A Brace of Stem Cell News

A number of items caught my eye today. Stem cell politics first, since it seems to be that time of year:

Australian Senate votes to overturn stem cell ban:

Australia's Senate voted on Tuesday to allow cloned stem cells to be used for medical research after an emotional and divisive debate on relaxing restrictions on research.

The bill passed by two votes in the 76-seat Senate and will now go to the lower house of parliament in late November, where supporters believe they can muster the numbers to overturn existing bans on research on cloned stem cells.

Stem cell measure narrowly wins:

ST. LOUIS Missouri voters have narrowly approved a state constitutional amendment that protects stem cell research, even involving the use of human embryos.


The amendment guarantees that any federally-allowed stem cell research and treatments can be carried out in Missouri. That includes research involving the use of human embryos.

Would that we lived in a world in which government employees and politicians had no power beyond persuasion, just like the rest of us. Perhaps then, there would be less waste and battle - certainly less folk willing to abolish freedom of research, if it meant they actually had to work just as hard as those pushing science forward.

But on to matters of more substance; actual research, and people actually working to make progress, rather than fighting over control of one another. This first research isn't quite stem cell science, but it's both worthy of attention and something we're probably going to see much more of as scientists get better at this - the use of somewhat differentiated precursor cells.

Blind mice see again after retina cell transplants :

Previous studies that had used stem cells, master cells in the body that have the potential to become any type of cell in the body, had failed because the cells did not form into photoreceptors.


Researchers had thought that the mature retina, the part of the eye that senses light and forms images, did not have the capacity for repair.

MacLaren and his collaborators showed using precursor cells that are already programmed to become photoreceptors but are not quite there yet was the key to successful transplantation.

Osteoarthritis patients need not to come to a grinding halt:

Stem cell therapy - a technique that relies on the idea that stem cells can be prompted to turn into cartilage cells that will grow and repair damage - is another possible avenue for future treatment. Johns Hopkins researcher Jennifer Elisseeff has used the method in rats, finding that stem cells can fill in holes in the cartilage.

"These cells have the amazing ability to repair parts of the body," says Thomas Vangsness, an orthopedic surgeon at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

Vangsness and his colleagues are testing a stem cell therapy developed by Osiris Therapeutics. The Baltimore company has developed a solution of stem cells taken from a single adult donor. Vangsness and his colleagues injected the stem cell solution into the knees of 55 patients with a torn meniscus, cartilage-like tissue in the knee. They're hoping the stem cells will turn into cartilage cells and repair the injury, but the data are just now being analyzed, Vangsness says.

He hopes to have some answers in the fall. "If it does work - that would be a huge deal," Vangsness says. But can stem cells go beyond treating simple injuries and stop an ongoing disease process - one that constantly grinds up cartilage?

Fleischmann calls that concept "pie in the sky" but says that years from now doctors might have injectable stem cell therapy or some other technique that could hold the line on osteoporosis. "If we could regrow cartilage," Fleischmann says, "that would be the holy grail."

This next one is most interesting. Mice are little cancer factories in comparison to much more cancer resistant humans, so it isn't the case that everything that happens in mouse models of cancer is at all applicable to medicine - but still.

Vaccination With Embryonic Stem Cells Prevents Lung Cancer In Mice:

Researchers in America have discovered that vaccinating mice with embryonic stem cells prevented lung cancer in those animals that had had cancer cells transplanted into them after the vaccination or that had been exposed to cancer-causing chemicals.


Prof Eaton is the James Graham Brown Professor of Cancer Biology and Deputy Director of the James Graham Brown Cancer Center, University of Louisville, USA. He and his colleague, Dr Robert Mitchell, tested two different vaccines in the mice. One consisted of embryonic stem cells (ESC) only, obtained from mouse blastocysts (very early, pre-implantation embryos). The other vaccine consisted of the ESCs combined with cultured fibroblast cells producing GM-CSF, a growth factor usually made by white blood cells and blood vessel-lining endothelial cells, which "supercharges" the immune response and appears to enhance the vaccine-induced immunity to cancer.


