Stem Cell News 12/30/2012

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Citing numerous successes and near-successes, the Atlantic Monthly has declared 2013 the Year of the Stem Cell; Science named the creation of viable mouse eggs from stem cells, by Mitinori Saitou at Kyoto University, one of the top ten scientific achievements of 2012 (also see Nature report). Meanwhile, Paul Knoepfler of UC Davis is asking the public to vote on a “Stem Cell Person of the Year” for 2012. Knoepfler,  no slouch himself in this arena, will pick the winner from among the 16 finalists. Find the contest rules here.

Embryonic stem cells are by definition equipped to assume any cellular role. Now, Ali Shilatifard from the Stowers Institute reports in Cell that ESCs remain plastic by stationing a protein called Ell3 along stretches of DNA known as “enhancers,” which are required to activate a neighboring gene. The work (press release) suggests that strategically positioned Ell3 can prime even silent genes for future expression. Significance: many of these same genes are abnormally switched on in cancer.

Human bone marrow sequesters mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) that differentiate into many cell types, but therapy requires a lot of cells. Gianluca D’Ippolito and coworkers at U. Miami have demonstrated a nearly endless supply: cadavers. D’Ippolito extracted MSCs extracted MSCs from the finger bones of two cadavers, and was able to convert them into cartilage, bone, and fat cells days after harvesting. Attempts to coax them into becoming nerve and intestinal cells are underway.

Vorinostat, a drug for treating cutaneous T-cell lymphoma, reduces the risk of graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) in patients undergoing allogeneic hematopoietic stem-cell transplantation. GVHD is the most serious complication from transplant that limits the treatment’s applicability, explains Sung W. Choi, MD of the University of Michigan (UM) Comprehensive Cancer Center in Ann Arbor, in a statement from the UM Health System. “This study has us cautiously excited that there may be a potential new way to prevent this condition.”

This blog rarely reports on “miracle” stem cell cures from startup clinics in faraway lands. Not that some remarkable results have not occurred. Just this past week, in Science Translational Medicine, a group from Harvard and the Burnham Institute reported slowing of the progression of ALS in a mouse model. This paper represents the slow-but-steady, peer-reviewed approach that pushes the boundaries of stem cell science. By contrast reports of clinical successes from small clinics are mostly unpublished. Bad results occasionally slip through, but most are probably unreported. For example, a U.S. woman who recently underwent a stem cell “facelift” began growing shards of bone in her eyelids. It is believed that the stem cells were prompted to become bone when they came into contact with a calcium compound used in the unapproved, elective procedure. A Scientific American article discusses this case and explains the dangers of stem cell cosmetic surgery.

OncoMed Pharmaceuticals has begun a Phase 1 clinical trial of OMP-52M51 in patients with hematologic cancers. OMP-52M51 is a monoclonal antibody that targets the Notch1 receptor on cancer stem cells. Enrollment of the first patient in the Anti-Notch1 Phase 1 trial has triggered a $4 million milestone payment from the company’s strategic collaborator GlaxoSmithKline. Meanwhile Honglin Zhou at U. Pennsylvania has shown that the protein kinase Akt is a key regulator of cell growth, proliferation, metabolism, survival, and death, and that Akt may be why cancer stem cells are so hard to eliminate, even in patients in prolonged remissions. Press release and diagrams.

U. Cal. San Diego researchers report in Genes and Development on the enigma of cell destiny and non-coding RNA. Alexandre Colas and colleagues sifted through hundreds of non-coding microRNAs to determine whether the sequences regulated the fates of stem cells. Their rationale was that microRNA seems to be involved in regulating cellular processes. Investigators found two factors that regulate mesoderm, ectoderm, and endoderm formation, which is the initial step in embryonic development after implantation.

GE Healthcare Life Sciences has licensed Cellular Dynamics to develop, manufacture, and sell cellular assays and models derived from induced pluripotent stem cells for use in drug discovery and toxicity screening. The agreement follows GE’s acquisition of Geron’s stem cell intellectual property. Geron abandoned its stem cell program to pursue two oncology drug candidates. A public-private collaboration between the European Union and Europe’s pharmaceutical industry, called the StemBANCC project, will spend nearly 50 million euros to create 1,500 pluripotent stem cell lines for drug testing and screening.

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