Stem cell hope for MS sufferers

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Chicago: Stem cell injections may be able to help reverse the crippling effects of multiple sclerosis, a study published today says.

Four out of five adults in the early stages of MS who were injected with stem cells taken from their bone marrow saw an improvement in symptoms after three years, while the condition of the remainer stabalised.

MS is one of the most common disabling neurological conditions,and caused by damage to the myelin – a protective sheath surrounding nerve fibres and results in problems with sensation and muscle control.

The study, at the Feinberg School of Medicine, was designed to see whether injections of stem cells from bone marrow would migrate to parts of the nervous system damaged by MS and repair them.

Among the 21 men and women in the trial,who were aged between 20 and 53, 17 had improved on a scale of disability after three years. None of them reported a worse score.
The report in The Lancet Neurology medical journal today says the technique suppresses cells that cause damage and effectively ‘resets’ the immune system.
Study leader Dr Richard Burt of Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago, said: ‘It is a feasible procedure that not only seems to prevent neurological progression, but also appears to reverse neurological disability.’
And a further trial involving 100 patients is to get under way soon.

Scientists reverse brain defects in animal models

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Tel Aviv: Brain birth defects have been successfully reversed, using stem cells, in animal models by scientists at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Neural and behavioral birth defects, such as learning disabilities, are particularly difficult to treat, compared to defects with known cause factors such as Parkinson¬ís or Alzheimer¬ís disease, because the prenatal teratogen ¬Ė the substances that cause the abnormalities — act diffusely in the fetal brain, resulting in multiple defects.

Prof. Joseph Yanai and his team at the Hebrew university-Hadassah Medical School were able to overcome this obstacle in laboratory tests with mice by using mouse embryonic neural stem cells. These cells migrate in the brain, search for the deficiency that caused the defect, and then differentiate into becoming the cells needed to repair the damage.

The stem cells may develop into any type of cell in the body, however at a certain point they begin to commit to a general function, such as neural stem cells, destined to play a role in the brain/ nervous system. At more advanced developmental stages, the neural stem cells take on an even more specific role as neural or glial (supporting) cells within the brain/ nervous system.

In the researchers’ animal model, they were able to reverse learning deficits in the offspring of pregnant mice who were exposed to organophosphate (a pesticide) and heroin. This was done by direct neural stem cell transplantation into the brains of the offspring. The recovery was almost one hundred percent, as proved in behavioral tests in which the treated animals improved to normal behavior and learning scores after the transplantation. On the molecular level, brain chemistry of the treated animals was also restored to normal.

The researchers went one step further. Puzzled by the stem cells’ ability to work even in those cases where most of them died out in the host brain, the scientists went on to discover that the neural stem cells succeed before they die in inducing the host brain itself to produce large number of stem cells which repair the damage. This discovery, finally settling a major question in stem cell research, evoked great interest and was published earlier this year in one of the leading journals in the field, Molecular Psychiatry.

The scientists are now in the midst of developing procedures for the least invasive method for administering the neural stem cells, which is probably via blood vessels, thus making the therapy practical and clinically feasible.

Normally, stem cells are derived from individuals genetically different from the patient to be transplanted, and therefore the efficacy of the treatment suffers from immunological rejection. For this reason, another important avenue of the ongoing study, toward the same goals, will be to eliminate the immunological rejection of the transplant, which will become possible by taking cells from the patient¬ís own body — from a place where they are easily obtained — by manipulating them to return to their stem cell phase of development, and then transplanting them into the patient¬ís brain via the blood stream. One important advantage of this approach will be to eliminate the controversial ethical issues involved in the use of embryo stem cells.

The research on the project has been supported by the US National Institutes of Health, the US-Israel Binational Science Foundation and the Israel anti-drug authorities.

Stem stell advance voted scientific discovery of 2008

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London: A new advance in harvesting stem cells from adults which has the potential to cure many of the diseases of ageing, has been hailed as the scientific discovery of the year.

The advance, which involves turning back the clock on adult tissue and “reprogramming” it with the properties of stem cells, could lead to new treatments for diseases including Parkinson’s and diabetes.

The process allows for a potentially limitless numbers of “induced pluripotent stem” (IPS) cells to be made to order from a sick patient’s cells, meaning they do not risk rejection from the immune system when transplanted.

