Tue, 31 Aug 2010
Even as supporters of human embryonic stem cell research are reeling from last week's sudden cutoff of federal funding, another portentous landmark is quietly approaching: the world's first attempt to carefully test the cells in people.
Scientists are poised to inject cells created from embryonic stem cells into some patients with a progressive form of blindness and others with devastating spinal cord injuries. That's a welcome step for researchers eager to move from the laboratory to the clinic and for patients hoping for cures.
But beyond being loathsome to those with moral objections to any research using cells from human embryos, the tests are worrying many proponents: Some argue that the experiments are premature, others question whether they are ethical, and many fear that the trials risk disaster for the field if anything goes awry.
Mon, 30 Aug 2010
The renewed debate over embryonic stem cells highlights the advances and complications that have arisen in the field since its controversial beginnings.
The cells are a sort of blank slate, plucked from human embryos just a few days after fertilization. They tantalize scientists because they could in theory turn into any of the body's 200 mature cell types, from blood to brain to liver to heart. They could be used to study and treat diseases and to study the basic biology of what determines a cell's destiny—why a heart cell becomes a heart cell, for example, instead of a brain cell. The problem is their origin—human embryos. In order to get stem cells, embryos must be destroyed. It is this fact that led to the court ruling [last] Monday blocking most federal financing for embryonic stem cell research.
Wed, 25 Aug 2010
The government will quickly appeal a court ruling that undercut federally funded embryonic stem-cell research, the Obama administration declared Tuesday, but dozens of experiments aimed at fighting spinal cord injuries, Parkinson's disease, and other ailments probably will stop in the meantime.
The White House and scientists said Monday's court ruling was broader than first thought because it would prohibit even the more restricted stem-cell research allowed for the last decade by President George W. Bush's rules.
That initial ruling won't stop all the work that scientists call critical to finding new therapies for devastating diseases. The National Institutes of Health told anxious researchers late Tuesday that if they had already received money this year—$131 million in total—they can keep doing their stem-cell experiments.
Tue, 24 Aug 2010
A U.S. district judge on Monday blocked the federal government from funding all research involving human embryonic stem cells on the grounds that it violates a 1996 law intended to prevent the destruction of of human embryos.
The ruling came in the form of a preliminary injunction in a case involving two scientists who challenged the Obama administration's stem cell funding policy, which was designed to expand federal support for the controversial research.
Embryonic stem cell researchers said the decision would throw the field into turmoil. "The long-term practical impact is a massive halt to most embryonic stem cell research in the U.S." said Dr. Irving Weissman, director of the Stanford Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine.
Tue, 20 Jul 2010
Barbara Streisand probably wasn't thinking about reprogrammed stem cells when she crooned "The Way We Were," but it turns out that the cells also retain misty watercolor memories of their former selves.
By most standards, a cocktail of four proteins can reprogram skin or blood into stem cells nearly indistinguishable from those isolated from embryos. But two new studies show that reprogrammed cells, known as induced pluripotent stem cells or iPS cells, hold on to molecular memories of their former identities.
The findings, published online July 19 in Nature and Nature Biotechnology, could be a blessing and a curse for researchers who hope to transform the reprogrammed cells into adult cell types for transplant into patients or for studying how certain genetic diseases influence cell development.
Tue, 22 Jun 2010
The swine flu, or H1N1, virus has been hiding out in pigs for more than a year, getting a genetic makeover, scientists have discovered. Pigs in a Hong Kong slaughterhouse are carrying influenza viruses containing gene segments belonging to the deadly H1N1 strain that swept the globe in 2009, tests reveal.
The newly identified "reassorted" virus--dubbed 2010 H1N1--is likely not a threat to humans. That's because only one of the virus's eight genetic segments belonged to the strain that infected humans last year, said study co-author Malik Peiris, an influenza researcher at Hong Kong University.
The discovery is still disturbing, because it suggests the 2009 H1N1 virus could be reshaping its genetic code in animal hosts in other parts of the world. One of these emerging strains could come to resemble the 2009 H1N1 strain enough to make the jump back to humans again, Peiris said.
Tue, 22 Jun 2010
Dr. Shinya Yamanaka, a stem cell researcher at UCSF's Gladstone Institutes who discovered a technique for transforming adult skin cells into "pluripotent" stem cells without resorting to human embryos, has won Japan's $550,000 Kyoto Prize, an international award that honors scientific, cultural and spiritual contributions to human knowledge.
His discovery resulted in a class of much-sought stem cells that scientists can induce to become virtually any other type of functioning human cell that one day might be used to treat varied diseases or injuries.
During their research, Yamanaka and his colleagues altered the genetics of adult skin cells by inserting four specific viral genes that produce proteins known as transcription factors into the cells. Those proteins in turn yielded other genes that reprogrammed the skin cells so they acquired all the characteristics that made them what are now known as induced pluripotent cells.
Thu, 29 Apr 2010
The National Institutes of Health announced Tuesday that 13 additional lines of human embryonic stem cells are eligible for federal funding, including the most widely used line. The NIH's approval of the lines should alleviate mounting concerns among some supporters of stem cell research that the Obama administration was hindering the work.
