Entries in Stem Cells (16)


Adult Stem Cells: A Piece of My Heart, from Cells in My Arm?

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(ROCHESTER, Minn.) -- ABC's Bill Weir left his heart in Minnesota -- a tiny, pulsing piece of it, anyway.

The folks at the Mayo Clinic call it "Lil' Bill" and it lives in a comfortable Petri dish on a climate-controlled shelf deep in the bowels of the renowned hospital.

Each day it is taken out for care and feeding and very smart people carefully check to make sure it is growing bigger and stronger by the hour.

Chances are remote that Lil' Bill will ever join its genetic brethren in my chest, but the fact that he can peer through a microscope and see his own cardiac tissue pulse at 60 beats a minute proves that we are tantalizingly close to a Holy Grail of healing, regenerative medicine.

Though Lil' Bill acts like heart muscle, it didn't come from his heart. It came from the skin under his arm.

Doctors have dreamed of a day when science could grow healthy spare parts in a lab for the human body. A pivotal moment in this search came in the late '90s when the first embryonic stem cells were isolated. These cells are the biological "seeds" that divide, differentiate and grow into the myriad parts of the human body.

While it was a thrilling discovery, it was also the start of an ethical and political firestorm, since an embryo had to be destroyed in order to isolate its stem cells. In 2001, President George W. Bush signed an executive order to restrict further research.

The move forced scientists to search for other ways and in 2007, researchers in Japan and Wisconsin figured out a way to reprogram adult cells into stem cells. Word of the discovery reached Mayo, and Dr. Tim Nelson and his colleagues at the Center for Regenerative Medicine were intrigued. This could be a way to help all those kids, born with deformed hearts, who sit on transplant waiting lists at Mayo each year.

"This is one technology that allows us to understand disease," Dr. Nelson told ABC News, "but it also allows us to dream about the day we apply that therapeutically." And as he described his work, he made Weir a tantalizing offer. If he would agree to partake in their research, he said Bill Weir "could be the first person to ever see his own heart tissue beat outside his body."

It began with a biopsy of the skin under Weir's left bicep, all the better to hide the tiny scar. With a small round knife, Dr. Nelson dug out a pencil eraser-sized chunk of the flesh and plopped it into a jar of pink liquid. Weir flew home and they went to work, using a combination of genes to bioengineer these bits of flesh into pluripotent ("many potentials") stem cells. At that stage, they could've nudged them into becoming neurons or lung cells or even parts of Weir's eyeball, but in keeping with Dr. Nelson's promise, the Mayo team turned them into cardiac tissue.

Months later, Weir returned for a one-of-a-kind reunion and gazing through that microscope, he could see pumping proof why this kind of medical science just won the Nobel Prize.

Dr. Nelson got most excited when he showed Weir a tiny piece of his cardiac tissue that had dramatically formed into the shape of a heart -- a pumping, three-dimensional glimpse into a future when this kind of cell could theoretically be injected into a heart-attack victim or a diseased child and literally mend the person from within.

That is the hope, but while these cells could grow hearts, lungs or brains they could also grow tumors. So it could be years before the science is ready for first clinical trials on humans.

For parents of kids on the transplant list, the work cannot go fast enough.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Stunning Recovery for First Child to Get Stem Cell Trachea

Great Ormond Street Hospital Children's Charity(NEW YORK) -- The first child in history to receive a trachea fashioned by his own stem cells has shown remarkable progress since the initial transplant two years ago, marking a new record for the novel procedure.

Ciaran Finn-Lynch, the now 13-year-old boy from the U.K. who was the world's first child to receive the stem cell trachea transplant, is breathing normally and no longer needs anti-rejection medication, researchers reported in a paper published Wednesday in the journal Lancet.

The organ itself is strong, has not shown signs of rejection, and has even grown 11 centimeters since it had been transplanted, according to the researchers.

Finn-Lynch was born with a rare condition known as Long Segment Tracheal Stenosis, marked by a small windpipe that does not grow and can restrict breathing.  He underwent the stem cell transplant in March 2010 after a standard trachea transplant did not work.

Researchers at the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children, the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm and the University College London, stripped cells from a donor trachea and then used Finn-Lynch's own bone marrow stem cells to rebuild the airways in the body.  They also infused growth proteins to generate the tissue lining.