The technique does not require stem calls to be harvested from embryos, making it more acceptable to religious groups.

Dr Robert Coontz of the journal Science, which placed cellular reprogramming top of its list of the biggest scientific breakthroughs of 2008, said it “opened a new field of biology almost overnight and holds out hope of life-saving medical advances”.

Three teams working in Japan and the United States made major advances with the technique over the last 12 months.

“When Science’s writers and editors set out to pick this year’s biggest advances, we looked for research that answers major questions about how the universe works and that paves the way for future discoveries,” Dr Coontz said.

Runner-up was the first direct observation of planets in distant star systems, which required complex measures to blot out the light from their parent stars.

Other advances on the list included improved technology to map the genome ¬Ė the human genetic code ¬Ė and new calculations of the weight of the world.

Science’s Top 10 breakthroughs of 2008

1) Cellular reprogramming

2) Observation of planets around stars

3) Insights into “good” fat

4) Expanding the catalogue of cancer genes

5) Most detailed video of a developing embryo

6) Faster, cheaper genome sequencing

7) Watching proteins at work

8) Industrial-scale energy storage

9) High-temperature superconductors

10) Calculating the weight of the world

Stem cells used to grow frog eye

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New york: In an experiment at the SUNY Upstate Medical University, in Syracuse, NY researchers have grown frog eyes from stem cells.

Researcher Michael Zuber and his colleagues took the cells from frog eggs.Then got them to become eyes, by genetically modifying them, inserting transcription factors (proteins that trigger expression of other genes) which are known to regulate eye growth and development.

The scientists then implanted the cells into tadpoles missing an eye. The cells properly developed and differentiated into all seven types of retinal cells and appeared to have the proper structure. Additionally the new eye attached properly to the brain. In swimming tests the eye was shown to be working as implanted tadpoles only swam to the white side of the tank (normal behavior), while blind ones would also swim to the black side of the tank.

Would the technique work on mammals? The answer is maybe — frogs naturally have a much easier type regrowing tissues than humans, in fact they can be triggered to regrow legs and many amphibians can regrow lost tails. Triggering proper differentiation in mammals is much more complex.

Nonetheless, Professor Zuber hopes that chemicals will be found from the research that can activate transcription factors in humans. Even if a full eye could not be grown, this could help people with retinal disorders regenerate ocular tissue.

In a separate, but perhaps equally intriguing study performed by Sujeong Jang of Chonnam National University, in South Korea, and his colleagues, the researchers were able to restore the hearing of deaf guinea pigs by implanting them with human neural stem cells obtained from human bone marrow.

Scientists grow windpipe to renew a woman’s life

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London: Scientists have used stem cells to grow part of a windpipe which was later implanted into a woman whose own trachea had been destroyed by tuberculosis.

The breakthrough procedure, which happened in Barcelona, Spain, is described in online in the British medical journal, The Lancet.

Claudia Castillo, 30, a mother of two living in Barcelona had been suffering from tuberculosis for years. The disease destroyed part of her trachea, the windpipe connected to the lungs. In March, her left lung collapsed and Castillo needed regular hospital visits to clear her airways which left her unable to take care of her children.

Doctors had planned to remove her entire left lung but instead, Dr. Paolo Macchiarini, head of thoracic surgery at Barcelona’s Hospital Clinic, proposed a windpipe transplant instead. He was the one performing the surgery on Castillo.

With the help of a new technique developed at the University of Padua, Italy, scientists removed all the cells from the trachea of a 51-year old donor by essentially scrubbing it clean with a high-tech detergent solution.

Meanwhile, doctors at the University of Bristol, in England took a sample of Castillo¬ís bone marrow from her hip. They used the bone marrow’s stem cells to create millions of cartilage and tissue cells to cover and line the windpipe. Then doctors at the University of Milan used a device to put the new cartilage and tissue onto the windpipe, which was transplanted into Castillo in June.

The surgery was a real success, the authors reported.

¬ďWithin four days after transplantation, the graft was almost indistinguishable from adjacent normal bronchi,¬Ē Dr. Macchiarini said. After a month, a biopsy of the site proved that the transplant had developed its own blood supply. Also there was no sign of rejection after four months.

