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    You are here : Home » MS Research News » Stem Cell Research & Treatment » General Stem Cell Research » Embryonic Stem Cells

    Embryonic Stem Cells

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    Embryonic Stem Cells (ESC's) are undifferentiated cells that are unlike any specific adult cell. However, they have the ability to form any adult cell. Embryonic stem cells are taken from a developing embryo at the blastocyst stage. Moral and ethical issues also surround the use of human embryos for medical advancement.

    Below you will find all the latest news on Embryonic Stem Cells.

    Human 'cloning' makes embryonic stem cells

    Stem CellsA form of cloning has been used to create personalised embryonic stem cells in humans, say researchers.

    Genetic material was taken from an adult skin cell and transferred into a human egg. This was grown to produce an early embryo.

    Stem cells have huge potential in medicine as they can transform into any other cell type in the body.

    However, the stem cells formed contained chromosomes from both the adult and the egg cells.

    The technique used - somatic cell nuclear transfer - shot to fame in 1997 when Dolly the sheep, the first mammal to be cloned from an adult cell, was unveiled to the world.

    A South Korean scientist, Hwang Woo-suk, had claimed to have created stem cells from cloned human embryos, but was found to have faked the evidence.

    The lead researcher at the New York Stem Cell Foundation Laboratory, Dr Dieter Egli, said there was "a great question mark" about whether the cloning technique could be reliably used in humans.

    He said other "groups had tried before, but failed".

    Writing in the journal Nature, he said his group had also failed using traditional techniques.

    When they removed the genetic material from the egg and replaced it with the chromosomes from a skin cell, the egg divided but failed to go past the 6-12 cell stage.

    However, when they left the egg's own genetic material in place and added the skin chromosomes, the egg developed. It reached the blastocyst stage, which can contain up to 100 cells and is the usual source of embryonic stem cells.

    Stem cell cloning technique

    Eggs and sperm both have one set of chromosomes, which combined means adults have two copies of each chromosome.

    In this technique the two adult copies are added to the single copy in the egg meaning a total of three, which can be problematic.

    Often embryos without the correct number of chromosomes do not develop at all. Down's syndrome is caused by three copies of just one chromosome.

    Researchers will need to produce embryonic cells which have only donor DNA, however, once the egg starts to divide the chromosomes are combined in the nucleus and would be near impossible to separate.

    Dr Egli told the BBC: "The cells we have made are not yet for therapeutic use. There is clearly more work to be done, this is early days.

    "We see this as a step on that road, so now we do know that a human egg can turn an adult specialised cell, such as a skin cell, into a stem cell."

    Prof Mary Herbert, from the Institute for Ageing and Health at Newcastle University, said: "This study shows that the conventional approach to somatic cell nuclear transfer is inefficient in humans.

    "However, the authors were able to increase the efficiency by leaving the host oocyte [egg] genome in place.

    "While this approach does not in itself provide a solution, it takes us a step closer to understanding where the problems lie."

    No embryos required

    Recently a different route to stem cells has been used. Instead of using an egg, a chemical bath "reprogrammes" an adult cell into a stem cell.

    While this is seen as more ethical, there are concerns about whether such cells could be used therapeutically. There are differences between embryonic and "induced" stem cells, with the latter being more prone to expressing cancer causing genes.

    Prof Robin Lovell-Badge, from the UK National Institute for Medical Research, said: "This paper will be seen as significant both by those who are trying to use somatic cell nuclear transfer to produce human patient-specific embryonic stem cell lines and by those who oppose human 'cloning' experiments."

    Source: BBC News © British Broadcasting Corporation 2011 (06/10/11)

    First patient treated in U.S. approved embryonic stem cell trial

    Stem CellsThe first patient to be treated in a U.S.-government-approved study involving human embryonic stem cells has been injected with millions of the potentially life saving cells.

    The patient, being cared for at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, is partially paralyzed following a spinal cord injury. The center specializes in treating these types of injuries.

    According to the trial's protocol, patients must receive the stem cell injection within 14 days of the injury. The trial only involves patients with spinal cord injuries.

    "We've known about this for a long time, we've been waiting for it to happen and we hope it goes well. Definitely it's a step forward," said Susan L. Solomon, CEO of the New York Stem Cell Foundation.

    Paul Sanberg, professor of neurosurgery and director of the
 University of South Florida Center for Aging and Brain Repair in Tampa, added: "Clearly this bodes well, in the sense of getting stem cells to the clinic, especially in spinal cord injury. This is a safety study, and once that continues, hopefully there will be good efficacy."

    While many scientists and physicians are hailing the trial as a landmark, others have expressed some nervousness.

    "There's a lot of angst around these trials," Evan Y. Snyder, director of the stem cell program at the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute in San Diego, told the Washington Post. "There's going to be this perception that if the cells do not perform well, the entire field will be illegitimate."

    Spinal cord injuries are just one of several conditions and diseases that scientists hope can one day be treated, cured or prevented with stem cell therapy. Others include Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's and diabetes.

    Although researchers around the world have made strides in the field, until now, no clinical trials have gotten under way in the United States.

    The current Phase I trial, sponsored by Geron Corp. of Menlo Park, Calif., is mainly looking at the safety of using embryonic stem cells in this context. If all goes well, later trials will assess the strategy's effectiveness.

    In an announcement released Monday, Geron president and CEO Dr. Thomas B. Okarma said that "initiating [this] clinical trial is a milestone for the field of human embryonic stem cell-based therapies."

    According to the company statement, another center, Northwestern Medicine in Chicago, is also enrolling patients for a similar trial.

    In all, seven sites will be involved in the study, the Post reported.

