Author archives: David Prentice

Cord Blood: Therapies in the Bank

by David Prentice

July 8, 2008

As I noted yesterday, Cleveland NPR station WCPN is doing a 3-part series on cord blood stem cells. Today the second installment,

From a Life to the Lab: Following the Path of Cord Blood Stem Cells, follows the cord blood from collection in the delivery room to its destination at the cord blood stem cell bank and its processing.

There is a real need for more cord blood collection, and more public banks so that matches can be made for transplant. Historically, it was thought that with the small amount of cells from cord blood, only a small person (an infant) could be treated. Leading cord blood researcher Dr. Mary Laughlin discusses how they moved into treating adults: “My colleagues at Duke were testing this new stem cell source in children - the thought process at that time was that there were insufficient cells to engraft an adult.” But Laughlin ran the numbers and disagreed. Three new England journal of medicine papers, and several hundred success stories later, she had convinced her colleagues she was right.

Tomorrow in the 3rd part of the series, they will look at the treatments in which cord blood is already used for patients, and potential therapies that are coming.

Frozen Better Than Fresh for Embryos?

by David Prentice

July 8, 2008

Danish scientists reported today that children born from IVF after being frozen as embryos fare better than IVF embryos not frozen. The report at the meeting in Barcelona of the European Society for Human Reproduction and Embryology showed higher birth weight, less congenital problems, and fewer admissions to a neonatal intensive care unit, when compared to “fresh” IVF embryos.

This is hardly an endorsement for freezing your embryos first during IVF, but it is another indication that embryos that have been frozen are still quite healthy. Such embryos need not be discarded, but can be rescued and brought to term, even many years after being put into the freezer.

Saving Cord Blood to Save Lives

by David Prentice

July 7, 2008

NPR station WCPN is running a 3-day series entitled “Life’s Blood: How umbilical cord blood is being transformed from a wasted resource into life-saving therapies“. It started today in Morning Edition.

In the first installment, “Banking on Babies: The Potential of Umbilical Cord Blood Stem Cells“, reporter Gretchen Cuda interviewed doctors and pregnant moms about banking cord blood and differences between public and private cord blood banks.

As cord blood researcher Dr. Mary Laughlin notes: “While everybody is arguing over embryonic stem cells we’re doing cord blood transplants.” Cleveland OB Dr. Marcus Tower adds “There are probably over 80 existing diseases that we’ve proven that stem cells from the umbilical cord blood to be useful in treating. ”

Tuesday’s story is supposed to follow the cord blood stem cells from the cord to the clinic. Should be interesting, so tune in.

Mom was British, Dad was strain BALB/c

by David Prentice

July 7, 2008

Brazilian scientists say they have produced human sperm cells in the testes of mice. The researchers extracted stem cells from the dental pulp of a human male volunteer, and injected the cells into the testes of male mice. Later they found that human sperm were being produced.

There’s no way to know at this point, with just a press release, whether the sperm was mature and functional. The scientists will present their research this week at the annual meeting of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology in Barcelona. If this process works, it would seem simpler to put the cells in the man’s own testes.

The article notes in great understatement that the process of growing human sperm in a mouse “could, however, prove controversial because it gives a separate species an intimate role in human reproduction.”

Big Pharma Invests in Adult Stem Cells

by David Prentice

July 6, 2008

The political debates produce a lot heat and hype regarding stem cells but when it actually comes to helping patients, adult stem cells continue to provide success and real promise.

Given the results as well as a view toward the bottom line, it’s not surprising that Big Pharma is investing in adult stem cells.

Pfizer recently invested $3 million in a new San Diego company, EyeCyte, which will develop adult stem cell treatments for eye diseases such as macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy. The company is based on the work of Dr. Martin Friedlander, who has repaired retinal damage in animals using adult stem cells (here is one of the scientific papers)

In the meantime, Perkin-Elmer has established a cord blood research institute to investigate more clinical uses for these stem cells. They note that “Cord blood is a valuable, non-controversial source of stem cells with proven effect in treating more than 70 serious diseases, including many cancers and immunodeficiencies. To date, more than 10,000 cord blood transplants have been performed worldwide. In the future, medical use of cord blood stem cells may be expanded to include treatment of cardiac disease, autoimmune diseases or neurological disorders.”

Other companies, such as Cytori, are already pioneering the use of adult stem cells for reconstructive surgery, as well as other uses including repair of heart damage. And the company Osiris is moving rapidly ahead with several applications, including for graft-vs-host disease, Crohn’s disease, and even chronic lung disease. Randall Mills, CEO of Osiris notes

One of the pieces of rhetoric you hear all of the time is that the U.S. is far behind in stem cell research because of this or that but the fact is, we are not only the furthest along in the U.S., but the world.”