¬ďThe possibility of avoiding the removal of my entire lung and, instead, replacing only my diseased bronchus with this tissue engineering process represented a unique chance for me to return to a normal life that I am now enjoying with my children and family,¬Ē Castillo said in a news release.

Now the doctors believe that ¬ďthis first experience represents a milestone in medicine and hope that it will unlock the door for a safe and recipient-tailored transplantation of the airway in adults and children.¬Ē

However, Castillo needs to be closely monitored, as it can take up to three years to know if the windpipe’s cartilage structure s solid and won’t fall apart. She takes no drugs to suppress her immune system, a standard approach to prevent rejection when foreign donor organs are used in a transplant. She is able to walk 500 meters without stopping, climb stairs and take care of her children, Johan, 15, and Isabella, four.

Stem cell cure for stroke in five years?

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Boston: Stem cell injections have potential to repair the human brain following a stroke, according to US doctors.

Gary Steinberg at Stanford University has led the team of researchers who experimented with the brain cells of rats. They used embryonic stem cells and mixed them with natural chemicals, including growth factors.They then placed them into brain cells in hopes of helping stroke patients.

They tested the injections of stem cells on rats that had strokes to come up with their results.

They found that within two months they saw significant improvement on the part of the rats. It is expected that within five years the stroke victims’ brain damage would be fully recovered.

The authors wrote ¬ďThis is the first report demonstrating that the transplantation of human neural stem cells derived from human embryonic stem cells can improve neurologic behavior after experimental use.¬Ē

Steinberg stated that they hope to test this out in human clinical trials within five years. ¬ďHuman embryonic stem cell-based therapies have the potential to treat this complex disease.¬Ē

Scientists closer to growing tiny blood vessels

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Boston: Scientists in the US are a closer to creating artificial blood vessels after growing tiny tubes out of stem cells.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology team were able to create cells that formed tubes along a grooved template.

Now they plan to produce capillaries which could be tested in animals, according to a report in the magazine Advanced Materials.

Researchers have already managed to make larger blood vessels , but the creation of tiny capillaries is far more difficult.

The US scientists claim to have made progress towards this, using a “nanoscale” template into which stem cells called endothelial progenitor cells are placed.

The cells detected the grooves and elongated themselves along them, aligning themselves in the same direction.

Adding a gel made of growth factors allowed the cells to grow outwards, forming a series of tiny tubes running parallel to each other.

While these tubes are not yet ready to be put inside a human body, the researchers say they are “very excited” by their potential.

The research was led by Professor Robert Langer, who said: “It provides a new way to create nano-based systems which we hope will provide a novel way to some day engineer tissues in the human body.”

The team now plan to develop capillary tubes which can be inserted into animals to see if they work properly.

The technology may also have other uses such as preventing unwanted growth in cancer and tumours.

US company offers storage of stem cells from menstral blood

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US company Cryo-Cell has launched a bank designed for women who want to store their own stem cells, taken from the menstrual blood, as a future health insurance.

Stem cells can be obtained from numerous sources, including the blood, bone marrow and embryos. And a number of private companies, including Richard Branson’s Virgin Health Bank, already offer umbilical cord blood banking for about ¬£1,500.

Cryo-Cell charges a sum of $499 (¬£238) for processing and a year’s storage of menstrual stem cells.

The woman is sent a collection kit in the post, comprising a cup, collection tubes and a prepaid return shipment to Cryo-Cell.

Menstrual stem cells – which form in the womb lining whichis then shed during a woman’s period – have the advantage of being easily harvested in a painless, non-invasive manner as compared to some other stem cell sources such as bone marrow.

And like other stem cells, early lab work suggests they too have the potential to turn into many other types of cell, including heart, nerve, bone, cartilage and fat, the company claims.

Spokesman for the company, stem cell expert Dr Stephen Noga, director of the Cellular Therapeutics Program, at Sinai Hospital of Baltimore, said: “Even one menstrual cycle has the potential to produce millions of stem cells.

“Current research is very preliminary, but given their properties, we believe these menstrual stem cells demonstrate compelling promise to transform regenerative medicine in the coming years.”

Cryo-Cell says on its website that “realistically, it may take several years for these menstrual stem cells to be developed into potential widely-available commercial therapies”.

Stem cells found in male testicles

New York: United States researchers have come up with a novel use for men’s testicles, which they say are a rich source of stem cells and so could be transformed into a wide range of tissue types to help fight disease.