    Embryonic stem cell therapy has been a major source of controversy and political drama for years. Early in President George W. Bush's first term, his administration banned federal funding for research using newly created embryonic stem cells, citing ethical concerns that these cells represented viable human life.

    That ban was overturned by the Obama administration, but in late August U.S. District Court Judge Royce Lamberth ruled that federal funding of embryonic stem cell research did violate a 1996 law prohibiting the use of taxpayer dollars for such work. The Obama administration appealed that decision.

    Soon after, an appeals court issued a temporary suspension of the reinstituted ban until it could hear full arguments over the next few weeks.

    In the wake of that stay, U.S. government officials announced that researchers at the National Institutes of Health would resume working with embryonic stem cells.

    Meanwhile, results of a new Harris Interactive/HealthDay poll released last week found that a wide range of Americans, including Republicans, Catholics and born-again Christians, supported embryonic stem cell research. Almost three-quarters (72 percent) of the adults surveyed believe that scientists should be allowed to use embryonic stem cells left over from in vitro fertilization procedures to search for potential treatments or ways to prevent diseases such as Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and diabetes.

    Source: Bloomberg ©2010 Bloomberg L.P. (12/10/10)

    FDA approves study using embryonic stem cells

    Embryonic Stem CellsA Menlo Park biotech firm said Friday that federal regulators will let it proceed with the world's first human test of a treatment made from embryonic stem cells, a much-anticipated but controversial study of patients with spinal cord injuries that had been placed on hold for nearly a year because of safety concerns.

    If the treatment from Geron works, it "would be revolutionary," said Dr. Richard Fessler, a neurological surgeon at Northwestern University, who will lead the study of a stem-cell treatment designed to be injected into patients with spinal injuries to restore their motor function. "The therapy would provide a viable treatment option for thousands of patients who suffer severe spinal cord injuries each year."

    Geron has spent 15 years and more than $150 million to develop the treatment, and "getting it into a clinical trial, just by itself, is a big deal," added Fessler, who has no financial ties to the company.

    Many people hope that human embryonic stem cells, which can turn into any type of tissue in the body, could prove useful for everything from generating organs for transplants to helping test drugs on numerous diseases. But because the cells are derived from discarded 3- to-5-day-old embryos, their use by researchers has sparked ethical concerns and a highly contentious national debate.

    The Food and Drug Administration had put the study on hold last year after a few animals the company was testing with its treatment developed small cysts. Although similar cysts had appeared in earlier animal studies, they appeared with "a higher frequency" in more recent animal tests, the company said at the time.

    FDA officials declined to comment on why they decided to lift their hold on the study. However, Geron said Friday that it determined the cysts "did not lead to any adverse consequences to the animals" and that the company changed some of its procedures "to minimize the likelihood of cyst formation."

    In studies several years ago, Geron reported that its spinal treatment had helped paralyzed rats walk. The company's treatment involves turning embryonic cells into another type of cell, which helps nerve fibers replace myelin, a fatty insulating substance that often gets stripped away when spines are injured, inhibiting the body's ability to transmit sensory signals.

    However, no people have ever been tested using human embryonic stem cells, That's partly because critics — many of them involved in religious and anti-abortion groups — argue that research with the cells is unethical because the embryos the cells come from are life-forms.

    In addition, some scientists have feared that if the cells are injected into people they might form teratomas, which are growths of unwanted cells.

    Supporters of human embryonic stem-cell studies argue that the cells' potential benefits outweigh any ethical concerns about where they come from and Geron has said it has found no teratomas among the vast numbers of animals it has tested with its treatment.

    Having Geron's study given the go-ahead, "is an important milestone for the whole field," said Alan Trounson, president of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, a state agency that promotes research with human embryonic stem cells. "We are looking with hope and expectation that the transplant will be safe and effective."

    Adult stem cells, which appear in the body about 12 weeks after conception and typically produce a limited variety of tissue types, have been tested on people in various ways.

    To be selected for the study, patients must have mid-back spinal cord injuries that leave them paralyzed below the site of their injuries, which must be one to two weeks old.

    Geron has identified seven U.S. medical centers that may participate in the study, which is primarily intended to gauge how safe the treatment is. The tests are expected to involve only a small number of patients. Geron did not disclose when the treatments would begin, though Fessler said it might take a couple of months to get the medical center personnel prepared for the study.

    Geron isn't the only company seeking FDA permission to test a human embryonic stem cell treatment on people. Santa Monica-based Advanced Cell Technology hopes to win approval soon to study a treatment it has developed for patients suffering from an eye disease called Stargardt's macular dystrophy.

    "We're also hoping we can begin our clinical trials in the next few months," said Dr. Robert Lanza, the company's chief scientific officer. "Of course, it's not important who does the first clinical trial," he added, "but, rather, whether your therapy helps patients."

    Source: © 2010 - San Jose Mercury News (02/08/10)

    US approves 13 embryonic stem cell lines for research

    Embryonic Stem CellsUS regulators have approved 13 new lines of human embryonic stem cells for use in scientific research.

    They are the first batches of embryonic stem cells - the building blocks of the body - that have been made available to US researchers in almost a decade.

    The move comes after President Barack Obama eased restrictions on federally funded embryonic stem cell research.

    Another 96 lines could soon be approved if they meet the ethical guidelines unveiled in July, US scientists said.

    Scientists hope to harness the cells to treat a variety of diseases, including injuries, cancer and diabetes.

    Ethical tests

    "I am happy to say that we now have human embryonic stem cell lines eligible for use by our research community under our new stem cell policy," said Francis Collins, director of the US National Institutes of Health.

