Stem Cell News 1/15/13

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A free-access article in Nature describes the impact of an early-January U.S. Supreme Court’s decision not to hear a lawsuit to prohibit embryonic stem cell (ESC) research. Surprisingly, the ruling will probably help induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cell work since these cells are gaining quickly on the ESC variety. In just six years, the proportion of posters mentioning iPS cells went from zero to 50%. Read more here.

Inspired by recent research on rodents, the Empire State Stem Cell Board (NYSTEM) has provided a $12.1 million grant to upstate New York medical colleges to “test the safety and effectiveness of implanting stem cells that can reproduce myelin into the central nervous system of MS patients.”

FDA has granted Rockville, MD-based Neuralstem approval to begin a Phase I safety trial of the company’s spinal stem cell therapy, NSI-566, to treat chronic spinal cord injury. The open-label, multi-site study will enroll up to eight patients with complete paralysis below the site of their injury. A late 2012 study published in Cell demonstrated that paralyzed rats transplanted with NSI-566 stem cells recovered significant locomotor function, and the transplanted cells turned into healthy neurons.

Stem cell transplant success in mice holds promise for treating amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Results by Stefania Corti at the University of Milan will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 65th Annual Meeting in March. In Corti’s experiment, mice with an animal model of ALS received human neural stem cells derived from iPSCs. The cells migrated to the spinal cord of the mice, matured and multiplied; survival was extended by 20 days and neuromuscular function improved by 15%.

A report in Biological Procedures Online describes a non-invasive, label-free technique for determining the quality of stem cells using laser light scattering. The technique has the potential to screen stem cells rapidly, with an accuracy of 87%.

John VandeBerg and coworkers from the Texas Biomedical Research Institute, San Antonio, have produced a fully functional baboon artery from embryonic stem cells. Researchers replaced normal arterial cells with cells derived from ESCs, then fixed the structure to plastic tubing inside a bioreactor. Three days later, the inner surface began to regenerate; after two weeks, the artery was completely restored. Report in Journal of Cellular and Regenerative Medicine. Press release.

Xiang-Dong Fu at UC San Diego reports on a technique for turning ordinary fibroblasts into functional neurons. The findings, which have implications for treating neurodegenerative diseases like Huntington’s, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, will appear online in advance of the January 17 issue of Cell. The work is based on microRNA miR-124, which modulates levels of PTB, an RNA-binding protein. Cells depleted of PTB become neurons.

In the Jan. 10 issue of Neuron, Harvard’s Albert Edge and coworkers report on regeneration of hair cells inside the ear that resulted in partial recovery of hearing in mouse ears damaged by noise. “Hair cells are the primary receptor cells for sound and are responsible for the sense of hearing,” Edge explained “We show that hair cells can be generated in a damaged cochlea and that hair cell replacement leads to an improvement in hearing.”

Were you able to vote for “Stem Cell Person of the Year,” as we urged you in our previous blog? Paul Knoepfler at U. California, Davis has selected his man: stem cell advocate Roman Reed. Knoepfler selected from 16 finalists suggested by readers of his blog. “Roman made a tremendous difference in 2012 in many ways,” Knoepfler writes, including serving as the catalyst for the TJ Atchison Spinal Cord Injury Research Act in Alabama, which provides $400,000/year in funding for research.

In Brief: Relapsed lymphoma patients treated with rituximab after autologous stem cell transplantation experienced similar outcomes as those in an observation group, according to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology… Zu-yong Wang at the National University of Singapore have demonstrated formation of complex biological systems from stem cells grown in 3D scaffolds… Verastem is collaborating with Laboratory Corporation of America Holdings to validate biomarkers for its lead focal adhesion kinase (FAK) inhibitor VS-6063 in the development of a companion diagnostic. VS-6063 targets cancer stem cells… Phase 2 results using Mesoblast’s allogeneic, or “off-the-shelf”, Mesenchymal Precursor Cells show fusion success comparable to the gold standard bone autograft. Cells were well tolerated, with fusion occurring in 85.7% of high-treatment groups, vs. 75% of patients who received bone autograft.

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