The scientists say they have managed to isolate stem cells from the testes of male
mice, extract them and reprogram them into blood vessels, heart cells and tissue.

If the results are reproduced in humans, the technology could help get around the ethical concerns associated with the use of embryonic stem cells and could be used to help treat Parkinson’s, heart disease, strokes and cancer.

Shahin Rafii from Weill Cornell Medical College in New York whose research has been pubished in the journal Nature said: “Testes are designed to generate a lot of sperm and they have these germ cells.

“So germ cells are designed also in a way to give us two different tissues as well so we were able to get a germ cell from testes and instruct them to become other tissues.”

So it is a possible breakthrough, albeit somewhere down the track, for men. But Dr Rafii says women need not give up hope.

“In women also this stem cell exists but the number is very, very low and we hope that eventually we can be able to get these stem cells from their ovaries as well,” he said.

“Also another point – some men can give stem cells to compatible, genetically compatible females so it still can be applied for women as well.”

Stem cell experiment may help lung disease sufferers

Stockholm: Lung cells grown from mouse embryo stem cells have been successfully implanted into the lungs of mice, a breakthrough that could one day help humans with sick lungs, say researchers.

The experiment was conducted by a team of scientists from London’s Imperial College and is a “global breakthrough” that “opens up exciting new horizons for the treatment of lung disease,” a statement from the European Respiratory Society’s (ERS) annual congress in Stockholm said.

In the experiment, the researchers injected lung cells cultivated from embryonic stem cells into the mice’s lungs.

Two days later, they killed the rodents and found that the lung cells had lodged themselves in the animals’ lungs, demonstrating the “high degree of specialisation of these cells, which attach only to their target organ, ie. the lungs,” the statement said.

Embryonic stem cell therapy has given rise to hopes for the treatment of many conditions and could one day help repair organs, such as a heart damaged by a heart attack.

Experiments suggest stem cells could also yield effective treatments for Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease, spinal cord injury, diabetes, osteoarthritis, and numerous other illnesses.

But lung diseases have not yet benefited from stem cell research.

One of the great challenges of cell biology is figuring out how stem cells remain unspecialised or “pluripotent,” maintaining the capacity to become virtually any type of cell found in blood, nerves and individual organs.

“The lung is a very difficult target for tissue engineering researchers … especially since it is an extremely complex organ and contains a large variety of cells, some of which have a very slow renewal rate,” researcher Sile Lane of Imperial College said in the statement.

The ERS said the capacity to “regenerate lungs damaged by disease or accident would help tens of millions of patients.”

While the study sparked “great hopes”, the British researchers noted that human medical applications were “still a long way off.”

According to the ERS, respiratory diseases are the main cause of death in the world. In Europe, respiratory diseases cost society more than 100 billion euros (140 billion dollars) a year.

A total of 15,000 clinical doctors, researchers, physiotherapists and medical and pharmaceutical industry workers from more than 100 countries are attending the congress in Stockholm, which concludes on Wednesday.

Surgeons grow breasts from stem cells

A “natural” form of breast enhancement that uses stem cells and fat from a woman’s own body may soon be offered by cosmetic surgery clinics.

Women in Japan have already had breast enlargements using the technique in trials. The breasts which are smoother and more natural are made from a person’s own stem cells extracted from their fatty tissue – usually from the thighs. The stem cells grow to become part of the breast.

The process has already been given approval in Germany which means, according to European law, it is legal in the whole of Europe including the UK. As well as cosmetic surgery the procedure has the potential to be used for victims of breast cancer and other disfigurements.

Stem cells are already being used to repair hearts and other organs in experimental procedures. It also has the potential for degenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s Alzheimer’s, muscle wasting and motor neurone disease.

The new breast augmentation uses an extraction method developed by Californian company, Cytori, which is able to extract and concentrate cells in hours making it more available to more people. The process concentrates the number of stem cells.

This particular procedure has been pioneered by Tokyo surgeon, Kotaro Yoshimura, a surgeon at Tokyo University medical school.

It gets over current disadvantages of silicon and water implants which can leak. Another method which uses fat alone does not last as the cells die.

Israeli scientists grow adult stem cells to cure heart disease

Israeli scientists have successfully grown powerful adult stem cells from those circulating in the blood and returned them to revitalise the hearts of ailing patients.

