Author archives: David Prentice

Identification of Spinal Cord Adult Stem Cells for Repair

by David Prentice

July 21, 2008

Researchers at MIT and the Karolinska Institute in Sweden have identified specific adult stem cells in the spinal cord that might be activated to repair a spinal cord injury. Konstantinos Meletis and co-workers have been able to mark the specific stem cells for the spinal cord. “We have been able to genetically mark this neural stem cell population and then follow their behavior,” Meletis said. “We find that these cells proliferate upon spinal cord injury, migrate toward the injury site and differentiate over several months.” The study, published in the July issue of the journal PLoS Biology, could lead to ways to activate the cells in an injured spinal cord for repair of damage and regrowth of nerve axons.

Grow Your Own Heart Bypass

by David Prentice

July 21, 2008

Newly-published research shows that new blood vessels for the heart can be grown using adult stem cells from blood and bone marrow. The work combined two types of specialized (progenitor) adult stem cell types transplanted into mice, to give the best production of blood vessels of the type that are used for heart bypass surgery. The study was reported in the July 18 issue of the journal Circulation Research. One of the authors, Dr. Juan M. Melero-Martin of Harvard Medical School, said that “For clinical use, the way we envision it, if a patient has need to vascularize ischemic tissue, we can get cells from the patient ahead of time, grow them and inject them back into the patient.” One goal now is to reduce the time it takes to grow the blood vessels outside the body. Extensive growth now is seen after seven days, and the hope is to reduce that to 24 to 48 hours.

Growing your own bypass, with your own cells, may be what is taking place for many heart patients that have already been treated with their own adult stem cells. That’s how Lieutenant Ronnie Smallwood sees it. Smallwood suffered from congestive heart failure. He was treated by putting some of his own adult stem cells into parts of his heart muscle. Smallwood is now feeling better, and ready to go back to fishing in his off hours. He was treated by Dr. Emerson Perin of the Texas Heart Institute, who has treated a number of heart patients with their own adult stem cells. “What we are doing with the stem cells is hopefully creating better blood flow to areas of the heart that don’t get good blood flow,” Dr. Perin says.

The Scent of Dirt

by David Prentice

July 21, 2008

Do you like the smell of fresh earth? Does a whiff from a freshly-plowed field or just-tilled garden improve your mood? Well it might soon be possible for you to get that fresh earthy smell even in your uptown apartment. That earthy smell comes from the combination of two harmless chemicals that are made by bacteria in the soil. Scientists report that they have successfully isolated the bacterial genes responsible for synthesizing those chemicals. Now maybe even those far from the farm (but who like the scent) can experience the scent, and without the dirt!

New” Report on Embryonic Stem Cell Debate, Same Old Inaccurate News

by David Prentice

July 21, 2008

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life has issued a new report on Embryonic Stem Cell Research.

The reason for the report is not obvious, because it contains very little new information, and even as a collection of the arguments it is slanted and superficial. The science section is incomplete and contains a number of inaccuracies, e.g., “In the mid-1990s, scientists began studying embryonic stem cells, at first in mice” (instead, two groups first isolated mouse embryonic stem cells in 1981.)

Worthwhile are the interviews with Yuval Levin and Jonathan Moreno, presenting the case against and for embryonic stem cell research, respectively.

The poll information is somewhat interesting, showing continually decreasing support for embryonic stem cell research, though as most now realize, the phrasing of poll questions determines the responses.

Much more informative is the poll recently done by the Ethics & Public Policy Center on Public Opinion and the Embryo Debates, showing continuing confusion about the basic facts of the debate. That article is definitely worth your time to read. But the Pew report may only contribute to the relative lack of knowledge of real facts

Blade Runner Will Miss Olympics

by David Prentice

July 20, 2008

Oscar Pistorius of South Africa, nicknamed “Blade Runner”, will not be running in the Olympics. He failed to qualify in the 400m and was not selected for the 4x400m relay.

Pistorius received his nickname and running notoriety because he is a double amputee with two carbon-fiber prosthetics as legs; the prosthetics look like springy J-shaped blades. His bid to attempt an Olympic run was the subject of contention in the athletic community. Back in January 2008, the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAFF) had ruled that Pistorius had an unfair advantage and shouldn’t be allowed to compete against “able-bodied” athletes.

He appealed the ruling and in May, the Court of Arbitration for Sport overturned the ban. A team of scientists led by Peter Weyand of Rice University, Houston, had done testing and found that Pistorius’ prosthetic legs did not give him an unfair advantage.