From the government angle, the real value of adult stem cells to patients has been recognized by the Department of Defense, which formed the $250 million Armed Forces Institute for Regenerative Medicine, with the goal of using wounded soldiers’ own cells in repair of damage. And in the U.K. the government has boosted the local economy with a 3 million investment in an adult stem cell lab at Durham University.

The recognition of adult stem success and the real benefits to health can only continue to help more patients.

South Koreans Clone Boogers; Sued for Patent Infringement

by David Prentice

July 6, 2008

Before you get picky and get your nose out of joint, this is a story about dog cloning.

Booger was a dog, a pit bull terrier that died in 2006. The lady that owned him wanted… more Boogers, so she hired a South Korean company, RNL Bio, to clone her beloved dog, and the clones are due to be born in a few weeks, at a discount price of $50,000 (their usual charge is $150,000). The company has also announced that it has produced four clones of a cancer-sniffing dog.

But now a rival cloning company in the U.S., BioArts International, has issued a cease-and-desist order to RNL Bio. BioArts says they hold exclusive rights to cloning of cats, dogs, and endangered species, and they don’t want RNL cutting into their business. Especially since they’re trying to launch their own dog cloning company, Best Friends Again, with an auction for the first five dogs cloned (bidding starts at $100,000.)

The whole thing brings to mind the pet-cloning company “Re-Pet” in the 2000 Schwarzenegger movie, The Sixth Day.

Looks like a cloning dogfight is underway.

Latest from the states on cloning and stem cells

by David Prentice

July 3, 2008

Michigan citizens will likely be considering a ballot initiative this fall on embryonic stem cell research. The proposal would promote more embryonic stem cell research by overturning Michigan’s long-standing prohibition on destruction of embryos for experiments.

In Missouri, a judge has denied a temporary restraining order on disbursement of life sciences funds. The lawsuit will still be heard; it attempts to clarify clashing guidelines between prohibitions in the funding of life sciences projects (prohibiting use of the funds for any human cloning) and the new provisions in the Missouri constitution, from the 2006 Amendment 2, that preclude funding prohibitions. This is the first legal test of the new constitutional provisions that allow human embryo cloning in Missouri.

Louisiana Governor Jindal signed into law a prohibition on use of state funds for human cloning, while Ohio Gov. Strickland used his line-item veto to remove a similar prohibition in a funding bill, keeping human cloning and its funding legal in Ohio.

No eggs or cloning, latest California grants favor iPS cells

by David Prentice

July 3, 2008

An analysis in Nature’s stem cell blog, The Niche, notes that no proposals for nuclear transfer cloning were approved in the latest round of grants awarded by California’s stem cell agency, CIRM. In fact, no proposals were funded that called for use of human eggs.

Instead, the focus was on embryonic-like iPS cells and comparisons between iPS and “traditional” ESC.

No proposals were funded regarding adult stem cells either though, except for one that proposed creating stem cells using spermatogonial stem cells, iPS cells, and ESC for comparison.

For a good discussion of this issue regarding using human eggs for cloning, see this recent commentary by Jesse Reynolds.

For more about the grant applications, see this press release from CIRM and their Summaries of Review for Applications.

Great Stem Cell Advance you never heard

by David Prentice

July 2, 2008

Lots of news lately hasn’t made it into the mainstream press.

One big item only covered by specialty news sources, but very significant, was news from Australian scientists that they had successfully treated Parkinson’s disease in animals using human nasal adult stem cells. In some cases the nasal adult stem cells came from Parkinson’s patients, indicating they could be the source of their own stem cell treatment.

There are numerous advantages to these adult stem cells:

Patient specific stem cells

Disease specific stem cells

Can generate the cells of interest in a disease

Can make them work in an animal model of disease

Takes 20 mins to get tissue in outpatient setting

One month to grow cells

Seventy lines established thus far

Being patient specific there are no transplant rejection issues

No cancer formation as with embryonic stem cells or induced pluripotent cells

Large numbers can be grown to study the disease and transplant the cells

No need for embryos, nuclear transfer cloning, animal-human hybrids

No need to inject new genes or retroviruses as in induced pluripotent cells

Highly efficient whereas embryo and reprogrammed skin cells are not

No ethical issues

No destruction of tissues

No need to hyperovulate women to get multiple eggs for embryo generation and cloning

The paper was published in the journal Stem Cells

This is the same group that showed in 2006 that they could get multiple tissue types from this adult stem cell source, including heart, nerve, liver, and brain cells.