Monday, April 6, 2009

Bone-repairing stem cell jab hope

reposted from:
Thanks to Oliver Witt for link

By Michelle Roberts
BBC News health reporter in Oxford

Stem cells
It may be possible to control stem cells with a magnet

Doctors may soon be able to patch up damaged bones and joints anywhere in the body with a simple shot in the arm.

A team at Keele University is testing injectible stem cells that they say they can control with a magnet.

Once injected these immature cells can be guided to precisely where their help is needed and encouraged to grow new cartilage and bone, work on mice shows.

The aim is to treat patients with injuries and arthritis the UK National Stem Cell Network conference heard.

The ultimate aim is to repair cartilage and bone
Professor Alicia El Haj
Keele University

Professor Alicia El Haj, working with Professor John Dobson, also of Keele University, says the technology, patented by Magnecell, could be tested in humans within five years.

It would provide a way to treat disease without invasive surgery or powerful drugs.

The injection would use the patient's own stem cells, harvested from their bone marrow.

These mesenchymal cells would be treated in the lab to give them a coating of minute magnetic particles.

Use in scans

These same magnetic nanoparticles are already approved in the US where they are routinely used as an agent to make MRI scans clearer to read.

Targeted magnetic fields could then move the cells around the body to the desired place and switch them into action without the need for drugs or other biochemical triggers.

Professor Al Haj said: "The ultimate aim is to repair cartilage and bone. We have been able to grow new bone in mice. Now we will look at whether we can repair damaged sites in goats.

"We should be able to move to human trials within five years."

Meanwhile, experts at the University of Southampton, led by Professor Richard Oreffo, have treated four patients with hip joint problems using stem cell therapy.

The technique combines the patients own bone marrow stem cells with donor bone cells to patch-repair damaged bones that would otherwise need treatment with metal plates and pins.

They say it is only a matter of years before their method could be used routinely to treat some of the 60,000 people who fracture a hip in the UK each year.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Obama lifts research restrictions on embryonic stem cells

reposted from:

Stem cell biologists in the US have been waiting for this day for almost 8 years. With the stroke of a pen, President Barack Obama this morning removed the limits on federal funding of research on human embryonic stem cells (ESCs) imposed by his immediate predecessor.

"What happened today is huge," says Kevin Wilson, director of public policy at the American Society for Cell Biology.

"We've gone from having a small number of cell lines eligible for federal funding to having at least a few hundred."

ESCs can develop into any other cell type found in the body, and so have huge potential for use in medicine, to repair lost or damaged tissues. But some people object to their use on moral grounds because the creation of an ESC line usually involves the destruction of a pre-implantation embryo, just a few days old.

Existing cell lines

As a compromise, President George Bush announced on 9 August 2001 that federal funds would only be made available for research on cell lines derived prior to that date.

From the start, critics argued that the policy would impair progress in research. And as scientists scrutinised the list of approved lines, it emerged that there were many fewer than the 60 claimed in Bush's announcement.

"It really has limited people," says Sean Morrison, who heads the Center for Stem Cell Biology at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Separate labs

For US biologists who work on human ESCs, Obama's executive order means the end to an administrative nightmare that has seen them set up separate lab space and equipment to ensure that federal dollars are not inadvertently used for research on non-authorised cells.

"The press has just been here taking pictures of us ripping stickers off our incubators," Evan Snyder of the Burnham Institute for Medical Research in La Jolla, California, told New Scientist.

The removal of these restrictions may now convince more researchers to start working on human ESCs. "My own research is on adult stem cells," says Elaine Fuchs of Rockefeller University in New York City. "We haven't worked with human embryonic stem cells in part because of the hurdles involved."

Federal funding restrictions

Obama's executive order gives the National Institutes of Health 120 days to establish new guidelines for research on human ESCs and authorises the agency to back this work "to the extent permitted by law".

This frees biologists to work with a wide range of human ESCs - including cell lines created with state and private funding.