He and his team injected mice with ESCs alone or ESCs + STO/GM-CSF. In mice that had Lewis lung carcinoma transplanted into them afterwards, ESCs were 80% effective in preventing tumour growth and ESCs + STO/GM-CSF were 100% effective. In mice subsequently exposed to a carcinogen that causes lung cancer (3-methylcholanthrene followed by repetitive dosing with butylated hydroxytoluene), ESCs resulted in 60% of mice remaining tumour free after 27 weeks and ESC + STO/GM-CSF resulted in 90% remaining tumour free. Importantly, tumours arising in vaccinated mice were, on average, about 80-90% smaller than tumours in unvaccinated mice. All the unvaccinated mice developed tumours. None of the vaccinated mice developed autoimmune disease or a showed a significant decline in adult pluripotent bone marrow stem cells -- both potential adverse responses to the vaccinations.

So much interesting research is going out there these days that it's hard to see more than a swathe of it. This is as to be expected: advances in biotechnology translate into cost reductions - more science per dollar.

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I wish that people would be more careful in the terms they use and pay attention to the fact that thare are multiple sources of stem cells, and that restrictions on research using fetal stem cells in no way maps to a restriction on all stem cell research.

There's a British technique for heart patients using stem cells from their own bone marrow that is showing promise. The Germans have had some success in treating urinary incontinence in women with adult stem cells. Stem cells from umbelical cord blood shows great promise. There are no comparable success stories out there for fetal stem cells that I am aware of.

Please be more careful.

Posted by: Nobody important at November 9th, 2006 1:28 PM

Agreed, "nobody important."

To wit, re the Missouri amendment: "The amendment guarantees that any federally-allowed stem cell research and treatments can be carried out in Missouri. That includes research involving the use of human embryos."

The research doesn't just "involve" the use of human embryos. It involves the destruction of human embryos. It's not necessary, it's less promising, and it destroys human life. Not to mention the fact that supporters of the Missouri amendment falsely claimed to be banning human cloning.

Travesties on many fronts.

Posted by: Christopher Fotos at November 10th, 2006 6:37 PM

They've also had some luck with stem cells derived from fat, although those ones seem to be limited to only a few types of new cells.

But, yes, it is amazing how willing individuals are to confuse the issues. I ran into a couple biomed students sure that the Bush ban blocked any research on any type of stem cells, and the two were sure enough to make me doubt myself. Fairly impressive for juniors.

Not sure what's to be so proud about, here, Reason. If you want embryonic stem cells to actually be used, you'll either need a way to prevent host-versus-graft disease in significantly genetically incompatible samples, or to persuade humanity that "theraputic" cloning can't end up as a slippery slope. I'm a might bit doubtful on this.

Posted by: gattsuru at November 10th, 2006 7:15 PM

I look forward to the future. I love the fact that we are going to once again subjugate women to thier proper role, providing us with usable genetic material. only this time we wont have to feed it for years on end before it becomes productive!!!

Talks about wham, bam, thank you ma'am....

Posted by: Joel Mackey at November 10th, 2006 7:41 PM


Would that we lived in a political climate where groups couldn't redefine the definition of cloning for the description on the ballot, and to whom the discussion of the different forms of stem cells isn't simply "anti-science."

I was under the impression that the principles of differentiation and clarity were helpful to science.

Posted by: Joe Baby at November 10th, 2006 7:53 PM

I second Nobody Important's caution. This was a very dishonest part of the election. There is no resistance to Adult Stem Cells. There is NO BAN on embryonic stem cells. There is only a ban on governmental funding of embryonic stem cells. There are many successful pathways via adult stem cells, let those who want to explore the LESS promising path of embryonic stem cells, with its proximity to using human life as a raw material, fund it with their own money.

Posted by: gm at November 10th, 2006 8:10 PM

>>The research doesn't just "involve" the use of human embryos. It involves the destruction of human embryos.<< The human embryos are not 'destroyed'. If they were destroyed they would be dead and they would not be able to be used at all. The destruction of human embryos happens to the blastocysts that are NOT used in stem cell research, excess blastocysts are thawed and discarded. The ones used in stem cell research are instead kept alive to repair other living humans, just like organs used in transplants.

Posted by: Joan at November 10th, 2006 11:01 PM

from SciencenetDaily:

"Researchers in America have discovered that vaccinating mice with embryonic stem cells prevented lung cancer in those animals that had had cancer cells transplanted into them after the vaccination or that had been exposed to cancer-causing chemicals."


Posted by: Pepe at November 11th, 2006 7:05 AM

"As soon as man began considering himself the sources of the highest meaning in the world and the measure of everything, the world began to lose its human dimension, and man begin to lose control of it" Vaclav Havel (1993)

What's the point to saving a bunch of inhumane narcissist?

Posted by: susan at November 12th, 2006 6:58 AM
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