The details of the clinical trial will be announced at the American Heart Association Scientific Meeting in Chicago later this week. The results give new hope to seriously ill heart patients.

Members of the AHA will be given an abstract of clinical trial results that conclusively demonstrate the efficacy of adult stem cell treatment for end stage cardiac patients.

TheraVitae, the acknowledged leader in stem cell research and development is to present recently concluded trial results that provide dramatic data revealing the improvement in the lives of seriously ill patients.

The founder of Theravitae, Don Margolis, said that a mere half pint of each patient’s blood was extracted in Bangkok and flown to their laboratory in Israel. There, the few adult stem cells were harvested into millions of such cells. A week later those infinitely more powerful cells were injected non-surgically into the patient’s cardio-vascular system.

Standard cardiac measurements and the patients’ own words give eloquent testimony to the positive outcomes of harvesting stem cells from these seriously ill cardiac patients.

Margolis is upbeat that patients can receive the best hospital care available anywhere in the world and a significant number can then return to a new, more normal and healthy life. These findings give new hope to sufferers via clinically proven mainstream medical methods.

About VesCell – A Natural Treatment for Heart Disease

The body has natural ways of healing itself and the cardiovascular system is no exception. Angiogenic Cell Precursors (ACPs) originate in bone marrow and then circulate in the blood vessels. To manufacture VesCell, TheraVitae expands a small number of ACPs harvested from about 250cc of blood into a therapeutic quantity. VesCell is injected either through a coronary artery via catheter, or during surgery, directly into the heart muscle.

A key aspect of VesCell therapy is the advanced cell isolation and expansion technique that allows for the ACPs to be harvested from blood collected in a procedure similar to a common blood donation. VesCell uses a patient’s own adult stem cells to treat Heart Disease and is a viable therapeutic possibility for heart patients without any other treatment option.

Additional Information on Stem Cell Therapy:

VesCell Website: www.vescell.com
Stem Cell Therapy Blog:
About TheraVitae

TheraVitae is a private, multinational company focused on using stem cells from the patient’s own blood in order to treat a variety of disorders, especially cardiovascular diseases. The company has already developed a proprietary stem cell technology ‘VesCell’ that is currently being used by hospitals in Thailand to treat patients with Heart Disease. TheraVitae is based in Bangkok, Thailand, Kiryat Weizmann, Israel, Toronto, Canada, Singapore, Taipei, Taiwan and Hong Kong.

TheraVitae Corporate Website: www.theravitae.com
TheraVitae Thailand
36/72 PS Tower, 21/Fl., Sukhumvit 21
Klongtoey Nua, Bangkok 10110
Phone: +662-664-4290/3
Fax: +662-664-42-89

TheraVitae Israel
7 Pinhas Sapir Street
P.O. Box 4049, Ness Ziona
74140, Israel
Phone: +972-8-9409170
Fax: +972-8-9409167

Baby cord stem cells should be banked for all, says leading doctor

Manchester: UK hospital maternity units should not encourage commercial banking of umbilical cord blood, argues a senior doctor Instead, women should be encouraged to donate altruistically to public blood banks.

Umbilical cord blood is rich in stem cells that can be used to treat diseases such as childhood leukaemia. Bone marrow is used for this purpose, but cord blood is cheaper and easier to obtain and less likely to trigger a harmful immune response or rejection in the recipient.

For these reasons interest has been growing in banking cord blood as insurance against future disease, but this has worrying implications for UK’s National Health Service and little chance of benefit, says Dr Leroy Edozien, a Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist at St Mary¬ís Hospital, Manchester in the current issue of the British Medical Journal

Cord blood banks generally fall into two groups. Public banks collect cord blood which has been altruistically donated. The blood is used to treat unrelated recipients or is collected from families with a known genetic disease that is treatable by blood stem cell transplantation.

Since 1996, the NHS has been banking donated cord blood through designated public banks run by the National Blood Service and there is universal approval of the storage of this blood.

In contrast, commercial (private) banks operate collection and storage of a baby¬ís cord blood for later use by that person or their siblings should they develop an illness. This ¬Ďjust-in-case¬í collection has been criticised by numerous medical bodies and is not recommended.