But researchers are not expected to be able to use federal grants to create new cell lines. This is because of a 1996 law called the Dickey-Wicker amendment, attached to the bills approving the NIH's budget, which bans funding for research that involves the destruction, injury or death of a human embryo.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

In praise of... stem cell research

reposted from:

The unlocking of knowledge that seems to happen on an almost daily basis through stem cell research passed an extraordinary milestone yesterday with the announcement that a young Colombian woman had received the first tailor-made replacement organ.

Little more than a decade after stem cells were first isolated by Dr James Thomson at the University of Wisconsin, it seems the great hopes invested in them are already starting to be realised.

A trans-European interdisciplinary team that included scientists and surgeons in Bristol, Italy and Spain successfully

transplanted a section of windpipe from a human donor which had been stripped of its biological identity and then clothed in cartilage specially cultured from Claudia Castillo's own bone marrow stem cells, avoiding the need for powerful immunosuppressive drugs.

As the Lancet drily reported, "This patient provides new evidence that autologous cells combined with appropriate biomaterials might provide, in future, successful functional solutions for serious clinical disorders." There is still a long way to go before the complex organs - the hearts, lungs, livers and kidneys - will be tailor-made, but it no longer looks like fantasy. This was a notable European triumph, a tribute in particular to the UK regulatory framework that enabled the stem cell research to make such rapid strides.

Now the election of Barack Obama, committed to removing the block on federal funding for most stem cell research in the US, can only speed the process.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Stem cells 'created from teeth'

Coloured scanning electron micrograph (SEM) of groups of embryonic stem cells
Many religious groups object to using embryos for medical research

Japanese scientists say they have created human stem cells from tissue taken from the discarded wisdom teeth of a 10-year-old girl.

The researchers say

their work suggests that wisdom teeth could be a suitable alternative to human embryos as a source for therapeutic stem cells.

Research involving stem cells is seen as having the potential to treat many life-threatening diseases.

But some people believe using human embryos is ethically controversial.

The researchers, based at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST), say it will be at least five years before their findings result in practical medical applications.

Dual benefit


The AIST researchers said they had identified a form of stem cell in the wisdom teeth which had the capability to develop and be grown successfully into other forms of cell outside the body.

The cells they harvested continued to grow in the laboratory for just over a month, they added.

The leader of the team, Hajime Ogushi, said the research was significant in two ways.

"One is that we can avoid the ethical issues of stem cells because wisdom teeth are destined to be thrown away anyway," he told the AFP news agency.

"Also, we used teeth that had been extracted three years ago and had been preserved in a freezer. That means that it's easy for us to stock this source of stem cells."

In the US, dentists are starting to offer to store stem cells taken from wisdom teeth and from baby teeth, another potential source, for therapeutic purposes in the future.

Last year, a team of US and Japanese scientists announced they had managed to produce stem cells from skin.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

MPs back hybrid embryo research

A human embryo
Critics say tinkering with human embryos is 'immoral'

The government has survived two big challenges to its controversial plans to change the law on embryo research for the first time in 20 years.

A cross-party attempt to ban hybrid human animal embryos was defeated on a free vote, by 336 to 176.

Catholic cabinet ministers Ruth Kelly, Des Browne and Paul Murphy voted for a ban. PM Gordon Brown and Tory leader David Cameron both opposed it.

A bid to ban "saviour siblings" was voted down by 342 votes to 163.

The votes followed two impassioned debates in the committee stage of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, aimed at updating laws from 1990 in line with scientific advances.

'Ethically wrong'

On Tuesday, MPs have a further free vote on the emotive issue of cutting the abortion time limit.

Mr Cameron, along with Mr Brown, has backed the use of hybrid embryos as a means to develop treatments for cancer and conditions such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease. They also both support the creation of "saviour siblings".