    Embryonic stem cells come from days-old embryos and can morph into any type of cell in the body.

    Each embryo yields one stem cell line - a family of cells which can be replicated indefinitely in a laboratory.

    But their use in scientific research is controversial. Opponents say culling the cells is unethical, as it destroys the human embryo.

    Under former President George W Bush, federal funding was limited to about 60 stem cell lines created from embryos destroyed prior to August 2001.

    Scientists say the new lines were created in ways that made them far better candidates for successful research.

    The US government unveiled ethical guidelines for the research in July, requiring full parental consent and limiting scientists to using existing embryos that would otherwise be destroyed.

    In keeping with the guidelines, the 13 newly-approved lines were created using private money from leftover embryos at fertility clinics.

    Source: BBC News © British Broadcasting Corporation 2009 (03/12/09)

    Human embryonic stem cells progress slowly in myelin's direction

    Stem Cells

    Scientists from the University of Wisconsin, USA, report in the journal Development the successful generation from human embryonic stem cells of a type of cell that can make myelin, a finding that opens up new possibilities for both basic and clinical research.

    The cells the researchers made are called oligodendrocytes, which are responsible for making myelin in the central nervous system. Myelin forms an insulating sheath that surrounds nerve fibres, both protecting them and speeding up the transmission of nerve impulses. Its loss or damage has serious consequences, as is seen in the condition of multiple sclerosis, because without it nerves lose the ability to transmit impulses to each other and to function properly.

    Unlike human embryonic stem (ES) cells, it's relatively easy to persuade mouse ES cells to turn into oligodendrocytes; it's often done by exposing these cells to a protein called Sonic Hedgehog, which produces oligodendrocytes in the spinal cord of developing embryos. Now Su-Chun Zhang and his co-workers show in the May issue of Development  that treating human ES cells with this same protein also turns them into oligodendrocytes – they just take longer to do it, 14 weeks as opposed to the 2 weeks taken by mouse ES cells. They also report another difference between mouse and human ES cells: a growth factor called Fgf2 that promotes oligodendrocyte development in mouse ES cells actually stalls it in human ES cells.

    As Dr Zhang reveals, these findings were quite unexpected. 'This was quite a surprise given that this is exactly how we direct mouse ES cells to become oligodendrocytes. But we have discovered an unexpected twist in the cell's response to the same external factor', explained Dr Zhang. 'It nevertheless explains why so many research groups have failed to persuade human neural stem cells to become oligodendrocytes for the past decade.'

    As Dr Zhang went on to discuss, these findings are also of clinical importance. 'We are now able to generate a relatively enriched population of oligodendrocyte precursor cells that may be used to repair lost myelin sheaths. These findings also raise awareness of the direct translatability of animal studies to human biology. In this regard, the human oligodendrocytes generated from human ES cells or the generation of disease-induced pluripotent stem cells can provide a useful tool in the future for screening pharmaceuticals directly on human cells.'

    Source: The Company of Biologists © The Company of Biologists Ltd 2008 (09/04/09)

    Obama ends stem cell funding ban

    Embryonic Stem Cells

    US President Barack Obama has lifted restrictions on federal funding for research on new stem cell lines.

    Mr Obama signed an executive order in a major reversal of US policy, pledging to "vigorously support" new research.

    Ex-President George W Bush blocked the use of any government money to fund research on human embryonic stem cell lines created after 9 August 2001.

    Scientists say stem cell research will lead to medical breakthroughs, but many religious groups oppose the research.

    Analysts say Mr Obama's decision could also lead Congress to overturn a ban on spending tax dollars to create embryos.

    That ban, known as the Dickey-Wicker amendment, has been in place since 1996 and renewed every year by Congress.

    But Democrat Congresswoman Diana DeGette told the New York Times newspaper that several anti-abortion colleagues were open to the possibility of reversing the ban if this was necessary to help research.

    Before signing the executive order, Mr Obama said he hoped Congress would act on a bipartisan basis "to further support this research".

    Stem cells are cells with the capacity to turn into any other type of human cell, be it bone, muscle or nerve cell.

    One embryo can provide a limitless supply because the cell lines can be grown indefinitely.

    But the use of human embryonic stem cells in research is controversial with some campaigners saying it is unethical.

    The practice of creating embryos is routine in private clinics, but the ban put constraints on federal researchers even before the restrictions imposed by former President Bush, forcing them to use embryos left over from fertility treatments.

    Correspondents say the policy change is part of President Obama's pledge to make clear that his administration wants scientific research to be free from political interference.

    Announcing his development, he described himself as a man of faith who had carefully weighed the implications of the decision, and said moving forward required a "delicate balance".

    He also announced that his administration would work to foster a new era of scientific integrity, overseen by the White House.


    Researchers have also been developing techniques to create stem cells without using embryos, by modifying other types of cell.

    The move to lift the ban on federal funding was welcomed by stem cell researchers.

    "I feel vindicated after eight years of struggle, and I know it's going to energise my research team," Dr George Daley of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute told the Associated Press.

    The federal funding ban has meant that scientists have been forced to separate any privately-funded stem cell research from their government-funded activity.

    Mr Obama made it clear during the presidential election campaign that, if elected, he would reverse the Bush administration's decision.

    President Bush had twice vetoed congressional attempts to have the ban lifted.

    "I strongly support expanding research on stem cells," Mr Obama said on the campaign trail.

    "I believe that the restrictions that President Bush has placed on funding of human embryonic stem cell research have handcuffed our scientists and hindered our ability to compete with other nations."

    President Bush and other social conservatives argued that the embryos are human life and therefore should not be destroyed.