Using a patient's own stem cells not only could help to rebuild the fragile tissue, but also potentially could bypass the risk of having the organ rejected.  A trachea is considered a difficult tissue to grow and transplant since it has a limited blood supply, according to Dr. Bill Putnam, professor and chair of the department of thoracic surgery at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, who was not involved in the research.

"I don't think there's anything standard about a tracheal transplant," said Putnam.  "The fact that this single patient has survived for two years is worthy of notice."

Once the trachea was transplanted, the researchers continued to infuse growth proteins into the organ to continue stem cell generation.  This technique allowed for researchers to transplant the organ faster instead of having to wait for the organ to grow outside of the body.

"Because the protocol used in this study was devised in an emergency, we applied empirically a new combination of technologies on the basis of previous clinical successes in non-airway settings," the researchers wrote, citing bioengineering techniques previously used to regenerate bone, nerves and skin.

Dr. Paolo Macchiarini, director of the Advanced Center for Translational Regenerative Medicine at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm -- who was the head surgeon in this case -- and his team have been performing the transplants since 2008, when they transplanted a trachea using adult stem cells on a woman in Barcelona who suffered from tuberculosis.

In January 2012, the first U.S. patient underwent a stem cell trachea transplant.

While the procedure seems to have worked in a few patients, many experts said the method is still in the earliest stages of development.

"You never know what to do or how to interpret a success when it's one success," said Dr. Larry Goldstein, director of the stem cell program at University of California San Diego. "The question you grapple with is whether this treatment is going to be good with a larger number of people with this disease."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Cord Blood Stem Cells Restore Toddler's Hearing

Courtesy Stephanie Connor(LABELLE, Fla.) -- A virus infection Stephanie Connor acquired during pregnancy put her unborn daughter at significant risk for brain damage and lifelong hearing loss.

"It was traumatic," said Connor, of LaBelle, Fla., after learning about her daughter's condition.  "It was like mourning the loss of a child."

At age 1, baby Madeleine was completely deaf in her right ear and her hearing was severely lost in the left, said Connor.  While a hearing aid helped to amplify some sounds for Madeleine, it would never fully repair the damage in her ear.

But a simple experimental procedure that Connor enrolled in for Madeleine may have restored her hearing and reversed her condition.

In January 2012, Madeleine, now 2, became the first child to undergo an experimental hearing loss treatment through an Food and Drug Administration-approved trial at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center that infused stem cells from her own banked cord blood into her damaged inner ear.  Within the last six months, Connor says she's seen a dramatic improvement in Madeleine's ability to hear.

"Before, when she would hear something she would look all around," Connor said.  "But now we notice that she turns in the right direction of the sound."

Madeleine was also able to speak for the first time, Connor said.

For more than two decades, umbilical cord blood transplantation -- either by a baby's own cord blood or another's, depending on the type of procedure -- has been used to treat otherwise fatal diseases including blood disorders, immune diseases and some types of cancers.

Infusing cord blood stem cells into the body may also have the potential to heal and regenerate damaged cells and tissues.  

Regenerative therapy using cord blood stem cells is currently being studied as therapies to treat conditions including cerebral palsy and brain injury.

And for the first time, doctors are experimenting with cord blood stem cells to regenerate hearing in children who have suffered hearing loss.

This year-long study will follow 10 children, including Madeleine, ages 6 weeks to 18 months, who have acquired hearing loss and who have donated their cord blood to a registry.

Madeleine has already had one follow-up appointment to test her speech and language development, which are indicators that her hearing has improved.  She will have another one mid-July.

Dr. Samer Fakhri, associate professor and program director in the Department of Otorhinolaryngology at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center, and principal investigator of the study, said it's still too early to determine whether the procedure benefited Madeleine, or may be beneficial for other children.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Man Cured of AIDS: ‘I Feel Good’

Bananastock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The fact that Timothy Brown is a reasonably healthy 46-year-old is no small thing.  Only a few years ago, he had AIDS.

“I feel good,” Brown told ABC News.  “I haven’t had any major illnesses, just occasional colds like normal people.”

