11/11/2010: Embryonic stem cell research is in jeopardy, but you can help!

We are facing one of the most important battles in the history of embryonic stem cell research in the United States. If you’re not aware of what’s going on and support ethical embryonic stem cell research, here is the situation.Federal funding is in danger of being side-railed because of the critical case Sherley vs. Sebelius – which is essentially two adult stem cell researchers suing the Federal government. If they win, it could ruin hope for millions.

Just when you thought embryonic stem cell research was free of political quagmires thanks to Pres. Obama’s 2009 reversal of the Bush administration policies, everything is in perile once again.  If Judge Lambeth decides to side with Dr. Sherely (one of two adult stem cell researchers who say Federal funding of embryonic stem cell research is in direct competition with adult stem cell research), Federal funding of embryonic stem will be no longer. Students and researchers who rely on this support will have no choice but to hault their research.

And most recently with the Republicans recently elected into office, many whom oppose Federal funding of embryonic stem cell research and even some who’d like to ban the research altogether, it’s more important than ever to get involved. AND YOU CAN HELP! How? By signing the petition at the Stem Cell Action Network and sending it to your Congress people, which you can do so here.

Pass this on to as many people as you can. Our only hope it to pass the “Stem Cell Research Advancement Act” (H.R. 4808/S. 3766) in this current session, to authorize and continue federal support for human embryonic stem cell research.

And to help persuade those who don’t fully understand embryonic stem cell research, new ethical guidelines have been passed, which are sure to please many. Under the new NIH guidelines, embryos that were created for reproductive reasons, and donated by the parents, are the ONLY embryos that can be used in Federally-funded research. Help ensure this groundbreaking research continues. Spinal cord injuries, Parkinson, Diabetes, and heart conditions are all on the brink of being cured.

Help now!

Here is a detailed list of the conditions this research holds promise for

ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease)

Research at Stanford Medical School has shown that transplanted neurons grown from embryonic stem cells are able to form proper brain connections in newborn mice. The discovery, which demonstrates that stem cells can be directed to become specific brain cells, could be used to develop new treatments for nervous system diseases such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), as well as for spinal cord injuries. (HealthDay News, Jan. 19, 2010)

Blindness

Scientists at the University of California, Irvine, have created an eight-layer, early stage retina from human embryonic stem cells, the first three-dimensional tissue structure to be made from stem cells. It also marks the first step toward the development of transplant-ready retinas to treat eye disorders such as retinitis pigmentosa and macular degeneration that affect millions (University of California, Irvine, May 26, 2010).

 An international research team led by Columbia University Medical Center successfully used mouse embryonic stem cells to replace diseased retinal cells and restore sight in a mouse model of retinitis pigmentosa. This strategy could potentially become a new treatment for retinitis pigmentosa, a leading cause of blindness that affects approximately one in 3,000 to 4,000 people, or 1.5 million people worldwide (ScienceDaily, Feb. 24, 2010).

Advanced Cell Technology of Santa Monica, Calif., has applied to the FDA to begin human clinical trials on a treatment for Stargardt, an untreatable disease that is one of the most common causes of juvenile blindness. The therapy uses a single injection of retinal cells derived from embryonic stem cells, which has prevented further vision loss without adverse side effects in rats and mice (AFP, Nov. 19, 2009).

Scientists are one step closer to preventing blindness, with a therapy under development that’s aimed at treating degenerative eye diseases. Researchers at Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Center in Jerusalem transplanted pigment-containing visual cells derived from human embryonic stem cells. The visual cells successfully preserved structure and function of the retina in lab animals (ScienceDaily, Oct. 2, 2009).

Researchers in London have developed the world’s first stem cell therapy to treat blindness caused by age-related macular degeneration. The therapy involves transforming embryonic stem cells into replicas of cells damaged by the disease. The new cells are then placed on an artificial membrane, which is inserted in the back of the retina. The therapy was pioneered by scientists and surgeons from the Institute of Ophthalmology at University College London and Moorfields eye hospital who are seeking approval to begin human clinical trials (The Sunday Times, April 19, 2009).

Blood supply

Scientists have created synthetic blood using human embryonic stem cells, which could aid soldiers on the battlefield and victims of large-scale disasters when blood bank supplies are low. The scientists, who are working with the Wellcome Trust in Great Britain, say their ultimate goal is to create the rare O-negative blood type. It can be given to any patient without fear of rejection, but is produced by only 7 percent of people (Daily Telegraph, Aug. 16, 2010).

