Geron: Stem Cell Research Has Hit a Roadblock

November 21, 2011 Leave a comment

In what can be attributed to the generally tight financial situation, Geron Corp. has announced lay-offs and the suspension of further trials in their pioneering spinal injury oligodendrocyte progenitor cell (OPC) treatment. The stop in clinical tests means that no further patients will be taken on, but the progress of those in the program will still be monitored. Geron’s statement that research in heart disease and cancer treatment will continue is small solace to many involved and interested in the field of applied stem cell treatment.

See Washington Post report.

Stem cell treatment as in all clinical research is expensive and time consuming, with commercial success uncertain at the best of times. Geron’s $150 million cash and asset balance shows that the company was in a comfortable financial situation. They could have well bridged a year or more, before further financing was necessary.

The greater issue that we need to face is the patenting and protection that is being practised in the US. The present practice in the US enables protection that is similar to that awarded to pharmaceutical companies. This would practically prevent similar research and treatment carried out with the same stem cells. Patent protection is necessary and required, to enable and encourage innovation and to provide a suitable monetary return. However. it is debatable whether the exclusive protection facilitates innovation or rather hinders it. Geron Corporation’s motive may appear to protect their financial interests rather than the attempt to facilitate “visionary therapeutics” as they state.

Human Phobia of Gene Therapy Requires a Review

September 23, 2011 Leave a comment

Xenophobia is another irrational human emotion

The undue xenophobia that befalls the human race coupled with the manic fear of genetically engineered organisms must be seen in the context of the insistence, for many generations, that sex is a method that serves reproduction only.

The cultural evolution in the past 100 years has ensured that reproduction is considered to be the result of the sexual act, but not the primary cause or reason for the sexual act and its accoutrements.  The sexual act and its accompanying rituals, as we know it, can be time consuming, exhausting and even fatal. So Cui bono in this debilitating process?

Present day theory on the need for sexual reproduction, when cloning would serve the purpose, has moved from: Alleviating the negative impact of gene mutations, to the need to cope with the constant threat from evolving parasites attempting to overpower their hosts.  It is the constant need to survive that drives us (humans) to have sex! Though it has long been known that we are primarily driven by our atavistic survival greed, and not by the surreal emotion called love, we still question the necessity for human engineered genetic changes.

Xeno-genes for nature’s survival

What is however decisive and plays a unique and essential role is the constant striving to be unique, as the path to survival. The animal kingdom has a whole range of examples, where reproduction is practised either entirely clonal or alternating between clonal and sexual methods. The example of the Rotifer, which has survived over 30 Million years, in a complete asexual reproduction method using xeno-genes from bacteria, plants and animals shows that the use of genes from different species has been an integral part of nature.

It is clear that genetic therapy is simply the continuation of what nature has been practising. The paradigm shift that society will have to contemplate is to see regenerative medicine with genes not as an attempt to play a Frankenstein creator. This would mean that we will have to look at the need to carry out research with stem cells and, more important, the advantages in the use of xeno-genes in coping with disease and aiding human survival.

And, it may well come to be, with the introduction of genetically modified stem cells and cloning techniques that the male as a procreator instrument is passé, but still required for other services.  Sex is cumbersome but absolutely essential and, by Joe, it is a lot of fun and joy! See also my blog entry on the GMO phobia, which touches upon the cross-border plant human interaction of MiRNA and its beneficial effects.

Inspired by a German article from Mathias Plüss in the Swiss newspaper,  Tagesanzeiger,  magazine, “Das Magazin” (requires a subscription log-in).

The Risks of Viruses May be Reduced in Future

September 5, 2011 Leave a comment

One of the biological facts that we learn at an early stage in our lives, is that viruses can not be cured or treated in the way bacterial infections are. It has been some time since Alexander Fleming’s discovery of Penicillin and all subsequent variants of antibiotics has taken away much of the fear of what was perceived to be dangerous bacterial infections.

Though humans have been able to cope with the ill effects of the common cold and have, at times, been subject to the deadly effects of certain strains of Influenza, we have often been flummoxed by the pervasively fatal effects of the Ebola virus. In the case of the HIV virus, the mitigating treatment in some cases lay in protease inhibitors that were able to slow down and severely undermine virus multiplication, but at the expense of constant treatment.

The know viral tendency to create double-stranded RNA (dsRNA), which is apparently not normally found in human beings, appears to be a vital chink in their armour that can be exploited. MIT’s Lincoln Lab has created a dragon of sorts that latches on to the RNA to induce apoptosis (programmed cell suicide) using DRACOs (Double-stranded RNA Activated Caspase Oligomerizers). Could this be a step for a cancer beating DRACO?

We May Learn a Lot More From Dolphins

August 6, 2011 Leave a comment

Dolphins are attributed with remarkable healing powers that have been put to use in the treatment of  many physically and mentally challenged people. Animals generally have a conduit of communication that surpasses our supposedly advanced communication methods. The recent studies of Michael Zasloff at the Georgetown University, where the ability of dolphins to resist infection and rejuvenate tissue has been a subject of investigation, may well be of benefit to humans. Some of us may well recall those fascinating incidents with falling off lizard tails that have been a source of bemusement.

