Stem Cell News 10/23/2012

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Nobel News: On October 8, the Karolinska Institute awarded the 2012 Nobel Prize in Medicine to Sir John B. Gurdon, Ph.D. (University of Cambridge) and Shinya Yamanaka, Ph.D. (Kyoto University). Gurdon’s prize came 50 years after demonstrating that tadpoles could be created from frog cells by injecting the a nucleus from a somatic tadpole cell into a tadpole egg. Yamanaka showed in 2006 that mouse egg cells could revert into a primitive, pluripotent stem cells by adding just four transcription factors. When he received the call from Oslo Yamanaka was attempting to fix his washing machine, a project he was unable to complete due to the excitement surrounding his Nobel. So his colleagues took up a collection and presented him with a new appliance to go along with his $1.2 million Nobel award. Nobels are rarely awarded so soon after the discovery, but in this instance the prize appears to be justified. U.K.-based GlaxoSmithKline has announced that it is applying Yamanaka’s techniques to identify cardiac toxicity in experimental drugs. Jason Gardner, who heads of Glaxo’s regenerative medicine initiative, told Bloomberg News that testing new medicines in stem cells “could potentially save drug-makers millions of dollars in clinical-trial costs and better protect patients.

The celebration over Yamanaka’s award was tempered by the scandal involving Hisashi Moriguchi, a University of Tokyo Hospital researcher whose reports on the world’s first induced pluripotent clinical study were fabricated. Moriguchi admitted at a press conference that his claims, of injecting iPS cells into the hearts of five patients, were false.

GlycoMimetics (Gaithersburg, Md.) has published an article in Nature Medicine describing the activity of its lead drug candidate, GMI-1070, in hematopoietic stem cell cycling in bone marrow. The paper describes how GMI-1070 protects these stem cells from the toxic effects of chemotherapy.

Physician E. Donnall Thomas, who pioneered bone marrow transplants in leukemia patients and won the 1990 Nobel Prize in medicine, has died in Seattle at age 92. Bone marrow and blood stem cell transplants have improved the odds for patients with certain hematopoietic cancers to 90% from around 0%. Approximately 60,000 patients will receive these transplants this year.

Setback for Celltex: FDA has issued Celltex a warning letter regarding the firm’s marketing of unlicensed stem cell therapies that the agency claims are illegal. “We’re telling potential patients that we will still bank their stem cells but that we can’t sponsor the required trials until we’re in compliance with the FDA,” said Celltex legal counsel Andrea Ferrenz, who expected the regulatory matter to be resolved “in a matter of months.”

Drs. Michael West and Thomas Okarma have made an offer to Geron to acquire certain intellectual property related to Geron’s stem cell research program, which was halted in 2011. A founder of Geron, West has been CEO of BioTime, a California-based regenerative medicine firm, since 2007. Okarma, Geron’s CEO from 1999 to 2011, joined Biotime just last month.

Andor Technology (Belfast, Northern Ireland) has launched the Revolution WD, a spinning disk confocal cell imaging system. According to the company the device provides four times the field of view for imaging at low and high power magnification. Geraint Wilde, a product specialist at the company, described the images available from the device as “breathtaking.”

Myeloma patients fare better if they receive donor stem cell transplants as first-line therapy rather than after relapse, the standard of care. Allogeneic transplantation is the only therapy that offers the chance for long-term remission. Of the 95 patients in the University Hospital, Basel, study, 49% received a donor transplant upfront, while did not receive treatment until they had experienced a relapse. Patients also received chemotherapy or non-myeloablative conditioning (lower doses of radiation and chemotherapy). Patients receiving a transplant earlier in the course of their disease experienced a 63% progression free survival vs. 25% for those who received treatment after relapse. Two-year overall survival was 81% in the early group vs. 52% in the late-treatment group.

Christodoulos Xinaris (Mario Negri Institute for Pharmacological Research, Bergamo, Italy) has grown kidney “organoids” that worked successfully in adult mice. Xinaris first extracted embryonic kidney cells from mice in utero, grew them into clumps of cells that included nephrons and glomeruli, then treated them with vascular endothelial growth factors to induce blood vessel formation. When grafted into adult mice, the organoids filtered albumin from the bloodstream.

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