Scientific arguments against commercial cord blood banking include the chances of the blood being used are very small, the alternatives such as bone marrow, and the speculative claims about how cord blood could be used to treat disease.

But, whatever the scientific merits or demerits, commercial blood banking also raises serious resource, legal, and ethical issues for NHS maternity units, warns the author. He says the collection of cord blood compromises the care of mothers at a critical time

Taking the arguments for and against into consideration, the balance is tilted strongly against NHS trusts collecting cord blood for commercial banking. It should therefore be NHS policy not to facilitate umbilical cord blood collection by its staff, he concludes.

Gene trigger for stem cell shut down in ageing

Biologists have uncovered a gene that shuts down stem cells as people age.

They say the gene known as p16-Ink4a gradually reduces the ability of stem cells to proliferate, thus reducing the risk of cancer.

The discovery, reported in the scientific magazine Nature, was made in an experiment on mice, but the scientists believe that it applies to humans too.

The finding indicates that many degenerative diseases of ageing are caused by an active shutting down of the stem cells that renew the body’s various tissues and are not just a passive disintegration of tissues under daily wear and tear.

Senior author Dr Norman E Sharpless of the University of North Carolina said: ¬ďI don¬ít think aging is a random process ¬ó it¬ís a program, an anticancer program.¬Ē

The finding that stem cells are switched off with age is not encouraging for those who wish to use a patient’s own adult stem cells to treat disease.

The gene plays a central role in the body’s defenses against cancer, and it produces two quite different proteins that interact with the two principal systems for deciding whether a cell will be allowed to divide.

One of the proteins had also been noted to increase substantially with age. The cells of a 70-year-old produce 10 times as much of the Ink4 protein as those of a 20-year-old.

In the experiment the scientists genetically engineered a mouse strain with the gene knocked out. They found that the mouse cells had an extra ability to proliferate when the Ink4 protein was not present. At the same time the mice were highly prone to cancer which they developed as early as a year.

The researchers assume, but have not yet proved, that the increasing amounts of Ink4 as a person ages will thrust the stem cells into senescence, meaning that they can never divide again. The evolutionary purpose is evidently to avert the risk that a damaged stem cell might evade controls and proliferate into a tumor.

One implication is that therapists who hope to increase longevity have to tackle a system that may be hard to cheat. An intervention that reduces Ink4 production to prevent the age-related decline of stem cells will also increase the risk of cancer.

Dr Sharpless said that so far the only intervention known to increase lifespan was a calorically restricted diet which also reduced cancer, at least in laboratory mice. The reason, he said, is probably because such diets reduce cell division, the prime source of cancer risk.

For cell therapists, the dual activity of Ink4 may be ¬ďa hard box to get out of,¬Ē he said, unless they use cells that are somehow much younger than the patient.

Some proposals for stem cell therapy with adult stem cells envisage taking a patient’s stem cells, making them divide in the laboratory and putting them back in the patient to build new tissue.

The researchers said they did not yet know what stimulus makes cells increase their production of the Ink4 protein as a person grows older. Their suspicion is that the usual factors implicated in aging like mutation and oxidative damage to tissues would turn out to have a role in making cells produce more Ink4.

British scientists warn on stem cell treatments abroad

London: British scientists have warned against the use of “unproven” stem cell treatments at foreign clinics.

Fourteen medical charities have signed a statement warning of the dangers of such untested therapies.

Signatories include Professor Colin Blakemore, chairman of the UK Stem Cell Funders Forum, Lord Patel, chairman of the steering committee for the UK Stem Cell Bank, and Simon Gillespie, chief executive of the MS Society.

Many people with serious chronic illnesses such as Parkinson’s Disease and multiple sclerosis are paying substantial sums for potential cures using stem cells, although the experts say there is no evidence that they can be cured.

The experts say these patients put themselves at risk of infection and even cancer as a result.

Stem cell research is still in its earliest days. And in the UK body parts are only used for certain cancer treatments, skin grafts, immune system disand cornea.

Treatments which can cost thousands of pounds involve injecting cells at various points of the body where they are said to replace and repair damaged tissue and patients claim they have been life transforming.

Regulatory Bodies

Human Genetics Commission – The UK Government’s advisory body on new developments in human genetics and how they impact on individual lives. Gives the Government advice on human genetics with a particular focus on the social, ethical and legal issues. One of its key roles is to promote debate and to listen to what the public and our stakeholders have to say.