Brown is the only person in the world to be cured of AIDS, the result of a transplant of blood stem cells he received to treat leukemia.

“My case is the proof in concept that HIV can be cured,” he said.

Brown got lucky.  The blood stem cells he received came from a donor with a special genetic mutation that made him resistant to HIV.  The genetic mutation occurs in less than 1 percent of Caucasians, and far less frequently in people of other races.  Before Brown got his transplant in 2007, doctors tested nearly 70 donors for this genetic mutation before they found one who was a match.

But doctors hope that a similar solution could help other people with HIV: umbilical cord blood transplants.

Dr. Lawrence Petz, medical director of StemCyte, an umbilical cord blood bank, said although Brown was cured by his transplant, the process was complicated because the blood stem cells came from an adult donor.

“When you do that you have to have a very close match between donor and recipient,” Petz said.  “With umbilical cord blood, we don’t need such a close match.  It’s far easier to find donor matches.”

But it’s still not that easy.  Petz and his colleagues have tested 17,000 samples of cord blood so far, and found just 102 that have the genetic HIV-resistant mutation.  The team performed the first cord blood transplant on an HIV-infected patient a few weeks ago, and they have another transplant planned for a similar patient in Madrid, Spain, later this year.  It will still be months before researchers can tell if the transplants have any effect on the patients’ HIV.

Petz also noted that transplants aren’t performed solely to treat AIDS.  Patients who get them have an additional condition that requires a blood stem cell transplant.  Curing their AIDS would be an incredible bonus.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Skin Cells May Offer New Hope for Alzheimer's

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(SAN FRANCISCO) -- A team of scientists has discovered what could be a novel source for researching and potentially treating Alzheimer's disease and other conditions involving the destruction of brain cells.

Researchers at the University of California San Francisco-affiliated Gladstone Institutes converted skin cells from mice and humans into brain stem cells with the use of a protein called Sox2. Using only this protein to transform the skin cells into neuron stem cells is unusual. Normally, the conversion process is much more complex.

Neuron stem cells are cells that can be changed into the nerve cells and the cells that support them in the brain. The neuronal stem cells formed in this study are unique because they were prepared in a way the prevented them from becoming tumors, which is what often happens as stem cells differentiate, explained David Teplow, professor of neurology and director of the Easton Center for Alzheimer's Disease Research at UCLA. Teplow was not involved in the study, but is familiar with this type of research.

These immature brain stem cells then developed into different types of functional brain cells, which were eventually able to be integrated into mouse brains.

The idea that these cells can become fully functioning brain tissue is significant, the authors explained, because by becoming part of the brain, the cells can replace the cells killed off by the disease process.

These cells also offer a potential way to learn about the mechanisms behind neurodegenerative disorders as well as lead to research into new drugs, explained Dr. Yadong Huang, a study co-author and associate investigator at the Gladstone Institute of Neurological Disease.

"The next step is, we are trying to get these skin cells from patients with this disease so we can reprogram and convert the diseased cells into these neuron stem cells and develop those into neurons in culture," he said.

After that, researchers can study how these diseases develop based on what's observed in culture dishes.

"It's really hard to get neurons from human brains for research, and now, we can generate them," Huang said. "Secondly, we can do some drug screening. If we have patient-specific neurons in culture, we can test some or develop some drugs to see how they work on these neurons."

These neuron stem cells, Huang explained, also don't develop into tumors as other types of stem cells are prone to do.

"This is a significant step forward," said Teplow. "Thus far, the challenges with stem cells have been to make the right cells and also be able to make a cell preparation where the risk of having cells that can form tumors is low." Teplow was not involved in Huang's study.

There are still a number of steps this area of research must undergo determining whether these cells can really replace lost brain cells, but experts are encouraged.

"One of the target areas of the brain in Alzheimer's disease is the hippocampus, where there is tremendous loss of neurons, and there is also loss in the outer part of the brain as it progresses," Teplow said. "If we can introduce these cells into these two areas to replenish cells that are lost, we can theoretically reverse the disease."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Stem Cells Curb Chronic Pain in Mice

Hemera/Thinkstock(SAN FRANCISCO) -- Replacing dead or dysfunctional nerve cells with new, healthy ones derived from stem cells eases chronic pain in mice, a new study found.