"Many people who had been working on these lines, and concerned about whether they would be able to continue to work with these lines, will now be reassured that their research can now go forward," NIH Director Francis S. Collins said Tuesday.
"This is fantastic news," said Charles Murry, a professor at the University of Washington in Seattle. His stem cell research had been in limbo, awaiting government approval of one of the lines. "Students who were facing the prospects of having to repeat years of work with new lines will now be able to complete their projects as planned. ... It is a good day for science."
Thu, 1 Apr 2010
Stem-cell researchers have puzzled over why reprogrammed cells taken from adult tissues are often slower to divide and much less robust than their embryo-derived counterparts.
Now, a team has discovered the key genetic difference between embryonic and adult-derived stem cells in mice. If confirmed in humans, the finding could help clinicians to select only the heartiest stem cells for therapeutic applications and disease modelling.
Induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells are created by reprogramming adult cells, and outwardly seem indistinguishable from embryonic stem (ES) cells. Both cell types are pluripotent—they can form any tissue in the body. Yet subtle distinctions abound.
Tue, 30 Mar 2010
The scientist who cloned Dolly the sheep believes that a new approach to the production of stem cells could revolutionise the treatment of inherited diseases such as Parkinson's and motor neurone disease "within ten to twenty years."
In an interview with The Times, Professor Sir Ian Wilmut said that the "ethical" production of induced pluripotent stem (IPS) cells, developed from human skin cells rather than taken from human embryos, represented an opportunity to tackle some of the hundreds of inherited diseases that could prove as important as the way that medical science had conquered many infectious diseases over the past 200 years.
... In the long term it is hoped that IPS cells could be used in therapies to treat patients suffering from a variety of conditions—from heart attacks to Alzheimer's—but in the shorter term the cells offered the chance to study inherited diseases and develop drug treatments, Sir Ian said.
Wed, 24 Mar 2010
Lawrence Goldstein may not be the face of stem cell research, but the professor of cellular and molecular medicine at the University of California San Diego is certainly among its most vocal and staunchest advocates—and a leading researcher in the field.
He helped write Proposition 71, the unprecedented 2004 proposal to create a $3 billion funding organization in California to support stem cell research. The proposition passed with almost 60 percent of the vote. Goldstein's lab, meanwhile, is using stem cell technologies to investigate a diverse range of human diseases, from cancer to Alzheimer's.
This month, Goldstein and co-author Meg Schneider, a writer, published "Stem Cells for Dummies." The Union-Tribune's Scott LaFee talked with him about it.
Wed, 17 Mar 2010
One year after President Obama announced he was lifting his predecessor's controversial restrictions on federal funding for human embryonic stem cell research, some scientists are complaining that so far the new policy is—ironically—more of a burden than a boon to their work.
"The situation at the moment is worse than it was under the Bush administration," said Charles Murry, a professor of pathology and bioengineering at the University of Washington in Seattle. "Because of this, we are going to waste a lot of time." At issue is the fate of the 21 "lines of cells" that President George W. Bush said could receive federal funding.
Bush limited federal funding to the lines that were already in existence in 2001. He wanted to prevent taxpayer dollars from encouraging the destruction of more embryos to create more lines. Critics of the research praised Bush's move, arguing that destroying embryos to obtain the cell lines is immoral. But the restrictions were condemned by many scientists, who argued they were hindering research that could lead to cures for Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, paralysis and other ailments.
Wed, 10 Feb 2010
The drug industry is keener on stem-cell technologies than ever before—and not just as a source of new treatments. A wave of new partnerships aims to use stem cells as a way to screen other potential drug candidates.
In the latest such example, Roche last week announced a deal worth some US$20 million with Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. Roche, based in Basel, Switzerland, will use cell lines and protocols developed by academic researchers to screen for drugs to treat cardiovascular disease and other conditions.
Because relevant human cell types are often unavailable, current screens tend to use cells from rodents or human tissues other than the ones researchers want to target. The hope is that stem cells could provide exactly the type of cells relevant for an assay.
Mon, 11 Jan 2010
Dr. Karen Aboody estimates that she has cured several hundred mice of a cancer of the central nervous system called neuroblastoma.
First she injected them with specialized neural stem cells that naturally zero in on the tumors and surround them. Then she administered an anti-cancer agent that the cells converted into a highly toxic drug. In her tests, 90% of the animals were rid of their tumors while healthy brain tissue remained undamaged.
To hear Aboody tell it, that was the easy part. "People are curing mice right and left," said the City of Hope neuroscientist. The real challenge is convincing the Food and Drug Administration to let her try this on people with brain tumors.
Wed, 23 Dec 2009
A man who was partially blinded after intervening in a fight has had his vision restored by a new stem-cell therapy.
Russell Turnbull, 38, lost most of the sight from his right eye in 1994 when he was sprayed in the face with ammonia while trying to break up an altercation on a bus in Newcastle upon Tyne. The chemical burnt his cornea, leaving him with cloudy vision, pain on every blink and extreme sensitivity to light.
He has now become one of the first people to benefit from a treatment developed at the North East England Stem Cell Institute in Newcastle, in which stem cells from his good eye were used to repair his damaged one.