The Commission is chaired by Baroness Helena Kennedy QC and is made up of twenty-four members including experts in genetics, ethics, law and consumer affairs. It also has a Consultative Panel of people who have direct experience of living with genetic disorders and who act as a sounding board for reports and recommendations. Human Genetics Commission

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority is the UK’s independent regulator overseeing safe and appropriate practice in fertility treatment and embryo research.

It licences and monitors centres carrying out IVF, donor insemination and human embryo research. We provide a range of detailed information for patients, professionals and Government. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority

GeneWatch UK is a not-for-profit group that monitors developments in genetic technologies from a public interest, environmental protection and animal welfare perspective. GeneWatch believes people should have a voice in whether or how these technologies are used and campaigns for safeguards for people, animals and the environment. It works on all aspects of genetic technologies – from GM crops and foods to genetic testing of humans. GeneWatchUK

The BioIndustry Association , the trade association for innovative enterprises in the UK’s bioscience sector. As the voice of UK bioscience, it is active in representing the sector and its needs to audiences, from patient groups to regional, national and pan-European governments. The BioIndustry Association

Stem cells extracted from living embryos

New York: Scientists have developed a technique for extracting human embryonic cells without destroying embryos, according to a report in the magazine Nature.

The method appears to get round a basic ethical objection to stem cell research and is the same procedure used in IVF when one cells is removed to analyse for genetic diseases.

Dr Robert Lanza, vice president of US biotech group Advanced Cell Technology and leader of the tema involved said there is no rational reason left to oppose this research.

Researchers from Advanced Cell Technology have generated stem cell cultures by plucking individual cells from newly fertilized embryos, which are not harmed.

The new technique would be performed on an embryo when it is two days old, after the fertilized egg has divided into eight cells, known as blastomeres.

In fertility clinics, one of these blastomeres can be removed for diagnostic tests, such as for Down’s syndrome, and the embryo, now with seven cells, can be implanted in the mother if no defect is found.

Up to now, stem cells have been derived from slightly older embryos. Harvesting these cells destroys the embryo.

Last year, Lanza reported that embryonic stem cell cultures could be derived from the blastomeres of mice. He now says the same can be done with human blastomeres.

Hardline critics of embryo research, however, are unlikely to accept the manipulation even of a single embryonic cell, which they say could theoretically become a human being.

US President George W. Bush last month vetoed a bill that would have required the federal government to fund experiments with newly created human embryonic stem cells.

Stem cell hope for stroke victims

New York: scientists may have discovered a new way to use stem cells to make the brain repair itself after a stroke, which brings much hope for stroke victims.

The research, by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke in Maryland, was published on Sunday in Nature magazine.

Rats, whose brains had been starved of oxygen to simulate having a stroke, were studied by scientists. By stimulating a brain receptor known as “notch,” researchers were able to promote new stem cell growth in the brains of the rats, thus partially reversing the effect of the stroke simulation.

The discovery will raise hopes for new treatments for stroke, using the body’s own stem cells to aid healing.

Other treatments using embryonic stem cells have been restricted because implanted cells come under attack from the body’s immune system.

The researchers wrote: “New cell therapies based on embryonic stem (ES) cells are supported by work in animal models of human disease.

They are difficult to implement, however, because it is hard to grow tissue-specific precursors in the laboratory and it is difficult to deliver them to diffuse disease sites in the body without stimulating an immune response.”

Brain stem stells may restore walking ability

Toronto: Spinal-cord damage resulting in paralysis may soon be treated with brain stem cells allowing patients to walk again, according to a new Canadian study recently published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

Although the study has been carried out on rats, human research is predicted to begin in five to ten years.

Neurosurgeon, Dr. Michael Fehlings, of the Krembil Neuroscience Center at Toronto Western Research Institute led a team that injected stem cells extracted from mouse brains to the injury site of paralysed rats with spinal injuries.

The rats were also given a drug cocktail including growth hormone, cyclosporine to prevent rejection and the anti-inflammatory minocycline, which researchers believe attributed to the success of the therapy by reducing the spinal cord inflammation and cell damage and boosting the survival of stem cells.