    Like Mr Bush, President Obama has profound Christian beliefs but he has defined the issue in terms of restoring scientific integrity to government, says the BBC's Kevin Connolly, in Washington.

    Speaking to the BBC in January, Dr Robert Evans, a pastor and bioethicist, said he would oppose any move to allow federal funding for new stem cell lines.

    "What it signals is that the human embryo has been denied moral standing and a corresponding right to life," he said.

    "As an evangelical who believes all life is created equal in the image of God, and that we have moral standing from the moment of conception, I would view that as a very chilling decision."

    Source: BBC News © British Broadcasting Corporation 2009 (09/03/09)

    A blow for animal oocytes and stem cells


    A new study has demonstrated that animal oocytes lack the capacity to fully reprogramme adult human cells, delivering a blow to many in the scientific industry. It had been hoped that substitute animal oocytes could help generate patient-specific stem cells for therapeutic applications.

    Since the cloning of Dolly the Sheep more than a decade ago, somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) has been considered a promising method for creating personalized stem cells. Because of the shortage of human donor eggs, cows, rabbits and other animals have long been considered a possible surrogate source of eggs. Although previous reports have documented the formation of cloned embryos using both human and animal eggs, to date there have been no data indicating whether — and to what extent — the donor DNA was reprogrammed.

    The study, published in Cloning and Stem Cells, looked at the reprogramming of human cells using eggs obtained from human and animal sources, and shows that the donor DNA in the cloned human embryo is extensively regrogrammed through up-regulation ('turning on' of genes) with similar expression patterns to normal human embryos. Nearly all of the key differentially expressed genes were activated in the human clones, whereas the majority of these genes were down regulated or silenced in the human–animal hybrids.

    Robert Lanza, Chief Scientific Officer at Advanced Cell technology Inc. and senior author of the study, says: "These data call into question the potential use of animal egg sources to generate patient-specific stem cells."

    "This very important paper suggest that livestock oocytes are extremely unlikely to be suitable as recipients for use in human nuclear transfer," says Ian Wilmut, Editor in Chief of Cloning and Stem Cells and Director of the Centre for Regenerative Medicine. "This is very disappointing because it would mean that production of patient-specific stem cells by this means would be impracticable."

    Source: Pharmaceutical Technology Europe © 2009 Advanstar Communications, Inc.(19/02/09)

    Embryonic stem-cell trial expected to get approval from the FDA

    Stem cells

    In a watershed moment for one of the most contentious areas of science and American politics, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration cleared the way for the first-ever human trial of a medical treatment derived from embryonic stem cells.

    Geron Corp., a Menlo Park, Calif., biotechnology company, is expected to announce Friday that it received a green light from the agency to mount a study of its stem-cell treatment for spinal cord injuries in up to 10 patients. The announcement caps more than a decade of advances in the company's labs and comes on the cusp of a widely expected shift in U.S. policy toward support of embryonic stem-cell research after years of official opposition.

    "This is the dawn of a new era in medical therapeutics," said Thomas B. Okarma, Geron's president and chief executive officer. The hope that stem-cell therapy will repair and regenerate diseased organs and tissue "goes beyond what pills and scalpels can ever do."

    Limits on stem-cell research, which prevented federal funding and were imposed by Congress and former President George W. Bush for ethical and religious reasons, have had a chilling effect on both academic and corporate research involving such cells. Proponents of stem-cell research say restrictions have delayed development of promising new treatments, while critics contend that harvesting stem cells from embryos destroys human life.

    President Barack Obama said during his campaign that overturning research limits would be a top priority in his administration.

    Both Geron and the FDA said the timing of the decision to approve the study was coincidental. "The FDA looks to the science on these types of issues, and we approve [such applications] based on a showing of safety," said Karen Riley, an FDA spokeswoman. "Political considerations have no role in this process."

    Approval of the study is far from a guarantee that stem-cell treatments will work or make it to the market, but it is likely to be seen as an indication that opportunities for stem-cell research are poised to open and will fuel enthusiasm among academic and corporate researchers.

    Mr. Obama's plans for acting on the current research restrictions haven't been finalised. Shortly after the election, Obama advisers thrilled biotech companies and investors when they suggested that the new president could use his executive authority to undo the Bush administration ban. But in a Jan. 18 interview on CNN, Mr. Obama said he might let Congress take the lead. "I like the idea of the American people's representatives expressing their views on an issue like this," he said.

    Regulating stem-cell therapy is new turf for both industry and the FDA, a major reason why it took the agency nearly a year to review Geron's 21,000-page application for the trial, which it filed last March. Approval came in a phone call Wednesday afternoon, Dr. Okarma said.

    The study will focus on the safety of the treatment. At an FDA hearing in April, several firms' executives and researchers complained that they were at a loss about what the FDA wanted in terms of clinical trials involving stem cells because the FDA itself wasn't sure.

    Embryonic stem cells are the building-block cells that help drive prenatal development. Geron has developed banks of embryonic stem cells and found a way to coax them into differentiating as they do in nature into progenitors of specific cells that make spinal-cord tissue, heart muscle, cartilage and other organs and tissues.

    Spinal-cord injury is one of medicine's most debilitating conditions, typically causing paralysis and other issues for which there are few, if any, effective treatments. The Geron study will enroll paralysed patients who can be treated within 14 days of their injury. Patients will be evaluated for at least one year, after which, if the treatment proves safe, the company hopes to increase the dose and expand the potential candidates for the therapy.

    In addition to safety, researchers will look for signs that the treatment is effective.

