Second Chance at Life for Adult Stem Cell Transplant Patient

by David Prentice

An update on the City of Hope’s 10,000th bone marrow adult stem cell transplant. The patient, now identified as 51-year-old William Fuller, was released from the hospital last week. The father of three, a small-business owner, was born in Belize and came to the U.S. in 1982. When he had his adult stem cell transplant on Jan. 13, 2011, his nurse wished him “Happy Birthday,” signaling the beginning of his new life.

According to Dr. Stephen J. Forman at City of Hope:

“Mr. Fuller is the poster child for what we do. There are thousands of other people like him who have been helped because a donor came forward to provide lifesaving stem cells that allowed us to do a transplant and hopefully cure the disease. Every patient who gets through a transplant here is the beneficiary of a lot of laboratory work and hard thinking that’s gone into trying to solve the problem – how to best cure the cancer in the safest way possible.”

Dr. Forman noted many patients view their adult stem cell donors as new members of their family, and often develop lifelong relationships. “They are ‘blood relatives,’” he said.

Mr. Fuller credited his sister, Karen Hyde, as being instrumental in arranging bone marrow drives in California, Florida and New York with the help of “Be the Match,” the national marrow donor program.

Adult stem cells continue to save thousands of lives every year.

Big Breakthrough in Adult Stem Cell research

By Dave Andrusko

Scientists reported more progress yesterday with a method of creating stem cells without using embryos

Yes, that is it in a nutshell, and what follows in TN&V today is simply an elaboration of an important breakthrough in what are known as induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells).

Everybody knows about the ultra-controversial Embryonic Stem Cell Research (ESCR). How could they not when we are told insistently that if you just are willing to pump federal money into hollowing out human embryos, you can use those stem cells to (eventually) cure most everything? This is all bunk, but… The proven alternatives to ESCR–by that I mean a source that is helping people here and now–are so-called adult stem cells. These non-controversial cells come from adult stem cells–bone marrow, umbilical cord blood and other tissues.

They “are treating thousands of patients around the globe, with an estimated 50,000 adult stem cell transplants occurring annually worldwide,” says David Prentice. “For some diseases, adult stem cell transplants have become the “standard of care,” meaning the treatments are so effective that they are a doctor’s best choice for sick patients.” For the most part, adult stem cells get a respectful response from the media, but hardly enthusiastic.

But the flashier alternative that is getting far more attention are induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells). That will only increase with today’s report published online by researchers at Children’s Hospital and the Harvard Stem Cell Institute.

In essence, in fashioning iPS cells scientists have “rewound” the clock on an adult cell (typically a skin cell), turning the cell back into something very, very close to an embryonic stem cell.

Without getting too technical, the hang-up–the reason it couldn’t be tested in humans–was that the technique carried a risk endemic to the embryonic stem cells they so closely resembled: the iPS cells could turn cancerous. (It had to do with the way four genes were injected and in the process “tampering with the DNA,” as Ritter put it.)

So scientists have tried a number of ways to more gently reprogram the cells, including a cold virus, plastimids (circles of DNA), and chemicals. The technique explained in the paper published today by the journal Cell Stem Cell “treats skin cells with modified forms of RNA, a chemical cousin of DNA that normally transmits instructions from genes to the protein-making machinery of the cell,” Ritter explains.

It gets better. Beyond being safer, this alternative strategy “coax[es] those cells to morph into specific tissues that would be a perfect match for transplantation into patients,” according to Rob Stein of the Washington Post. The trifecta was complete when it was found that the technique is much more efficient.

According to Stein, “[T] he researchers found that a daily cocktail of their creations were surprisingly fast and efficient at reprogramming the cells. The approach converted the cells in about half the time of previous methods – only about 17 days – with surprising economy – up to 100 times more efficient than the standard approach.”

All this is taking place against the backdrop of the ongoing controversy over federal funding of ESCR. As we noted several times in Today’s News & Views, last month Royce C. Lamberth, Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, said that it appeared that the Obama Administration’s decision to fund embryonic stem cell research was inconsistent with a federal law known as the Dickey-Wicker Amendment.

The ruling was preliminary, but the judge ordered the funding to cease while the case progresses. Subsequently a different court ruled that funding could resume while legal arguments proceed.

Making Buckets of Adult Stem Cells

by David Prentice

Growing lots of adult stem cells in the lab, for study or for a patient treatment, has been difficult in the past.

While some groups have successfully grown large numbers of adult stem cells, many labs have difficulties keeping the cells growing for more than a few days. Now scientists at Weill Cornell have shown that culturing adult stem cells with endothelial cells, the cells that compose the innermost linings of blood vessels, is the key to growing unlimited amounts of adult stem cells.

The research group reasoned that because endothelial cells line blood vessels and are often in contact with adult stem cells, these cells might play a significant role in the growth and maintenance of stem cells. Using a mouse model, the scientists were able to grow adult stem cells for weeks at a time and increase the number of cells over 400-fold. They also showed that even after one year, there was no indication of tumor formation from the adult stem cells. Senior author, Dr. Shahin Rafii, noted:

“This study will have a major impact on the treatment of any blood-related disorder that requires a stem cell transplant.”

Previous work from Dr. Rafii’s lab had demonstrated that endothelial cells are not “passive conduits” for delivery of oxygen and nutrients but also produce novel stem-cell-active growth factors.

The breakthrough promises broad clinical benefits, from bone marrow transplantation to therapies for heart, brain, skin and lungs. If the system continues to be validated, physicians could use any source of hematopoietic (blood-forming) stem cells, grow large numbers, and bank the adult stem cells for transplantation into patients.

The paper is published in the journal Cell Stem Cell.