Use of hybrid embryos - Monday
'Saviour siblings' - Monday
Role of fathers in IVF - Tuesday
Abortion limits - Tuesday

However, the majority of the Tory shadow cabinet, including shadow foreign secretary William Hague and shadow home secretary David Davis, backed the unsuccessful attempt to ban hybrids.

Ex-minister Edward Leigh, who led the fight against the creation of hybrid "admixed" embryos, said they were "ethically wrong and almost certainly medically useless".

He said there was "no evidence yet to substantiate" claims the work could lead to treatment for degenerative diseases like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.

The bill would allow regulated research using hybrid or "admix" embryos, where the nuclei of human cells are inserted into animal eggs. The resulting embryos would be kept for up to 14 days to harvest stem cells.

Health Minister Dawn Primarolo says any research done using human embryos "must satisfy the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority that it was necessary or desirable".

No human "admix" embryo would be implanted into a woman or animal, she says.

'Too human'?

But Mr Leigh said: "We do not believe that regulation is enough. We believe this is a step too far and therefore should be banned.

"In embryos, we do have the genetic make up of a complete human being and we could not and should not be spliced together with the animal kingdom."

And ex-Labour minister Sir Gerald Kaufman, agreed, adding: "How far do you go? Where do you stop? What are the limits and what are the boundaries?

"If you permit the creation of hybrid embryos now, what will you seek to permit next time, even if you have no idea where it will lead?"

MPs comment on embryo bill defeat

Labour's Chris Bryant, a former Anglican curate, said Mr Leigh's arguments were like those used by church leaders against the smallpox vaccine.

"They were wrong and I think you are wrong today," he said.

Liberal Democrat Evan Harris criticised those who argued hybrid embryos were too human.

"If it's ethically acceptable to use up and destroy fully human embryos with all the potential they have, how is it right to provide for hybrid embryos, with less potential of viability, greater protection?" he said.

A separate attempt to ban "pure" hybrid embryos, that would mix a human egg with animal sperm or vice versa, was also defeated in the Commons by 286 votes to 223, a government majority of 63.

Tory David Burrowes' attempt to stop parents having so-called "saviour siblings" - babies selected to provide genetic material for seriously ill relatives - also suffered defeat.

The Bill would allow the selection of embryos that are a tissue match for a sick older brother or sister.

But Mr Burrowes said it was wrong to create a child for the benefit of another, regardless of "the need".

MPs are being given a free vote on four controversial parts of the bill. The other two areas are:

  • Role of fathers in fertility treatment: Would end the requirement for IVF clinics to consider the "welfare" of any child created in terms of need for a father. Debate from 1530 BST Tuesday, with vote at about 1830 BST.
  • The upper limit for abortion: Amendments have been put down to the bill to cut from 24 weeks the time limit for abortions. Debate on Tuesday from 1830 BST, with votes at about 2200 BST.

The Roman Catholic Church has branded the use of hybrid embryos as "monstrous" and says tinkering with life in this way is immoral.

Catholic bishops in Britain and the Irish Republic have given £25,000 to scientists using adult stem cells, which is less controversial than using immature ones.

There are ethical alternatives to what is, in effect, creating a Frankenstein hybrid
Paul, Belfast

Such cells can be used to create brain, skin, heart and other tissue for treating diseases.

But Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, chief executive of the Medical Research Council, said the result would keep the UK at the forefront of embryo research.

Conservative leader David Cameron, along with Mr Brown, has backed the use of hybrid embryos as a means to develop treatments for cancer and conditions such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease. They also both support the creation of "saviour siblings".

Scientists at Newcastle University announced last month that they had created the first part-human, part-animal hybrid embryos in the UK.

They were created by injecting DNA derived from human skin cells into eggs taken from cows' ovaries which had had virtually all their genetic material removed.

Researchers say these human-animal "admixed" embryos could help solve the current problem of the lack of human eggs from which to generate embryos.


Saturday, May 10, 2008

Embryology Bill: the key points

MPs begin debating the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, an updated version of the current legislation which became law in 1990, this week.

An eight-cell embryo
Research on very early embryos is one of the most controversial areas of the Bill

It was drafted because of a feeling the existing law was increasingly out-dated and irrelevant to scientific advances made in the last 20 years.

But several of the key issues are causing bitter divisions of opinion.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown was forced to offer a free vote on three controversial areas in order to avert a rebellion by Catholic MPs.

Here, we set out the debate on those three points, plus a bid to reduce the abortion time limit - also controversial - which is set to be discussed as an amendment to the Bill.


A hybrid embryo is a mixture of animal and human tissue.

They are created by transferring DNA from human cells, such as skin cells, into animal eggs that have had virtually all their genetic information removed.

The resulting embryos are more than 99% human, with a small animal component of around 0.1%.

They are then grown in the lab for a few days before being harvested for stem cells, immature cells that can become many types of tissue.

Animal eggs are being suggested because of a lack of human eggs available for this kind of work.

Such admixed embryos would never be allowed to develop beyond a few days. It is already illegal to implant human-animal embryos in the womb or bring them to term.

Two licences to create hybrid embryos have already been granted by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, and a team in Newcastle has successfully produced them.

What are the arguments in favour of this process?

Scientists who advocate the work say the cells would allow them to study how genetic defects, which cause diseases such as Parkinson's, develop.

They also say that stem cells' ability to develop into different tissues mean it could be possible to use cells formed in this process to cure diseases.

What are the arguments against?

Opponents say it is tampering with nature, and is unethical.


Existing legislation requires IVF clinics to consider the "welfare" of any child created. That currently means considering the need for a father.

The new Bill says this should no longer be the case.

What is the argument in favour?

It is said that some lesbian couples and single women have not been allowed to have treatment, and those in favour of the change - including government ministers - say removing the need for that consideration means that would not occur.

After criticism, the wording in the Bill has changed from considering the need for a father to needing "supportive parenting".

What is the opposition to this proposal?

Opponents say the phrase "supportive parenting" denigrates the role of fathers in a child's life

They say retaining the need to consider the need for a father would reinforce the importance of role, but not prevent single women or lesbians from having treatment.

Tory peer John Patten has said recently that having a father brings a range of practical and spiritual benefits to a child, including better health, education and future earning power and less chance of criminal behaviour.

He said a having a father figure also provides boys with a positive role model to look up to.


Saviour siblings are babies born because they are a tissue match for a sick older brother or sister with a genetic condition.

Cells from the baby's bone marrow or umbilical cord are used to treat the older child.

It is only considered where conventional treatment, such as using an existing family member as a donor, has been ruled out.

Embryos are created using the mother's eggs and the father's sperm. They are then allowed to develop to the eight-cell stage, which takes two to three days.

One or two cells are removed from each embryo, and tested to see if they have the genetic flaw responsible for the existing child's illness.

An embryo which is a tissue match, but unaffected by the gene flaw, is then implanted in the mother's womb for it to develop.

This type of tissue typing has already been permitted for six families, although it is not explicitly covered by the 1990 Act.

Preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), the technique used to see if an embryo is a match, is legally permitted now if a genetic condition is present in a family.

It can be used to check an embryo does not carry any one of 50 different conditions including cystic fibrosis and Duchenne muscular dystrophy.

What is the argument in favour?

That children who have no other hope of treatment for serious medical conditions could be helped, at no detriment to their new brother or sister.

What is the argument against?

There are fears children will be created as saviour siblings alone, and not because they are a wanted child.

There are also concerns that PGD will be used to select male or female embryos, even when there is no risk of a genetic condition. Some sex selection is already permitted, if the condition concerned is something such as Duchenne muscular dystrophy, which primarily affects boys.


The upper time limit for abortions is not addressed in the main Bill, but Conservative MP Nadine Dorries is tabling an amendment which means it will be discussed at the same time.