Thu, 3 Dec 2009
The National Institutes of Health said Wednesday that it had approved 13 new human embryonic stem cell lines for use by federally financed researchers, with 96 more under review.
The action followed President Obama's decision in March to expand the number of such cell lines beyond those available under a policy set by President George W. Bush, which permitted research to begin only with lines already available on Aug. 9, 2001.
Since that date, biomedical researchers supported by the N.I.H. have had to raise private money to derive the cells, which are obtained from the fertilized embryos left over from in vitro fertility clinics.
Fri, 6 Nov 2009
Stem cell researchers at the Gladstone Institute in San Francisco and Stanford Medical School have joined a new national consortium linking teams of scientists who normally work independently with other groups that seek to discover new therapies for varied human disorders.
The government-funded venture will encourage the scientists working toward varied goals to share their research and collaborate with others using different approaches. The Gladstone-Stanford team is seeking to develop pluripotent stem cells, which are artificially derived from ordinary human tissue specifically for the purpose of repairing cells in damaged heart muscle.
Other Stanford scientists have teamed up with researchers at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore to learn how to reprogram the genes of adult stem cells into lines of specialized cells that could treat disorders of the blood and blood vessels.
Scientists have turned human stem cells into early-stage sperm and eggs in research that promises to give doctors an unprecedented insight into the causes of infertility.
The work will allow researchers to study human reproductive cells from the moment they are created in embryos through to fully-mature sperm and eggs.
Understanding the details of how sperm and egg cells grow will help scientists develop treatments for people who are left infertile when the process goes wrong. The research may also lead to treatments that can correct growth defects before a child is born.
Mon, 12 Oct 2009
The next tools for reprogramming cells to an embryonic-like state might just be a camera and a set of fluorescently tagged antibodies.
Researchers imaged more than a million human cells in vitro as they changed from skin tissue cells, known as fibroblasts, into colonies of induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells. As expected, many similar-looking colonies appeared, but only very few consisted of fully reprogrammed iPS cells. After assessing which were which, researchers led by Thorsten Schlaeger and George Daley of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts went back and worked out how to predict which colonies would produce high-quality iPS cell lines by analyzing the images. Robert Blelloch, who studies reprogramming at the University of California San Francisco, sees immediate practical applications. "It means that you can focus down on the most promising colonies and not assay everything." Currently, he says, many evaluations of techniques to boost reprogramming rates lump some partially reprogrammed cells together with fully reprogrammed ones. With better markers of pluripotency, he says, "you can look at the dish and count" and be more confident of your results.
Sun, 20 Sep 2009
Using leftovers from liposuction patients, scientists have turned human fat into stem cells, a new study says. The new method is much more efficient than a previous practice that used skin cells, researchers say.
The discovery may also help avoid the controversy spawned by the use of stem cells from human embryos. Human fat is "an abundant natural resource and a renewable one," said Stanford University plastic surgeon Michael Longaker, whose liposuction patients donated the fat for the study.
Longaker envisions a future in which doctors will be able to use fat from a patient to grow, in a lab, new tissues and organs for that patient. The opportunity wouldn't be limited to the obese.
Tue, 15 Sep 2009
One of the most prestigious prizes in medicine is being awarded this year to scientists working on stem cells and leukemia—and to New York's mayor for his fight to cut tobacco use.
... The Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award goes to three scientists who turned a fatal cancer, myeloid leukemia, into a manageable condition with their discovery of the drug Gleevec (imatinib mesylate). Brian Druker, 54, of Oregon Health & Science University, Nicholas Lydon, 52, formerly of the Novartis pharmaceutical company, and Charles Sawyers, 50, of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center did the work in the 1990s.
... The Lasker Basic Medical Research Award goes to John Gurdon, 76, of Cambridge University and Shinya Yamanaka, 47, of Kyoto University and San Francisco's Gladstone Institute of Cardiovascular Disease. Their work has helped pave the way for the possibility of made-to-order stem cell treatments for individual patients.
Mon, 31 Aug 2009
Researchers have regressed human stem cells to an embryonic state using just a single transcription factor, as opposed to the four factors previously needed to induce pluripotency in human cells, according to a study published online today (August 28) in Nature.
"This is another important milestone of [stem cell] research," Kwang-Soo Kim, a stem cell researcher at McLean Hospital of Harvard Medical School, wrote in an email to The Scientist. "This elegant work further advances the already fast-moving field and demonstrates that human [induced pluripotent stem (iPS)] cells can be generated with [a] minimal number of retroviral vectors," added Kim, who was not involved in the work.
Earlier this year, Hans Schoeler of the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Biomedicine in Muenster, Germany, and his colleagues succeeded in using just a single transcription factor, OCT4, to revert mouse adult neural stem cells to a pluripotent form, capable of producing other cell types, including germ cells that could be transmitted to the next generation. Now, Schoeler's group has found that the same factor can induce pluripotency in human cells as well.
Thu, 27 Aug 2009
Scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have reprogrammed skin cells and turned them into different kinds of retinal cells, a remarkable demonstration that mimicked the early development of a key part of the human eye and raised hopes for treating disorders that rob millions of their vision.
The work, led by assistant professor David Gamm and assistant scientist Jason Meyer and published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, also added to a growing weight of evidence that stem cells made by reprogramming have similar if not the same abilities as the more controversial embryonic stem cells.
Human cell reprogramming ... allows researchers to take skin biopsies, send the cells back to an embryonic state, then grow them into specific varieties that can be used to study diseases, test drugs and perhaps even treat illnesses.
Fri, 14 Aug 2009
Researchers have discovered a way to identify drugs that can specifically attack and kill cancer stem cells, a finding that could lead to a new generation of anticancer medicines and a new strategy of treatment.
Many researchers believe that tumor growth is driven by cancerous stem cells that, for reasons not understood, are highly resistant to standard treatments. Chemotherapy agents may kill off 99 percent of cells in a tumor, but the stem cells that remain can make the cancer recur, the theory holds, or spread to other tissues to cause new cancers.
Stem cells, unlike mature cells, can constantly renew themselves and are thought to be the source of cancers when, through mutations in their DNA, they throw off their natural restraints. A practical test of this theory has been difficult because cancer stem cells are hard to recognize and have proved elusive targets.
Mon, 10 Aug 2009
MIAMI (Associated Press)—Lucy the Labradoodle scoots along the ground to grab a bone. At only 5 years old, she's unable to walk, crippled by rheumatoid arthritis that has rendered her back limbs unusable.
However, her owners say she has improved. She no longer yelps or whimpers in pain, and she needs far less medicine than before.
Lucy's owners credit a costly stem cell treatment, despite what experts say is a lack of evidence such treatments work. "We didn't think she'd live anywhere near this long, and I know it's because of the stem cells," says owner Carol Fischman, 57, of Vero Beach.
Tue, 4 Aug 2009
LA JOLLA --A team at The Scripps Research Institute says it bred live mice from mouse skin cells, advancing a technique that could offer an alternative to the controversial use of embryonic stem cells.
The work, reported online Sunday by the journal Nature, involves reprogramming normal cells to create what are known as induced pluripotent stem cells.
... The Scripps team, led by Assistant Professor Kristin Baldwin, is not the first to achieve the feat. Two teams of Chinese researchers reported success in similar experiments two weeks ago, creating mice that were as much as 95 percent genetically matched to the adult mouse whose cells were used.
Fri, 24 Jul 2009
Two groups of Chinese researchers have performed an unprecedented feat, it was announced Thursday, by inducing cells from connective tissue in mice to revert back to their embryonic state and producing living mice from them.
By demonstrating that cells from adults can be converted into cells that, like embryonic stem cells from fetuses, have the ability to produce any type of tissue, the researchers have made a major advance toward eliminating the need for fetal cells in research and clinical applications.
Researchers first produced this new type of cell, called induced pluripotent stem, or iPS, cells, two years ago, but there have been lingering doubts about whether the cells are truly identical to embryonic cells or instead are capable of producing only some types of body cells.
Thu, 9 Jul 2009
Synthetic human sperm have been grown from embryonic stem cells for the first time, scientists claimed Tuesday, raising the prospect of advances in male infertility treatment. The culture of swimming human cells with tails and some of the biological characteristics of real sperm has been created at Newcastle University.
The achievement, from a team led by Professor Karim Nayernia, suggests that it may be possible to grow new reproductive cells from stem cells, enabling men who make none of their own to father children.
... Professor Nayernia said that the [in-vitro derived] sperm had key traits of real sperm, including a haploid nucleus that has 23 chromosomes, instead of the 46 found in non-reproductive cells. ... Other scientists, however, said that although the cells had some similarities to sperm, further tests would be needed to confirm that they were the real thing.
Tue, 7 Jul 2009
Hundreds of embryonic stem cell lines, whose use in the United States had effectively been curtailed by the Bush administration, can be used to study disorders and develop cures if researchers can show the cells were derived using ethical procedures, according to new rules issued by the federal government yesterday.
President Obama had promised during last year's campaign to ease restrictions on the use of stem cells in research, and he has cited the promise of stem cell research in finding cures for disorders that have so far proved intractable.
The use of embryonic stem cells was not prohibited under the Bush administration, but federal funding was limited to a very small number of stem cell lines, which choked off most research. The new guidelines, issued by the National Institutes of Health, permit federal funding for research using many of the approximately 700 embryonic stem cell lines that are believed to be in existence.
Mon, 6 Jul 2009
Harvard University scientists said yesterday (July 1) they discovered a master human heart cell that gives rise to three major types of heart tissue, providing new tools for drug development and an important advance toward the ultimate goal of repairing damaged hearts.
Using human embryonic stem cells, the researchers have unraveled part of the process by which the human heart is built during development—insight they hope could be used to understand congenital heart disease and create new therapies for cardiovascular disease, the top cause of death in the United States.
"Since these [cells] are entirely human, you can use this system now to study the role of specific genes in human heart disease, and as ways to screen drugs for cardiotoxicity and for therapeutic effect,'' said Dr. Kenneth R. Chien, director of the Cardiovascular Research Center at Massachusetts General Hospital and principal faculty member at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute. He is senior author of the paper, published in Nature on July 2.