    Source: The Wall Street Journal ©2009 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.(23/01/09)

    Funding halted for 'hybrid' stem cell research

    Stem cells

    Scientists say cash for research and existing projects has been cut off for 'moral reasons'

    Britain's effort to lead the world in stem cell research with the creation of human-animal "hybrid" clones has ground to a halt through lack of funding less than a year after the controversial technique was legalised.

    Funding bodies are refusing to finance the research and existing projects have been run down to the point at which they may end completely within weeks.

    One of the researchers involved in the work said last night that the grant applications may have been blocked by scientists on the funding committees who are morally opposed to the creation of cloned hybrid embryos derived from mixing human cells with the eggs of cows, pigs or rabbits.

    The decision threatens Britain's leading position in the world in terms of creating of stem cells from animal-human hybrid embryos, research which in the US is banned from receiving federal government funding.

    Hybrid embryos – created by fusing human cells with animal eggs – could eventually allow doctors to create embryonic stem cells from a patient's skin. This would the allow the development of personalised "body repair kits" – where scientists could design individual treatments for heart disease, Parkinson's and diabetes.

    However, two out of the three licence holders legally permitted to create hybrid embryos from human cells and animal eggs have been denied research funds needed to continue the work, The Independent has learnt. When animal-human hybrid embryos were debated in Parliament last year, some of Britain's most eminent scientists and funding bodies warned it would be a travesty if this research was banned. Yet less than a year later, lack of funding has made the termination of the research increasingly likely.

    The Medical Research Council and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council do not comment on individual funding applications. The stem cell scientists have not been told why they have been denied funding other than that their research has to compete with other projects.

    However, at least one researcher suspects there could be other reasons why people on the funding committees of research councils may not be happy to see the creation of the cloned hybrid embryos. "People reviewing grants may be looking at this from a completely different moral perspective and how much that has influenced people's perception about whether this should be funded, we don't know," said Professor Stephen Minger of King's College London. Professor Minger is one of three licence holders in the UK allowed to create animal-human hybrid embryos for the creation of stem cells but his work has not started a year after his licence was issued by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority.

    "The problem has been a lack of funding. We haven't been able to buy equipment, £80,000 to £90,000-worth," Professor Minger said. "We put in a grant proposal last year but it wasn't successful and we're dead in the water. We're discussing whether it is worth the time to re-submit our application."

    Another licence holder is Lyle Armstrong of Newcastle University's Centre for Life who has so far managed to create 278 hybrid embryos from human cells and cow eggs but has been denied funding that could help him retrieve embryonic stem cells.

    Dr Armstrong said: "It seems a lot of effort for nothing. We are investigating other avenues to keep this work going but it is depressing that Britain seems happy to create a nice regulatory environment for this work but then not to provide money for it," he said.

    The third licence holder, Professor Justin St John of Warwick University, said his proposal for human-animal hybrid clones has still to begin as he is preparing a grant proposal.

    Last May, leading scientists applauded Parliament for passing the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, supported by both Gordon Brown and David Cameron, that allowed the creation of animal-human "admixed" embryos for stem cell research. "The ability for scientists to use human admixed embryos will help keep the UK at the forefront of efforts to harness the potential of stem cell research for the benefit of human health," said Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, the chief executive of the Medical Research Council, which turned down Professor Minger's grant application.

    The revelation that the research has been frozen by lack of funding has astonished some observers. Fiona Fox, head of the Science Media Centre in London, who co-ordinated a successful campaign to support the Bill, said: "I find it remarkable given the unprecedented level of support for this research across the scientific community."

    Hybrid embryos: How and why

    *Three teams have licences to create human-animal hybrid embryos by fusing human cells with eggs of cows, rabbits or pigs that have had their cell nucleus removed to lose 99.99 per cent of the animal's genetic material.

    *The aim was to create embryos that would be genetic clones of the person who donated the skin cells. Embryonic stem cells are capable of developing into any body cells. The hope was to generate cells that could repair damaged organs within the body without fear of tissue rejection.

    Source: The Independent © (13/01/09)

    European agency rules against stem cell patents

    Embryonic Stem Cells

    European regulators on Thursday ruled against allowing a patent on developing human embryonic stem cells, a decision that could stifle research by stem cell companies for commercial purposes.

    An appeal panel at the European Patent Office upheld a June decision to reject a patent application regarding the use of stem cells filed by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation in 1995.

    Stem cells taken from days-old embryos work as a type of master cell for the body, capable of changing into many types of tissues and cells. They can live indefinitely in lab dishes, producing generations of new cells. Opponents call the research immoral because it requires the destruction of the embryo but advocates say it is an important route to explore for potential cures for conditions such as diabetes, Parkinson's disease and spinal cord injuries.

    The problem for companies looking to profit from technology using stem cells is that without patent protection there is little incentive to pour money into research.

    "European patent law prohibits the patenting of human stem cell cultures whose preparation necessarily involves the destruction of human embryos," the European Patent Office said in a statement.

    "That is the decision reached by the Enlarged Board of Appeal of the European Patent Office (EPO)."

    University of Wisconsin researcher James Thomson was the first to isolate human embryonic stem cells in 1988, a discovery which was later patented.

    But that patent and others related to it held by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation had been challenged.

    The board's decision to uphold the earlier ruling could keep some companies from jumping into the sector and steer investors elsewhere.

    In the United States, companies like Geron Corp have been granted patents on certain types of human embryonic stem cell growth technology.

    Experts are also pursuing various ways to create stem cells. Several teams said last year they had re-programmed ordinary skin cells to act like human embryonic stem cells, but stressed that many different approaches need to continue before anyone fully understands how to regenerate human tissue and organs.