Researchers from the University of California, San Francisco coaxed mouse embryonic stem cells into becoming mature nerve cells that could bridge gaps in the circuitry that triggers neuropathic pain.

“One of the major causes of neuropathic pain is the loss of inhibitory control at the level of the spinal cord because of nerve loss or dysfunction,” said study author Allan Basbaum, chairman of UCSF’s department of anatomy. “The idea was to replace or repopulate the spinal cord cells that provide that inhibition.”

The same stem cells, “destined to become inhibitory neurons” that dampen the signals that cause pain, were previously shown to improve symptoms in a mouse model of epilepsy, Basbaum said. “The question was whether we could take the exact same cells and put them in the spinal cord.”

Before injecting the cells into the spinal cords of mice with neuropathic pain, the researchers labeled them with a fluorescent tracer to track the connections they made.

“We were able to show how these cells integrate beautifully,” Basbaum said, describing the way the transplanted cells looked and behaved like the mouse’s own.

Not only did the cells set up shop in the spinal cord, sending and receiving signals through a complex network of neurons, they also eased the neuropathic pain.

“In four weeks, the animal’s condition completely disappeared,” Basbaum said, adding that transplanted “control” cells that lacked the inhibitory properties of the stem-cell-derived neurons failed to ease the pain.

“The clinical significance is that we think we’re actually modifying the disease, not just treating the symptoms,” Basbaum said, adding that drugs currently used to ease neuropathic pain fail to treat the underlying problem. “Instead of taking a drug to suppress the pain, we’re trying to normalize the circuit that was damaged by the disease or the injury. The cells repopulate, they integrate, and basically they treat the disease.”

The findings, while preliminary, give hope to 100 million Americans who suffer from chronic pain, according to a 2011 report from the Institute of Medicine.

But before the technique can be tested in humans, the researchers have to see if human embryonic stem cells have the same ability to ease pain without causing side effects in mice.

“Will they take? Will they integrate? Will they treat the condition?” Basbaum said. “If they do, we could start asking whether they could treat neuropathic pain in humans.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Quick, Whole-Body ‘Face-Lift’ Uses Patient’s Own Fat, Stem Cells

Courtesy Dr. Sharon McQuillan(NEW YORK) -- It is a medical claim that sounds like science fiction.  Walk into a plastic surgeon’s office for a face-lift and walk out roughly four hours later with a whole-body makeover that required no incision and leaves you with no scars.

But some doctors say that fiction is now reality in the form of a stem-cell makeover, a procedure that uses the fat and stem cells from one part of the body to revamp another part of the body, all in a single office visit.

Such a claim convinced Debra Kerr to try the procedure herself in hopes of achieving a younger look. “My eyes are looking heavier, and the lines are so pronounced and gravity’s really taken over,” Kerr, 55, said.  “I want to look as good and as young as I really feel.”

Kerr, a skin-care specialist from Ohio, underwent a stem-cell makeover in which fat was removed from her waist via liposuction.  The fat was then spun in the lab to concentrate its stem cells and, hours later, injected into Kerr’s face and breasts.

“We’re taking a patient’s own fatty tissue, and we are just repositioning it in another part of their body,” said Dr. Sharon McQuillan, a physician and founder of the Ageless Institute in Aventura, Fla., where Kerr had her procedure done.

Because the makeover uses a patient’s own stem cells, there is virtually no risk that the body will reject the transfer, according to doctors like McQuillan who perform the procedure.

“This enhancement will be enough to make her [Kerr] happy,” McQuillan said.  “She won’t have any scars.  She doesn’t really have any of the risks associated with general anesthesia or a full face lift.”

The procedure takes roughly four hours and costs vary widely. McQuillan said some places on the West Coast and in New York City charge between $10,000 and $15,000 for the procedure.

Experts warn, however, that procedures such as stem-cell makeover need more study to prove that they are safe. Because the stem cells are harvested and inserted into the same patient, and only minimally manipulated in the process, they are not considered drugs and therefore not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

video platform video management video solutions video player

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Doctors Use Stem Cells to Heal Heart Attack Scars

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(LOS ANGELES) -- Doctors say it may be possible to mend a broken heart. 