193,000 abortions took place
89% before 13 weeks
2,948 - 1.5% - after 20 weeks
90% of those took place between 22 and 24 weeks

She, and those who agree with her, want to see the time limit reduced to 20 weeks, from 24.

The argument centres on a foetus's "viability", and around the improvements in the treatment of babies born prematurely, and at what stage they can survive.

What is the argument in favour of reducing the limit?

Ms Dorries says babies born at 24 weeks are increasingly likely to survive, and it should therefore not be permitted to abort pregnancies at this stage.

Right-to-life groups add that efforts should be made to save every life.

And what is the argument against?

Studies, including one published in the British Medical Journal this month, show that while survival rates have increased significantly for babies born at 24 and 25 weeks, they have not risen for babies born 23 weeks or less.

Very few terminations take place at this stage of pregnancy.

But those in favour of keeping the limit as it is say that. since it is the 20 week scan which reveals severe abnormalities, parents need time to make a decision about whether they are going to keep the baby.

Scientists' protest discouraged by MRC

By Pallab Ghosh
Science correspondent, BBC News

Newcastle University's hybrid embryos
Hybrid embryos have already been created in the UK

Scientists are being discouraged from attending Parliament on Monday to show their support for proposed embryology and fertility legislation.

Documents obtained by BBC News show the Medical Research Council (MRC) believes any lobbying of MPs would be "counter-productive".

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill contains controversial proposals on abortion, IVF and hybrid embryos.

Opponents believe the measures are unethical and unnecessary.

Having worked with patient groups in supporting the bill thus far we would leave them high and dry if we didn't give them public support on the day that the bill reaches the Commons
Dr Stephen Minger

Prominent stem cell scientists had been invited by campaigners to a show of support for the bill, along with patient groups and doctors.

The aim, according to the organisers, is to counter lobbying by groups opposed to embryo research - and to explain the science to interested MPs.

BBC News has learned that the head of policy at the MRC, Tony Peatfield, has emailed the heads of four of its institutes asking them to tell staff that the MRC cannot support researchers involved in the event.

He says that the corporate view is that the presence of scientists outside Parliament could have a "negative impact" and might "actually be counter-productive to the research that (the MRC) would like to see progress".

Angry response

One of the scientists invited to the event is Dr Stephen Minger - who holds one of the two licences to clone human embryos for research purposes.

He said that he "failed to understand the MRC's view".

Dr Minger said that as a result of Mr Peatfield's note, rather than just turn up by himself he is now urging his entire laboratory staff to attend.

He said: "By giving our support to the bill we are showing MPs that there is another point of view.

"And it was lobbying by scientists in the first place that meant that the government was able to understand why the creation of hybrid embryos was necessary.

"Having worked with patient groups in supporting the bill thus far we would leave them high and dry if we didn't give them public support on the day that the bill reaches the Commons."

Dr Evan Harris, who organised the event, described the MRC's response as "rather absurd and paranoid".

He said: "It is a valid part of public engagement - which the MRC is supposed to be encouraging - for scientists to come to Parliament and explain their research."

In his email to institute heads, Mr Peatfield forwarded an earlier note sent by the MRC's head of clinical research and ethics, Catherine Elliot. This note, he said, "is now the corporate view".

Dr Elliot states: "The feedback we have had is that the scientists who are speaking about these issues, to MPs and in the media, appear measured, rational, and not pushing their agenda against all odds.

"Again we would emphasise that pictures of apparently protesting scientists is quite likely to undermine this.

"While we appreciate that protest is not the intention of the event that is how pictures may well be interpreted."

In a statement, the MRC said: "In common with all organisations receiving public money, the MRC has a responsibility to ensure that it uses the most appropriate methods to communicate its policy.

"It is not appropriate for the MRC to undertake lobbying activities such as public demonstrations or protests.

"If scientists supported by the MRC wish to become involved in lobbying in a personal capacity, for example by demonstrating outside Parliament, they are free to do so, but we require them to make clear that this is in a personal capacity, and not on behalf of the MRC."