Researchers found that rats receiving the stem cells restored their walking ability although the injections of stem cells could not completely restore the lost capability.

Fehling said the team had not aimed to regrow the spinal cord but to attempt replacement of one cell type.

The type of cells used in the study was neural precursor cells, which are extracted from mouse brains and ready to turn into a central nervous system cell. Researchers said 30 percent of the stem cells could survive the t ransplant process and help the recipients repair the spinal cord damage.

The researchers said it was necessary for the recipients’ to have viable nerve fibres for the stem cell therapy to work. The stem cells injected in the spinal cord work to develop myelin, the insulating layer around nerve fibers that transmits signals to the brain. About 50 percent of patients have the nerve fibers intact when they get injured. The sooner the therapy is administered also assists in a more effective outcome.

The treatment may as well be applicable to humans, according to the researchers, because the stem cells used for the injection may be extracted from the patients’ own brains using a biopsy needle. Stem cells can be extracted from brains other people donate.

Stem cells are present in many parts of the body such as bone marrow, fetuses, embryos, u mbilical cord b lood and even t eeth. Stem cell research is a hot issue because much of the research would involve fetuses and or embryos, which draws objections from many people. But researchers said the neural precursor cells used are adult stem cells that only help produce nerve cells.

Nose stem cells may be used to repair spinal cord damage

London: British scientists are developing a technique to aid paralysed patients to walk using stem cells to repair spinal cord damage. It may also benefit stroke victims and allow some blind and deaf people to see and hear.

It takes self-regenerating stem cells from nerves in the lining of the nose and injects them into damaged points in the spine.

The cells provide a bridge enabling spinal nerves to grow and potentially to re-connect, alleviating or possibly curing paralysis.

The first ten patients will be treated next year at the National Hospital in Queen’s Square, London, following successful tests in dogs and rats.

The research has been called the ‘Superman’ spinal cure after actor Christopher Reeve, who played the superhero.

Reeve campaigned tirelessly for stem cell research after being paralysed in a horse riding accident in 1995.

He died last year aged 52 without seeing his dream come true.

Professor Geoffrey Raisman, who is leading the clinical trials, was presented with a research medal in the actor’s name by Meryl Streep in New York last week.

He told a London conference yesterday: ‘It will be historic if we can show it works. It will open the door.

‘There is enormous potential for treating injuries which at the moment cannot be cured.’

The stem cells used are in nerves which connect the nose with the brain, allowing us to smell.

Unlike most other cells in the body, these regenerate throughout adulthood.

The cells will be multiplied in the laboratory and injected into the spinal cord.

Harvesting the cells is difficult and currently only a small number can be retrieved, limiting the type of injury that can be treated.

‘At present we can only multiply the cells two or threefold,’ said Professor Raisman, who began his research 35 years ago.

‘We have to spread them as thinly as possible to form a bridge, so we can only treat small injuries.

‘If this works there will be a tidal wave of interest and we can then work to get bigger replication.’

The first patients will have suffered an injury where the nerves in their arm have lost their connection with the spinal cord, resulting in limited arm movement.

The injury normally occurs in motorbike accidents and never recovers of its own accord.

Professor Raisman, who is chairman of the committee on neurological regeneration at the Institute of Neurology, University College London, said: ‘We know that no one with this condition has ever recoveredso if we get one patient to recover it is important.

‘We are trying something that has never been done. This is a unique trial and we hope it will lead to an incredible advance.

‘There is no way currently of repairing damage to the spinal cord and nerves.

‘I have spent my lifetime on this, and this is the crucial step.’

Scientists in China are reported to have successfully treated spinal cord victims but this has not been independently corroborated.

Trials are being carried out in Australia, with results expected in 2007.

Professor Raisman added: ‘Stroke, blindness and deafness can all be caused by nerve damage and this is the first step towards a treatment.

It is something this country can absolutely lead on.’

Controversy has surrounded research on stem cells – which have the ability to become many different types of tissue in the body – where they are taken from embryos.

But the latest work uses the patient’s own stem cells – and it avoids the risks of rejection.

Professor Raisman’s team is funded entirely through donations raised by a consortium of charities including the British Neurological Research Trust.

‘Our programme costs half a million pounds a year which isn’t much in the great scheme of things, but I spend 90 per cent of my time fundraising,’ he added.

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