A small trial by physicians at Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute in Los Angeles, reported in the medical journal Lancet, showed that damage caused to the organ after a heart attack can be healed using the patient's own stem cells from the heart.

When the heart is deprived of oxygen, a heart attack occurs. After an attack, parts of the organ can be left with built-up scar tissue which the body uses to replace the dead or damaged muscle -- but that compromises the heart's ability to pump blood around the body.

After applying the "cardiosphere" culture technique using stem cells from the patients' hearts, researchers led by Heart Institute director Eduardo Marban, MD, PhD, found that healthy heart muscle could be regenerated.

Though the trial's physicians note there was no significant increase in the heart's ability to pump blood, they were able to accomplish what has never been done before: growing healthy heart muscle in the place of scar tissue.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Bill Would Ban Aborted Fetuses in Food

Comstock/Thinkstock(OKLAHOMA CITY) -- An Oklahoma bill that would ban the sale of food containing aborted human fetuses has some people wondering: What food currently contains aborted human fetuses?

The bill, introduced Jan. 18 by State Sen. Ralph Shortey, prohibits the manufacture or sale of “food or any other product intended for human consumption which contains aborted human fetuses in the ingredients or which used aborted human fetuses in the research or development of any of the ingredients.”

Shortey declined to give specific examples but said some food manufacturers used stem cells in the research and development process.

Embryonic stem cell research remains controversial. Critics argue it destroys embryos, which they consider the earliest form of life. But proponents say stem cell research could cure diseases. Last week, for example, embryonic stem cells were found to improve vision in two women who were legally blind.

If passed, the bill would take effect Nov. 1.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Stem-Cell Tech May Aid Alzheimer’s Research

HANS-ULRICH OSTERWALDER/Getty Images(SAN DIEGO) -- With 5.4 million Americans suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, a proven treatment or cure remains elusive.  And the methods scientists are using to study the disease have yet to yield much in the way of understanding, much less treatment, of the disease.

But researchers at the University of California, San Diego have developed a technology using stem cells to more accurately model what goes wrong in diseased brain cells of Alzheimer’s sufferers.  Their findings will be published in this week’s issue of the journal Nature.

In the study, researchers took skin cells from patients who died from Alzheimer’s disease.  Then, employing newly developed stem-cell technology, they turned them into brain cells to closely replicate those found in living Alzheimer’s patients. This process allows researchers to manipulate the diseased cells in the laboratory for what they hope will be a more effective way to study the disease.  In the long run, it is hoped that this research will lead to the discovery of new drugs to treat the disease.

“We developed a true human neuronal model that accurately replicates early stages of the disease in true human brain cells,” said Larry Goldstein, professor of cellular and molecular medicine at UCSD’s medical school.  This model, he said, can be used to understand how the disease works and to test drugs.  The real innovation, Goldstein said, is the development of a process to purify neurons from a mix of other cells, making it possible to grow the neurons in sufficient quantities for study.

According to Dr. Richard Caselli, a researcher at the Mayo Clinic who was not involved in the study, this research represents a “significant methodological breakthrough, and I strongly suspect we will be seeing a lot more of it being used by researchers in the future.”

Dr. George Grossberg of Saint Louis University School of Medicine agrees. This “unique methodology,” he said, could be used in “identifying why cells die in Alzheimer’s disease, and what therapeutic interventions might be useful.”

Up to now, most studies have focused on patients with the familial form of Alzheimer’s disease, the type that is hereditary, which is much less common but easier to study than the sporadic form. But it is the sporadic, or non-hereditary, form of the disease that accounts for 95 percent of cases.  Dr. Sam Gandy, Mount Sinai professor of Alzheimer’s Disease Research, says, “This approach is directly translatable to common forms of [Alzheimer's disease],” which is “extremely exciting stuff for scientists.”

The method could also be applied to many other neurologic diseases, including Parkinson’s and Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Some experts, however, feel the excitement is premature, more studies are needed and the findings need to be replicated before the long-term significance of the research will be known.

“It is too soon to say how important it is or whether it will catch on generally,” said Dr. Rachelle Doody, an Alzheimer’s disease specialist at Baylor College of Medicine.

Most experts agree, however, in all likelihood treatments or cures derived from the research remain a long way off.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio