscular dystrophy and that injecting it directly into the muscle of mice did alleviate some of their muscular dystrophy. But laminin does not migrate from the injection site so in humans would require far too many injections. So the Rockefeller researchers looked to see how laminin affects the activity of genes—whether they are turned on or off—in those special stem cells. They found one gene in particular, gpihbp1, that when forced on could result in the stem cells making much more muscle.

 “Our data suggests that gpihbp1 could be a novel target for the treatment of muscular dystrophy,” said team leader Sidney Strickland in an article posted by Scicasts.

 The researchers published their work in the journal Nature Communications.


Silicon Valley leader pushes stem cells. Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google and current executive chairman of its parent company Alphabet, told The Economic Club of New York this week that America needs to concentrate on transformative big ideas, and he included stem cell science among those.

Google's Eric SchmidtWhen he talked about tackling important problems with science and technology he cited 3D printing of buildings and using stem cells to grow body parts as examples. In an article on he said he is seeing an “incredible revolution in medicine and this incredible revolution that’s going on in knowledge.”

When the interviewer, Charlie Rose, asked him whether, if he was starting over today, if he would go into computer science or biology, he answered with an anecdote about a computer scientist who went into biology marrying the two.


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