    Source: © 2008 (28/11/08)

    Britain Approves New Stem Cell Provisions

    Stem Cells

    British lawmakers approved the use of hybrid animal-human embryo research yesterday, in a victory for stem cell research proponents.

    British lawmakers in the House of Commons Wednesday voted 355 to 129 to permit scientists to perform stem cell research with hybrid animal-human embryos. The vote marked the first time in about 20 years that the British government confronted the issue, the Associated Press reports.

    The House of Lords will now vote on the bill and it is expected to become law by November, according to Agence France-Presse.

    Prime Minister Gordon Brown and scientists had fought for such use of stem cell research against the objections of religious leaders and other opponents for months.

    When the debate began, Health Minister Dawn Primarolo argued in favor of the research by saying that, "One in seven couples need help with fertility treatment, 350,000 people live with Alzheimer's, every week there are five children born and three young people die from cystic fibrosis—all issues that this bill addresses."

    According to the AP, the process of hybrid-animal embroyo stem cell research involves, “injecting an empty cow or rabbit egg with human DNA. A burst of electricity is then used to trick the egg into dividing regularly, so that it becomes a very early embryo, from which stem cells can hopefully be extracted.”

    Those who wished to reform British laws on abortion were disappointed, however, that the House did not use the opportunity to debate the abortion issue.

    Source: finding Dulcinea © 2008 Dulcinea Media, Inc. (23/10/08)

    Spinal cord stem-cell trial could start soon, report says

    Embryonic Stem Cels

    A clinical trial that would test the use of embryonic stem cells to treat spinal cord injury could begin within three months.

    The Scientist is reporting that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) may lift its hold on a trial sponsored by California biotech Geron Corp. by early next year. In May, the agency ordered Geron to delay the trial while it studied how best to regulate stem-cell-based therapies.

    The phase 1 trial would test whether it is safe to inject nerve cells into the site of a spinal cord injury. A study published in 2005 in the Journal of Neuroscience found that giving rats the injections seven days after a spinal cord injury improved their motor function.

    Geron president and CEO Tom Okarma said there's no indication that politics were behind the FDA's delayed approval, according to The Scientist. He made his remarks at the New York Stem Cell Foundation conference at Rockefeller University last Wednesday.

    President Bush banned federally funded research on embryonic stem cell lines created after Aug. 9, 2001. Democratic Presidential nominee Barack Obama told the group Science Debate 2008 that he would lift the limit, but John McCain, who has said he supports such research, has not made clear whether he would do so.

    Among the concerns about stem cell therapy is whether it might cause cancer.

    Source: Scientific American © 1996-2008 Scientific American Inc (21/10/08)

    Stem cell research breakthrough reported

    Stem Cells

    U.S. scientists said they have discovered that as embryonic stem cells turn into various cell types, DNA replication and organizational changes also occur.

    The research, termed groundbreaking, was led by Florida State University Professor David Gilbert. He said the findings "bridge a critical knowledge gap for stem cell biologists, enabling them to better understand the enormously complex process by which DNA is repackaged during differentiation" -- when embryonic stem cells adopt specialized functions.

    "Understanding how replication works during embryonic stem cell differentiation gives us a molecular handle on how information is packaged in different types of cells in manners characteristic to each cell type," said Gilbert. "That handle will help us reverse the process in order to engineer different types of cells for use in disease therapies."

    The research that included Ichiro Hiratani, Tomoki Yokochi and doctoral student Tyrone Ryba along, along with scientists from the Friedrich Miescher Institute for Biomedical Research in Basel, Switzerland, the University of Alabama at Birmingham and the State University of New York, appeared in the Oct. 7 issue of the journal PLoS Biology. © 2008 United Press International, Inc. (15/10/08)

    Minerva Biotechnologies announces major stem cell breakthrough

    Minerva Bio LogoMinerva Biotechnologies announced a major breakthrough in stem cell research. Minerva and collaborators at the University of California at Santa Barbara discovered that a single, new growth factor can not only support massive growth of human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) in vitro, but also maintains them in a nearly 100% undifferentiated state without the need for fibroblast "feeder cells". This represents a major step forward for potential stem cell therapies as well as in the basic understanding of the mechanisms that regulate stem cell growth and differentiation.

    Their study, "MUC1* Mediates the Growth of Human Pluripotent Stem Cells" ( has been published in the journal PLoS ONE.

    The bi-coastal research team, led by Minerva's Chief Scientific Officer Dr. Cynthia Bamdad, discovered that a cell surface protein, MUC1, is in an altered form, MUC1*, on pluripotent embryonic stem cells but returns to its normal form when the stem cells begin to differentiate. This suggests that this receptor may be a pivotal switch in the process of differentiation.

    The investigators showed that by adding the growth factor that binds to MUC1* they could expand the hESCs and maintain pluripotency essentially indefinitely, yet commence differentiation upon removal of the factor.

    Kenneth S. Kosik, M.D., the Harriman Professor of Neuroscience and Co-Director of the UC Santa Barbara Neuroscience Research Institute, as well as a co-author on the paper said, "Given the extreme difficulty of isolating pure primitive human stem cells and amplifying them, these studies represent a big step forward for human stem cell research and the future of stem cell transplantation."

    Source: Nanotechnology Now © Copyright 1999-2008 7thWave, Inc. (06/10/08)

    Australian clinic receives first license to clone embryos for stem cells

    Stem Cells

    An Australian in-vitro-fertilization firm has received its government's first license to clone human embryos to obtain embryonic stem cells, Reuters reports.

    If Sydney IVF is successful, it would be a world first. The company claims it has access to 7,200 human eggs.