While it’s sad to see that Pistorius barely failed to make the 2008 Olympics, count on more discussions about prosthetics, body modifications, and whether some of these qualify as enhancements.

Time For Another ACT Press Release?

by David Prentice

July 17, 2008

The Boston Globe is reporting that Advanced Cell Technology (ACT), a Massachusetts biotechnology company, is running low on cash and may have to shut down or at least make severe cutbacks. ACT has been in the news in the past (usually first with their own press releases) for claims such as the first cloned human embryo, animal-human hybrid clone, creating organs by gestating clones, and for a technique that supposedly might produce embryonic stem cells without harming embryos. As the Globe story notes, “ACT has been dogged by complaints that it over-hyped its research”, and there has also been controversy about the way it has promoted some of its science, including its penchant in some cases for publication via press release. In 2002 auditors found it had mispent grant funds. It is also facing some other recent problems, including departure of many of its executives, including founder Michael West.

Though unrelated to its own troubles, ACT’s name was also in recent news about the mayor of Beaufort, SC being charged with insider trading by the SEC. According to the SEC, in 2006 an ACT executive told Mayor William Rauch, who had been a consultant for ACT, about a breakthrough embryonic-stem-cell technique the company was about to make public, after which he bought more than $11,000 worth of ACT stock, which gained 360% after the announcement was made public.

IVF’s Past and the Next 30 Years of Reproduction

by David Prentice

July 17, 2008

The journal Nature has a news focus in this week’s issue with three articles on in vitro fertilization (IVF) and related technologies. An Editorial piece looks back at the impact of IVF, Ruth Deech, a member of the UK House of Lords and former chair of their Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority (HFEA) looks at the legacy of the U.K.’s early regulation of this reproductive technology, and Nature reporter Helen Pearson interviews several scientists about the future developments they foresee in the next 30 years. There is some interesting history here for those who are unfamiliar with the IVF industry and its beginnings, important questions are raised about the need for monitoring and registries of IVF-conceived children (as the Nature editors note, “safety concerns about IVF have still not evaporated” and little information is available, especially regarding newer practices such as pre-implantation genetic diagnosis), and some thought-provoking and sometimes scary future scenarios (genetic engineering of babies, artificial gametes, artificial placentas, etc.) that deserve careful discussion about where we may be headed.

Targeting Tumors with Umbilical Cord Stem Cells

by David Prentice

July 16, 2008

Kansas State University researchers are developing a method to use umbilical cord cells to deliver cancer-fighting drugs directly to tumors. Dr. Deryl Troyer and colleagues note that these umbilical cord stem cells have a natural homing ability to areas of tissue damage, including tumors. “We are using the cells as stealth vehicles,” Troyer said. Their project involves loading the stem cells with nanoparticles containing the anti-cancer drugs, and letting the cells home in on tumors, where they would release their cargo.

The project, a part of Kansas State’s Midwest Institute for Comparative Stem Cell Biology, uses a type of adult stem cell that is not from cord blood, but is instead from the solid part of the umbilical cord, known as Wharton’s jelly. These adult stem cells have the ability to form various cell types of the body, including neuronal cells, and have already shown the ability in animal models to ameliorate symptoms of Parkinson’s diease.

There’s more than wheat and wind on the plains of Kansas.

Feel Like A Million, or $6.9 Million?

by David Prentice

July 16, 2008

According to the EPA, that’s the current value for a human life (their value estimate has dropped over the last year.) The estimate is for the “value of a statistical life”, a number used in cost-benefit calculations. But before you brag you’re worth more than the $6 Million Man, note that other agencies have different figures for your value, so you may be worth more or less than that. Time magazine recently noted that the value of one year of human life was approximately $50,000. A different estimate, based on parting you out for transplants and biological reagents, puts the value at over $45 million. And of course there’s the old estimate that if broken down to basic elements, you’re worth a grand total of $4.50… But I prefer to think the value of an individual human life is, as the commercial says, priceless!

Eat More Beef, Decrease Global Warming?

by David Prentice

July 15, 2008

Argentina scientists are trying to measure the amount of contribution of cows to global warming. Yes, cows apparently contribute to global warming because of the amount of methane they produce as… emissions. Yes, your basic, standard-sized cow produces over 35 cubic feet (up to 1,000 liters) of methane a day. When they got the first results, the researchers were surprised: “Thirty percent of Argentina s (total greenhouse) emissions could be generated by cattle.”

Follow the link above to see a picture of the backpack device used to monitor the cow emissions.

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