Brain damage

A Stanford University study shows that neural cells created from embryonic stem cells helped repair the brains of rats damaged by stroke. The rats, which each lost partial use of a forelimb, showed improvement after they were injected with the early-stage neural cells. The cells traveled to the damaged brain section and incorporated into the surrounding tissue, working to repair damage caused by the stroke (Stanford University, Feb. 20, 2008).

Cancer

After vaccinating mice with human embryonic stem cells, researchers at the University of Connecticut Stem Cell Institute found that the lab animals developed a consistent immune response against colon cancer cells. The vaccinated mice showed a dramatic decline in tumor growth, compared to the non-vaccinated mice. (University of Connecticut Stem Cell Institute, Oct. 8, 2009).

Scientists at the University of Minnesota found that cancer-killing immune cells derived from human embryonic stem cells completely eliminated cancerous tumors in 13 of 13 mice tested. In the same study, similar immune cells derived from human umbilical cord blood cells eliminated cancerous tumors in five of 13 mice (University of Minnesota, May 4, 2009).

Using mouse embryonic stem cells, researchers at the National Cancer Institute develop a method to evaluate which changes in a particular gene known to increase susceptibility to breast cancer might lead to cancer. The discovery could better inform people predisposed to developing cancer, as well as carriers of other disease-related genes (National Cancer Institute, July 6, 2008).

Cartilage damage

Research at the University of California, Davis, suggests that damaged knee joints might one day be repaired with cartilage grown using embryonic stem cells, as well as adult stem cells from bone marrow and skin. Scientists have already grown cartilage tissue in the lab and are now experimenting with various chemical and mechanical stimuli to improve its properties. Cartilage is one of the very rare tissues that lack the ability to heal itself. When damaged by injury or osteoarthritis, the effects can be long-lasting and devastating (Medical News Today, Oct. 22, 2009).

Diabetes

Biologists at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute report they have directly reprogrammed common cells in the pancreases of living mice into special cells capable of producing insulin and fighting diabetes. The discovery, which was made possible by prior advances from embryonic stem cell research, also could lead to therapies and cures for heart disease and other afflictions in people (Harvard Magazine, Aug. 28, 2008).

Hearing loss

Researchers at Stanford University in California have coaxed embryonic stem cells and induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells into becoming the hair cells deep inside the ear that are destroyed in hearing loss. Once damaged, the cells cannot be repaired; however, the stem cell advance raises the possibility of treating different types of deafness and hearing loss (Reuters, May 13, 2010).

Heart disease and heart defects

Harvard University researchers have created a strip of pulsing heart muscle from mouse embryonic stem cells, a step toward growing replacement parts for hearts damaged by cardiovascular disease. For years, scientists have been able to turn embryonic stem cells into a variety of heart cells. In the new work, stem cell biologists first isolated a progenitor cell that would only give rise to the working muscle that drives blood around the body, and the tissue that is damaged during a heart attack (The Boston Globe, Oct. 16, 2009).

Scientists at the University of Washington are mixing heart muscle cells and vascular cells derived from embryonic stem cells, with another type of vascular cell derived from umbilical cord cells to develop tissue patches for the damaged hearts of mice (ScienceDaily, Oct. 9, 2009).

Researchers from the Harvard Stem Cell Institute have identified the earliest master human heart cell from human embryonic stem cells, a discovery that could test the effectiveness and safety of new heart medications and, eventually, could help repair heart damage in adults and congenital heart defects in newborn babies (Harvard Stem Cell Institute, July 1, 2009).

Scientists at Washington University in St. Louis move closer to a new generation of heart disease treatments that use human stem cells. They report that a gene they’ve been researching in mice starts the development of the cardiovascular system by locking mouse embryonic stem cells into becoming heart parts and getting them moving to the area where the heart forms. The next step is studying whether the gene can help fix damaged hearts in mice (Washington University in St. Louis, July 2, 2008).

Lung damage

Scientists at the Free University of Brussels in Belgium have discovered a new technique for differentiating human embryonic stem cells into major cell types of lung tissue. The breakthrough could provide an alternative to lung transplants for patients with lung injury due to chronic pulmonary disease and inherited genetic diseases such as cystic fibrosis (Medical News Today, Nov. 4, 2009).