    The chairman of the licensing committee of the National Health and Medical Research Council said the research would be monitored closely.

    "They have been given a license to do therapeutic cloning," Dr. John Findlay said today. He added that scientists are not licensed to reach the fetal stage.

    "They can go to the stage called blastocyst. They must stop at that point," he said. The blastocyst is a very early-stage embryo not yet implanted into the womb.

    Findlay said scientists will try to create stem cells from patientswith abnormalities or create stem cell lines that will be compatible with patients who have given the cells.

    The director of Australians for Ethical Stem Cell Research, David van Gend, criticized the decision, saying new technology makes cloning unnecessary.

    "We have regulations in Australia such that the abuses of cloning wouldn't happen here, we will not get live birth cloning," he said on a Sydney radio station. "We won't get cloning right through to the fetal stage in order to use them for organ transplants, but if we teach the world how to clone you can be quite sure it will be used in less rigorous jurisdictions."

    Source: USA Today © Copyright 2007 USA TODAY (18/09/08)

    Queensland scientists claim stem cells breakthrough
    Queensland scientists say a breakthrough in embryonic stem cell research could help grow more organs for transplant.

    Researchers at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in Brisbane have discovered a way to grow human embryonic stem cells using synthetic proteins.

    QUT spokesman Dr David Leavesley says the artificial proteins are cheaper and more efficient.

    "The real breakthrough here is that we're no longer required to use animal products, which sometimes contain viruses that we can't detect," he said.

    "Now we can absolutely control the conditions that they grow in and with fewer components, they're cheaper to produce.

    "However, it doesn't remove the moral dilemma of using embryos to obtain these stem cells."

    Source: ABC News © 2008 ABC (11/08/08)

    Genetic find puts scientists a step closer to generating replacement organs
    Canadian researchers say they have found a reliable way to direct the growth of stem cells from human embryos, taking an important step toward generating replacement parts for ailing patients.

    Stem cells are the shape-shifters of biology, able to morph into any of the 200 tissue types in the human body. But while their chameleon abilities could be a potential boon for medicine, they have so far been the bane of scientists trying to control them.

    Now, by adding a single gene into the DNA of a human embryonic stem cell, scientists have been able to grow pure batches of the early endoderm cells that form the essential organs of the digestive and respiratory systems. This includes the lung, liver and pancreas and raises the prospect of new treatments for diseases as diverse as diabetes and cystic fibrosis.

    Researchers also found these progenitor cells proliferate endlessly, suggesting they could one day serve as an unlimited supply of starter material to grow healthy tissues as needed.

    "It gives us a starting population [of cells] that we can tailor to grow the tissue type or the organ we want to replace," said Cheryle Séguin, a scientist at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto.

    "It is early days, but that's the big end goal," added Ms. Séguin, lead author of the study published as the cover story this week in the journal Stem Cell.

    Human embryonic stem cells have long been a paradox for scientists. Their ability to grow infinitely and become any tissue type makes them prized for medical research, but also dangerously unpredictable for medical treatments.

    "The good news is they can make every cell type. The bad news is they can make every cell type," said co-author Janet Rossant, chief of research at Sick Kids and senior scientist at its developmental and stem cell biology program.

    Scientists, trying to coax stem cells to become pure patches of bone cells, for example, might find that some become brain cells. Going for muscle cells, they might inadvertently grow the type that lines the gut.

    For a decade, researchers have struggled to figure out an effective way to curb their versatility. "Our problem has been that we can't really control them," Dr. Séguin said.

    Researchers have tried dousing the cells with growth-factor hormones that only encourage a particular cell type to grow, or seeding them in specialized cultures. None of these methods, however, has proved reliable.

    But instead of external cues, Drs. Seguin and Rossant, working with Jonathan Draper at McMaster University in Hamilton and Andras Nagy at Toronto's Mount Sinai Hospital, tweaked the stem cell internally by adding a master gene, known as SOX17, which has the power to turn on a number of other genes.

    Dr. Séguin compared it to a domino effect, with SOX17 as the block that tips first "and sets off the cascade" for that cell to become an endoderm cell that gives rise to the respiratory and digestive tracts only.

    The cells are so committed that, despite researchers' efforts, they could not make them become neurons, gut or muscle cells after SOX17 is added, she said.

    Researchers are now using chemical cues to guide the endoderm cells to become the specific tissues they hope to study, such as those of the lung and liver.

    Dr. Rossant explained their method may be successful because it mimics the step-by-step biology of what happens in an embryo, with genes turning on in particular sequences. Dr. Séguin acknowledged, however, that researchers would have to find a way around genetically modifying stem cells before they can be used in patients.

    Still, the work marks the first major discovery to come from the two and only human embryonic stem cell lines generated in Canada. The lines, or batches that can reproduce limitlessly in a lab, were derived under strict guidelines in 2005 from human embryos donated for research through fertility clinics.

    Their origins remain controversial - and indeed, they would be banned from use by government-funded researchers in the U.S. - because embryos were destroyed in the process of harvesting the stem cells.

    However, Dr. Séguin confirmed that efforts are under way to test their findings with the ethically acceptable "reprogrammed" stem cells recently announced. Scientists in Japan and the U.S. reported last fall they had turned ordinary human cells into embryonic-like stem cells with the addition of four genes.

    While their potential and safety are still being investigated, the reprogrammed cells are considered morally palatable and more valuable for medical treatments than embryonic stem cells. This is because a patient could donate her own cells to be reprogrammed for use in a stem cell therapy that would be a perfect tissue match for that patient.