Mon, 15 Jun 2009
If you've ever blamed your gray hair on stress, you weren't far from the truth. Genotoxic stress—the kind that can damage a cell's DNA—causes hair to whiten over time, according to a new study.
The results challenge accepted ideas about how stem cells age and may eventually lead to new ways to prevent graying and treat the more serious conditions caused by genotoxic stress, such as cancer.
For hair, life is simple. A strand grows for several years, then rests for 2 to 3 months before eventually dying and falling out. In 2004, Emi Nishimura, a dermatologist now with the Tokyo Medical and Dental University in Japan, linked this process to the hair follicle's melanocyte stem cells.
Tue, 2 Jun 2009
For the first time, researchers have combined gene therapy and cellular reprogramming technologies in human cells to correct a genetic defect.
After taking skin and hair cells from patients with a rare genetic disorder and fixing the aberrant mutation, the investigators successfully reprogrammed the cells to an embryonic-like state and then turned them into the very cell types that usually go awry, according to a study published online May 31 in Nature.
The approach should be applicable to any disorder with simple, Mendelian inheritance, noted Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte, a developmental biologist at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, Calif., and the Center for Regenerative Medicine in Barcelona, who led the study.
Tue, 26 May 2009
When President Obama lifted restrictions on federal funding of human embryonic stem cell research in March, many scientists hailed the move as a long-awaited boost for one of the most promising fields of medical research.
Since then, however, many proponents have concluded that the plan could have the opposite effect, putting off-limits for federal support much of the research underway, including work that the Bush administration endorsed. "We're very concerned," said Amy Comstock Rick, chief executive of the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research, which has been leading the effort to free up more federal funding for stem cell research. "If they don't change this, very little current research would be eligible. It's a huge issue."
The concern focuses on strict new ethics criteria that the National Institutes of Health has proposed. Advocates of stem cell research say that most of the work currently underway passed close ethical scrutiny but that the procedures varied and usually did not match the details specified in the proposed new guidelines.
Fri, 24 Apr 2009
A team of scientists led by Scripps Research Institute has pulled ahead in the race to develop embryonic-like stem cells that could be used for patient-specific therapies and models of disease, but that don't require destruction of an embryo.
The Scripps team, led by Sheng Ding, transformed fully formed fibroblast cells—precursors to skin cells—into primitive, embryonic-like stem cells without using any dangerous genes or viruses, a component that hampered previous research. The results appeared online yesterday in the scientific journal Cell Stem Cell.
Once they are embryonic-like, they can be coaxed into becoming many different cell types in the body, much the way human embryonic stem cells—the body's master cells—morph into the more than 200 types of cells in the body. This morphing ability is called pluripotency.
Tue, 17 Mar 2009
Researchers have used injections of patients' own stem cells to reverse the course of type 1 diabetes, reports a research team from the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil and Northwestern University in Chicago.
The findings, published in the current issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, exemplify the remarkable gains made by diabetes researchers, who are battling a continuously spreading disease that now affects nearly 8% of adults and children.
The research team, led by Dr. Julio Voltarelli of the University of Sao Paulo, is the first to successfully treat type 1 diabetes patients with their own stem cells. The group first reported its initial achievement in 2007, with 15 type 1 diabetes patients who received their own stem cells and no longer needed insulin to control their blood sugar levels. In the new study, a follow-up of their previous work, Voltarelli and his colleagues detailed the same success with an additional eight patients ...
Fri, 13 Mar 2009
ATLANTA--Faced with a new federal policy that opens the door for more embryonic stem cell research, conservatives have geared up for a political battle at the national and state level that goes to the core of their beliefs about the sanctity of human life.
Since President Barack Obama lifted the eight-year ban on nearly all federal funding for stem cell research on Monday, conservative leaders said they have stepped up efforts to lobby Congress to preserve some restrictions. They plan to launch a far-reaching campaign to educate the public about the threat to life as well as research alternatives that are not as invasive.
"This executive order is just the beginning of the process. Our concern is how broad this will be interpreted, and will there be limitations," said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, a conservative think-tank. "With limited tax dollars available, we should not use those funds for research that is at best morally questionable."
Wed, 11 Mar 2009
SAN FRANCISCO (Associated Press)--Scientists are cheering President Barack Obama's lifting of federal funding restrictions on embryonic stem cell research, hopeful the move will open the financial floodgates to speed new treatments. "It's wonderful. We are elated," said Jan Nolta, who directs the stem cell research program at the University of California at Davis. "Now that we can use the federal funds, it will just go so much more quickly."
Directors of university programs in stem cell research said that money would mean more jobs at labs, especially for students just starting their careers. Researchers and biotech entrepreneurs also expect more work. ... Though most federal grants go to academic researchers, biotech industry backers said the rule changes also could mean a windfall for private companies.
Tue, 10 Mar 2009
With soaring oratory, President Obama on Monday removed a substantial practical nuisance that has long made life difficult for stem cell researchers. He freed biomedical researchers using federal money (a vast majority) to work on more than the small number of human embryonic stem cell lines that were established before Aug. 9, 2001. In practical terms, federally financed researchers will now find it easier to do a particular category of stem cell experiments that, though still important, has been somewhat eclipsed by new advances.