Memory loss due to radiation treatments

Human embryonic stem cells could help people with learning and memory deficits after radiation treatment for brain tumors, a new study from the University of California, Irvine, suggests. Research with rats found that transplanted stem cells restored learning and memory to normal levels four months after radiotherapy. In contrast, irradiated rats that didn’t receive stem cells experienced a more than 50 percent drop in cognitive function (ScienceDaily, Nov. 10, 2009).

Multiple sclerosis (MS)

U.S. researchers have pushed embryonic stem cells to produce special cells that might one day repair nerves damaged by multiple sclerosis. The disease damages the protective sheath surrounding nerve fibers, leaving behind scar tissue called sclerosis. MS can also harm the nerve fibers themselves. The damage disrupts the nerve impulses between the brain and body and results in symptoms that vary from person to person and from time to time in the same patient. Fast Forward, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, helped fund the study (U.S. News & World Report, April 9, 2009).

Parkinson’s disease

Researchers at Edinburgh University in Scotland announce they are turning embryonic stem cells into a type of cell lost in Parkinson’s patients. The scientists hope to slow or reverse the debilitating disease by injecting into the patients neural cells derived from embryonic stem cells. (The Scotsman, Nov. 3, 2008).

Mice afflicted with a Parkinson’s-like disease are treated with the help of somatic cell nuclear transfer, or SCNT. It marks the first time that SCNT has been used to successfully treat a disease in the same subjects that yielded the initial cells, according to investigators at New York’s Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, where the study was conducted (Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, March 23, 2008).

Spinal cord injury

In October 2010, a paralyzed patient in Atlanta became the first person to be treated with embryonic stem cells in an FDA-approved clinical trial. Developed by Geron Corp. of Menlo Park, Calif., the treatment has been shown to restore limb function in rats with spinal cord injuries. In this first phase of the clinical trial process, researchers will review the therapy’s safety. Later they will consider its effectiveness (USA Today, Oct. 11, 2010).

Stroke

Stanford University researchers have shown that neural cells created from embryonic stem cells helped repair the brains of rats damaged by stroke. The rats each lost partial use of a forelimb due to stroke, but showed improvement after they were injected with early-stage neural cells. The neural cells traveled to the damaged brain sections and were incorporated into the surrounding tissue, working to repair the damage caused by the stroke (Stanford School of Medicine, Feb. 20, 2008).

Tissue damage

Scientists have found a way of using human embryonic stem cells to create new skin which could help patients with serious burns. The researchers at the Institute for Stem Cell Therapy and Exploration of Monogenic Diseases in France reported that stem cells grew into fully formed human skin 12 weeks after being grafted onto mice. The skin could solve rejection problems that burn patients now face (BBC News, Nov. 20, 2009).

Scientists at Tufts University outside Boston have developed a skin-like tissue from embryonic stem cells that might someday repair damaged or diseased tissue. The discovery, which is based on embryonic stem cells’ ability to become any type of cell in the body, could be used to treat wounds, as well as skin conditions related to cancer and inflammatory disease. The advance marks the first time scientists have shown that a single source of human embryonic stem cells can produce complex, multilayer tissues similar to those that line the gums, cheeks and lips (Tufts University, July 21, 2009).

This content provided with permission of the Missouri Coalition for Lifesaving Cures

3 comments
  1. Great article– very important information! Today at the California stem cell program another important embryonic stem cell research project was funded. Dr. Leif Havton will be using carefully derived stem cells to try and restore bladder control to test rats. Anyone paralyzed knows what an important goal that it. And, what is particularly wonderful is that the research goal is aiming to work with chronic injuries, meaning those who have been injured for a while– which, in human terms, is everybody with a spinal cord injury.

    The decision meant a $1.1 million dollar grant (over three years) for the scientists studying injuries to the spinal tip, which brings paralysis, loss of bowel and bladder control, and much more.

    A great day, and thank you for helping make sure there will be more and better days to come.

    Advocacy is the only way to make the research happen.

    best,

    Don C. Reed

    1. Tiffiny, thank you for posting information on the progress of stem cell research to treat many diseases. You are right, we must contact congress to not let the research be stopped. Go to http://www.stemcellaction.org to learn more about the research and to contact congress.

      Joe Riggs

  2. Thank you Don and Joe! We are soldiers in a fight worth every battle.

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