From the times of Alexander Fleming’s discovery of the antibiotic properties of Penicillin, we have come a long way. Coping with the resistance that many germs have now developed, we are subject to the ever increasing need for alternatives that go beyond the mere concoction of new antibiotic molecules. The answer to breaking this cycle may well lie in nature’s methodology as seen in the remarkable resistance to pain, infection and tissue regeneration that dolphins seem to have imbibed in their DNA.

Michael Zasloff has put up details of his observations that can be read here, Nature (requires a log-in), and is hopefully a primer for others to take this remarkable discovery a step further. Michael Zasloff speaks about his work in an NPR interview.

Test Your Faith and Save Your Sight

Macular DegenerationAdvanced Cell Technology’s chief medical officer, Robert Lanza, is convinced that adult stem cells will not provide the same level of efficacy and reliability that embryonic stem cells will provide. The level and reliability of stem cell  differentiation is difficult to control, as all factors are still not known – as in the copy number variation (CPV), “IPS Cells Form Mutations” article. It is understandable that the Catholic Church, Robert Lanza’s spiritual home incidentally, is strongly opposed to the “killing fields” of embryonic stem cell extraction. Not unusual, considering the church’s long-standing views on human procreation and salvation. What is undoubtedly surprising would be the emails purporting perverted sex in the laboratories that he has been receiving – Newsweek. Does the Catholic Church have a triple bottom line equivalent that we are unaware of?

A clinical trial at the University of California LA (UCLA) has just begun, where Advanced Cell Technology will be implanting  retinal pigment epithelial (RPE) cells derived from embryonic stem cells to treat those with macular degeneration and hopefully rejuvenating their eyesight.

The irony of the story of refusal to have treatment due to religious sentiments can best be read in Newsweek’s article of the involvement of two nuns who were going blind, but were not able to profit from the treatment, in one case as a result of her belief and in the other due to cancer. As biblical depictions go spitballs (or their mudball equivalents) were readily accepted, as Jesus is purported to have applied in the ancient story of the curing of a blind man. Would there not have been life in the handful mud?

Having once traded as a penny stock, Advanced Cell Technology may well be on a winning streak like its competitor Geron in the USA. However, these two are by far not the only companies worldwide that are carrying out clinical trials with stem cells.

Menstrual Blood as Stem Cell Resource

April 25, 2011 Leave a comment

Menstruating Women - Do not EnterSourcing suitable stem cells in sufficient quantity has been an issue and has been a constraint over time. Studies in the past three years have shown that stromal stem cells sourced from menstrual blood, so called MenSCs, have the potential to be exploited as a cheap and reliable source. The uniqueness of this source is the absolute lack of trauma that is a necessary side effect of traditional operative syringe-based extraction methods.  MenSCs are easily expandable and express multi-potent markers. These studies demonstrate the plasticity of MenSCs for potential applications in regenerative medicine. See Cell Transplanation for information. Studies at the Keio University in Japan have attributed a 100 fold increase in the success rate of heart tissue growth in comparison to the growth rate with stem cells sourced from bone marrow. See Wiley Online. Women have been attributed traditionally as life givers on account of their unique child bearing capability and umbilical cord blood source. The possibility that menstrual blood can be used as a perennial source of stem cells goes further in spreading the Florence Nightingale aura.

Donor Search

March 13, 2011 Leave a comment

Connex LabyrinthFinding the perfect stem cell match is a task that stem cell registries carry out on a daily basis, with ever-growing requests for donor stem cells from transplant centres worldwide.  For this purpose, registries maintain donor databases and use various tools that could be as simple as spread sheets that compare HLA data to complex software solutions that can carry out matching tasks and many other associated functions at the flick of a switch. Matching patient-donor HLA data by delving through databases looking for the perfect match is often at times similar to the human search for a life companion – the search for the perfect match. An arduous task likened to the proverbial search for a needle in a haystack. The search may also include contacting international registries worldwide, when a suitable donor is not found in the local donor database. Once a suitable match is found the search is far from over, as the actual tracing of the prospective donor begins.

Registry databases often have donors listed who can no longer be contacted at their last known contact address. At times they are no longer in a position to donate stem cells, which could be because of a bout of sickness or the after-effects of an illness with long-standing effects that make them unsuitable candidates. They may, because of circumstances, decide to no longer donate their stem cells. Once the donor has been successfully located, blood samples will have to be taken and tested, before the actual stem cell extraction is carried out. It is only when blood test results of the prospective donor match the patient’s requirements that the patient is taken off chemotherapy and prepared for the stem cell transplant. The discontinuation of treatment for the patient is fraught with risks as the stem cell transplant may not be carried out and, if it is carried out, may prove to be unsuccessful – a one way street with implications both for the patient and the donor.

Often the successful conclusion of a donor search may take from a little as a few weeks to over years. A time span that could very well decide the fate of a patient.