Until now, to study unapproved stem cell lines, researchers had to set up separate, privately financed labs and follow laborious accounting procedures to make sure not a cent of federal grant money was used on that research. No longer. The lifting of such requirements "is just a major boon for the research here and elsewhere," said Dr. Arnold Kriegstein, a stem cell researcher at the University of California, San Francisco.
Mon, 2 Mar 2009
Scientists have developed what appears to be a safer way to create a promising alternative to embryonic stem cells, boosting hopes that such cells could sidestep the moral and political quagmire that has hindered the development of a new generation of cures.
The researchers produced the cells by using strands of genetic material, instead of potentially dangerous genetically engineered viruses, to coax skin cells into a state that appears biologically identical to embryonic stem cells.
"It's a leap forward in the safe application of these cells," said Andras Nagy of Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, who helped lead the international team of researchers that described the work in two papers being published online by the journal Nature. "We expect this to have a massive impact on this field."
Thu, 19 Feb 2009
At the National Institutes of Health, officials have started drafting guidelines they will need to start funding human embryonic stem cell research that has been off-limits for nearly eight years.
At the University of California at San Francisco, scientists are poised to dismantle the cumbersome bureaucracy they created to segregate experiments that were acceptable under the federal restrictions from studies that were not.
... But in the month since Inauguration Day, the moment they have been awaiting has not come, prompting some to ask: When will President Obama deliver on his campaign promise to lift one of the most contentious policies imposed by his predecessor?
Tue, 3 Feb 2009
Cloned human embryos express the genes required for pluripotency, but animal-human hybrids do not, according to a study published Monday in the journal Cloning and Stem Cells.
The findings pave the way for isolating human embryonic stem cells from therapeutic cloning--a landmark that has never been achieved after Woo-suk Hwang's discredited cloning experiments--but call into question the utility of interspecies embryos.
"These eggs simply do not reprogram," lead author Robert Lanza, chief scientific officer of Advanced Cell Technology in Worcester, Mass., said of the human-animal hybrid embryos. "That puts the nail on the coffin for that whole line of work."
Fri, 30 Jan 2009
For the past eight years, America's government has declined to fund new research into one of the world's most promising medical technologies: the use of human embryonic stem cells to repair or replace damaged tissue in the diseased and injured. Embryonic stem cells are special for two reasons, one scientific and one ethical. ... But it was this destruction of potential human life that disturbed George Bush and his supporters.
Barack Obama has promised to reverse the ban. When that happens, American academics will no longer have to watch enviously from the sidelines as their colleagues in Australia, Britain, China, the Czech Republic, Israel, Singapore and South Korea push ahead. But though the legislative wheels have yet to start turning, the mood has already shifted.
One sign of this shift came on January 23rd when the country's Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted permission for the first clinical trial of a therapy based on human embryonic stem cells to Geron, a firm based in Menlo Park, California. Geron was able to ask for permission, and the FDA was able to grant it, because the ban does not apply to privately financed research. America, it seems, is back in the stem-cell business.
Fri, 23 Jan 2009
In a research milestone, the federal government will allow the world's first test in people of a therapy derived from human embryonic stem cells.
Federal drug regulators said that political considerations had no role in the decision. Nevertheless, the move coincided with the inauguration of President Obama, who has pledged to remove some of the financing restrictions placed on the field by President George W. Bush.
The clearance of the clinical trial -- of a treatment for spinal cord injury -- is to be announced Friday by Geron, the biotechnology company that first applied to the Food and Drug Administration to conduct the trial last March. The F.D.A. had first said no, asking for more data.
Mon, 19 Jan 2009
A Glasgow team is to launch a major trial to assess whether stem cells can be used to treat stroke patients, the BBC has learned. They hope it will put the UK at the forefront of developing stem cell therapy for incurable disease.
Cells made from a human foetus will be injected into patients' brains. It is hoped the cells will regenerate areas damaged by stroke, and increase patients' movements and mental abilities. However, the idea has in the past been described by anti-abortion groups as a "sick proposal".
The trial, due to start in the middle of this year, will initially involve four groups of three patients over two years. Doctors are primarily testing the safety of the procedure but there is the possibility that some patients may benefit from the treatment.
Mon, 12 Jan 2009
A groundbreaking medical treatment that could dramatically enhance the body's ability to repair itself has been developed by a team of British researchers.
The therapy, which makes the body release a flood of stem cells into the bloodstream, is designed to heal serious tissue damage caused by heart attacks and even repair broken bones. It is expected to enter animal trials later this year and if successful will mark a major step towards the ultimate goal of using patients' own stem cells to regenerate damaged and diseased organs.
When the body is injured, bone marrow releases stem cells that home in on the damaged area. When they arrive, they start to grow into new tissues, such as heart cells, blood vessels, bone and cartilage.
Mon, 24 Nov 2008
(Associated Press)—When the Bush presidency ends, opponents of embryonic stem cell research will face a new political reality that many feel powerless to stop.
President-elect Barack Obama is expected to lift restrictions on federal money for such research. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., also has expressed interest in going ahead with legislation in the first 100 days of the new Congress if it still is necessary to set up a regulatory framework.
"We may lose it, but we're going to continually fight it and offer the ethical alternative," said Rep. Joe Pitts, R-Pa. "I don't know what the votes will be in the new Congress ... but it's very possible we could lose this thing."
Wed, 19 Nov 2008
LONDON (Associated Press)—Doctors have given a woman a new windpipe with tissue grown from her own stem cells, eliminating the need for anti-rejection drugs.
"This technique has great promise," said Dr. Eric Genden, who did a similar transplant in 2005 at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. That operation used both donor and recipient tissue. Only a handful of windpipe, or trachea, transplants have ever been done.
If successful, the procedure could become a new standard of treatment, said Genden, who was not involved in the research. The results were published online Wednesday in the medical journal, The Lancet.
Mon, 10 Nov 2008
Transition advisers to President-elect Barack Obama have compiled a list of about 200 Bush administration actions and executive orders that could be swiftly undone to reverse White House policies on climate change, stem cell research, reproductive rights and other issues, according to congressional Democrats, campaign aides and experts working with the transition team.
A team of four dozen advisers, working for months in virtual solitude, set out to identify regulatory and policy changes Obama could implement soon after his inauguration.
... Obama himself has signaled, for example, that he intends to reverse Bush's controversial limit on federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, a decision that scientists say has restrained research into some of the most promising avenues for defeating a wide array of diseases, such as Parkinson's.
Mon, 13 Oct 2008
A former member of one of the most prominent stem-cell research teams has been found guilty of falsifying data.
New Scientist explains why the group's work is important, looks at where the findings stand now, and asks: what are the implications for the rest of stem cell biology?
Why is this research team so well known? The team, led by Catherine Verfaillie of the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, claimed to have isolated a rare type of cell from bone marrow that could develop into most, if not all, of the body's tissues. Previously, only embryonic stem cells (ESCs) had been shown to be this versatile.
Thu, 9 Oct 2008
Scientists have converted cells from human testes into stem cells that grew into muscle, nerve cells and other kinds of tissue, according to a study published Wednesday in the online edition of Nature.
The stem cells offer another potential alternative to embryonic stem cells for researchers who aim to treat diseases such as diabetes and Parkinson's by replacing damaged or malfunctioning cells with custom-grown replacements.
Scientists have also derived flexible adult stem cells from skin, amniotic fluid and menstrual blood. The new cells were created from sperm-making cells obtained from testicular biopsies of 22 men. They are theoretically superior to traditional embryonic stem cells because they can be obtained directly from male patients and used to grow replacement tissue that their bodies won't reject, Sabine Conrad of the University of Tuebingen in Germany and her colleagues wrote.
Thu, 9 Oct 2008
The University of Minnesota has concluded that falsified data were used in a 2001 article published by one of its researchers on adult stem cells. The school is asking that the article be retracted.
The conclusion follows an 18-month investigation into research published by stem-cell expert Dr. Catherine Verfaillie. The investigation clears Verfaillie of misconduct but points to a former graduate student, Dr. Morayma Reyes, who is now an assistant professor at the University of Washington.
The university blames Verfaillie for "inadequate training and oversight," and says it has asked for a retraction of the published article, which appeared in the journal Blood. Reyes said it was an honest error and there was no intent to deceive.
Mon, 22 Sep 2008
With their field riding a wave of discovery and change, researchers, financiers and policy-makers from around the world [arrived Saturday] for the 2008 World Stem Cell Summit in Madison, the city where James Thomson started a scientific revolution almost a decade ago.
If any need confirmation of the rapidly changing landscape, it should come with this announcement planned for the summit: The two Madison companies co-founded by Thomson have merged and shifted their focus to products involving non-embryonic stem cells.
In 1998, Thomson was the first person to isolate human embryonic stem cells, launching a national debate and making Madison a major destination for stem cell research. Last November, Thomson's team and a separate group from Japan made history and suggested a new direction for stem cells by reprogramming human skin cells back to an embryonic state.
Fri, 12 Sep 2008
Much of medical research is a hard slog for small reward. But, just occasionally, a finding revolutionises the field and cracks open a whole range of diseases. The underlying biology of that scourge of modern humanity, cancer, looks as though it is about to yield its main secret.
If it does, it is possible that the headline-writer's cliché, "a cure for cancer," will come true over the years, just as the antibiotics that followed from the discovery of bacteria swept away previously lethal infectious diseases.
The discovery—or, rather, the hypothesis that is now being tested—is that cancers grow from stem cells in the way that healthy organs do. A stem cell is one that, when it divides, produces two unequal daughters. One remains a stem cell while the other multiplies into the sorts of cells required by its organ. This matters for cancer because, at the moment, all the cells of a tumour are seen as more or less equivalent.
Thu, 11 Sep 2008
Reverting adult cells to an embryonic state without creating embryos is a tricky business.
The diagnosis is not good; the patient will need surgery. So the doctor plucks a hair from the patient's head and tells her to come back in a few weeks. When the patient returns, the surgeon patches up the faulty organ by implanting healthy cells generated in the lab from the patient's hair follicle. After a few months, the new cells have integrated into the organ and the woman's symptoms recede. A year later, she's healthy and living a normal life.
This is the scenario that stem cell researchers hope will be commonplace 10 or 15 years from now. A patient's own cells—perhaps taken from hair follicles, blood or skin—would be transformed into cells of the heart, brain or other organs. Doctors would then transplant these converted cells into the afflicted organ to treat the illness, whether it's multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, heart failure or diabetes.
Wed, 10 Sep 2008
Stem cells' powers of self-renewal, immortality and potential for medicine inspire those who study them. But progress toward understanding them has been slow—it took 20 years just to figure out how to grow embryonic stem cells in the laboratory.
More recently, though, molecular techniques have enabled swift movement on two fronts. Researchers are starting to see how stem cells can replenish their numbers while giving rise to specialized cells.
Others are learning how to turn adult skin cells into cells more like their embryonic ancestors. These advances offer hope that scientists will soon harness the capabilities of stem cells, at last fulfilling the cells' promise.
Thu, 28 Aug 2008
Scientists have transformed one type of fully developed adult cell directly into another inside a living animal, a startling advance that could lead to cures for a variety of illnesses and sidestep the political and ethical quagmires associated with embryonic stem cell research.
Through a series of painstaking experiments involving mice, the Harvard biologists pinpointed three crucial molecular switches that, when flipped, completely convert a common cell in the pancreas into the more precious insulin-producing ones that diabetics need to survive.
The experiments, detailed online yesterday in the journal Nature, raise the prospect that patients suffering from not only diabetes but also heart disease, strokes and many other ailments could eventually have some of their cells reprogrammed to cure their afflictions without the need for drugs, transplants or other therapies.
Fri, 8 Aug 2008
WASHINGTON (Reuters)—U.S. stem cell experts have produced a library of the powerful cells using ordinary skin and bone marrow cells from patients, and said Thursday they would share them freely with other researchers.
They used a new method to re-program ordinary cells so they look and act like embryonic stem cells—the master cells of the body with the ability to produce any type of tissue or blood cell.
The new cells come from patients with 10 incurable genetic diseases and conditions, including Parkinson's, the paralyzing disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, juvenile diabetes and Down's Syndrome. Writing in the journal Cell, the team at Harvard Medical School and Children's Hospital in Boston said the point is not yet to treat anyone, but to get as many researchers as possible experimenting with these cells in lab dishes to better understand the diseases.
Thu, 31 Jul 2008
Researchers are one step closer to reprogramming skin cells into tailor-made, healthy replacements for diseased cells.
Applying the technique first developed by James Thomson of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University, scientists at Harvard and Columbia universities reported online Thursday in the journal Science that they had turned skin cells from two elderly patients with the neurodegenerative disorder amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) into motor neurons, the nerve cells that become damaged in ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease.
This is the first time that scientists have coaxed embryonic-like cells from adult patients suffering from a genetic-based disease, then induced the cells to form the specific cell types that would be needed to study and treat the disease.
Wed, 18 Jun 2008
The funding, which would build on existing tax credits and grant programs, would be used to create a biotechnology center, finance capital projects and make equity investments in start-up companies.
O'Malley, a Democrat, said the money could transform Maryland—where the human genome was mapped in 2001—into a global leader in personalized medicine, or the use of genetics to tailor treatments.
Tue, 17 Jun 2008
The research, conducted on laboratory mice, is years away from practical therapies for human beings. Nevertheless, this latest work, published online Sunday by the journal Nature, provides insight into how scientists are dissecting, step-by-step, the processes that govern how stem cells work.
A goal of such research is to find ways to intervene and control these molecular switches—to improve healing and perhaps slow the effects of aging.
Fri, 13 Jun 2008
A special task force set up to create guidelines for bringing stem cell therapies from bench to bedside will be accepting public commentary on the guidelines, continuing until this fall, the group announced [Thursday] at the annual meeting of the International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR) in Philadelphia.
The task force's primary goals are to create guidelines that will help basic researchers address the regulatory challenges of stem cell therapies. In particular, the task force of more than 30 members from 13 countries will address issues of standardizing stem cell populations...
Fri, 30 May 2008
Speaking at a science summit that opens this week's first World Science Festival, the expert panel of scientists, and audience members, agreed that the United States is losing stature because of a perceived high-level disdain for science.
They cited U.S. officials and others questioning scientific evidence of climate change, the reluctance to federally fund stem cell research, and some U.S. officials casting doubt on evolution as examples that have damaged America's international standing.
Tue, 20 May 2008
Any insights that they might offer into diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's, too, are probably years away. The outcome of last night's vote, however, is still a watershed for British science. First, it clears the way for experiments that could advance understanding of several devastating conditions, and the prospects of using all types of stem cell, embryonic and adult, in therapies.
Thu, 17 Apr 2008
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Every weekday, Sigma Xi, the Scientific Research Society, selects a set of significant and interesting science-related news articles from the mainstream media. The news stories featured here are selected from Sigma Xi's daily Science in the News e-mail. http://www.mediaresource.org/news.instruct.shtml
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