    Dr. Séguin explained they have already added the SOX17 gene to a reprogrammed cell and are awaiting results. Similarly, in April, Canadian researchers who found a way to grow large quantities of cardiac tissue from embryonic stem cells are also trying to work with the reprogrammed cells.

    Source: Globe and Mail © Copyright 2008 CTVglobemedia Publishing Inc (07/08/08)

    Genes that control embryonic stem cell fate identified

    Scientists have identified about two dozen genes that control embryonic stem cell fate. The genes may either prod or restrain stem cells from drifting into a kind of limbo, they suspect. The limbo lies between the embryonic stage and fully differentiated, or specialized, cells, such as bone, muscle or fat.

    By knowing the genes and proteins that control a cell's progress toward the differentiated form, researchers may be able to accelerate the process – a potential boon for the use of stem cells in therapy or the study of some degenerative diseases, the scientists say.

    Their finding comes from the first large-scale search for genes crucial to embryonic stem cells. The research was carried out by a team at the University of California, San Francisco and is reported in a paper in the July 11, 2008 issue of "Cell."

    "The genes we identified are necessary for embryonic stem cells to maintain a memory of who they are," says Barbara Panning, PhD, associate professor of biochemistry and biophysics at UCSF, and senior author on the paper. "Without them the cell doesn't know whether it should remain a stem cell or differentiate into a specialized cell."

    The scientists used a powerful technique known as RNA interference, or RNAi, to screen more than 1,000 genes for their role in mouse embryonic stem cells. The technique allows researchers to "knock down" individual genes, reducing their abundance in order to determine the gene's normal role.

    The research focused on proteins that help package DNA. In the nucleus, DNA normally wraps around protein complexes called nucleosomes, forming a structure known as chromatin. This is what makes up chromosomes.

    They found 22 proteins, each of which is essential for embryonic stem cells to maintain their consistent shape, growth properties, and pattern of gene expression.

    Most of the genes code for multi-protein complexes that physically rearrange, or "remodel" nucleosomes, changing the likelihood that the underlying genes will be expressed to make proteins.

    The main player they identified is a 17-protein complex called Tip60-p400. This complex is necessary for the cellular memory that maintains embryonic stem cell identity, Panning explains. Without it, the embryonic stem cells turned into a different cell type, which had some features of a stem cell but many features of a differentiated cell.

    The scientists believe that Tip60-p400 is necessary for embryonic stem cells to correctly read the signals that determine cell type. These findings are not only important for understanding cellular memory in embryonic stem cells, but will also likely be relevant to other cell types, they say.

    Inactivation of other genes disrupted embryonic stem cell proliferation. These genes were already known to have only slight influence on viability of mature cells in the body. This suggests that embryonic stem cells are "uniquely sensitive to certain perturbations of chromatin structure," the scientists report.

    If other types of stem cells are also found to be sensitive to these chromatin perturbations, this could lead to novel cancer therapies in the future, Panning says.

    Source: University of California - San Francisco (11/07/08)

    New technique to harvest stem cells

    Embryos near the very beginning of development can yield stem cells for therapeutic applications without being destroyed in the process, research has shown.

    The discovery raises the prospect of overcoming many of the ethical objections to working with human embryonic stem cells (hESCs).

    Stem cells from human embryos have the ability to develop into virtually any part of the body.

    Potentially they could be used to treat a host of disorders, including currently incurable diseases such as type 1 diabetes and Parkinson's. But many people cannot accept the fact that to harvest the cells embryos have to be destroyed.

    To date stem cells have been obtained from five-day-old embryos called blastocysts consisting of around 100 cells. The cells are strongly bonded together so the embryo has to be broken apart.

    The new development reported on Wednesday at a fertility conference in Spain suggests that stem cells can be removed from much earlier stage embryos which are easier to manipulate without causing harm.

    A team of scientists led by Dr Hilde Van de Velde, from Vrije University in Brussels, derived a line of hESCs from embryos made up of just four cells.

    Embryos at this stage - just 48 hours after fertilisation - can lose one of their cells and still retain the ability to implant in the womb.

    Dr Van de Velde said : "We understand that some people may have ethical concerns about the production of hESCs. We believe that by making it possible to intervene at an earlier stage, and without destruction of the embryo, these ethical concerns will be diminished."

    The next stage in the research will be to determine whether removing one cell from a four-cell embryo impairs its ability to develop into a healthy child, she said. The findings were presented at the annual meeting of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (Eshre) in Barcelona.

    Source: The Press Association © 2008 The Press Association. (09/07/08)

    MRC in major stem cell discovery
    The ability to apply current embryonic stem cell research work to the human body could be transformed following new findings by a Cambridge-led team of the Medical Research Council (MRC).

    Scientists have shown for the first time that embryonic stem (ES) cells are able to self-renew without the natural chemicals that have so far been used to maintain them and grow stem cell lines, which could have wide-ranging implications for stem cell research.

    According to the team led by Professor Austin Smith, its findings contradict previously held views in the scientific community and will lead to a better biological understanding of ES cells and a more straightforward translation to the human system of detailed work done only in mouse ES cells to date.

    “That ES cells can self-replicate without external instruction implies that they are intrinsically programmed to self-renew,” said Jason Wray, one of the authors on the paper published in Nature.

    “The new culture conditions will help us to understand the nature of the pluripotent state and how it might be manipulated to produce specialised cells in the laboratory.”

    In the three decades since pluripotent mouse ES cells were first described they have been derived and grown using various combinations of feeder cells, conditioned media, cytokines, growth factors, hormones, foetal calf serum, and serum extracts.

    Their reliance on signals from their culture environment was supported by the observation that the LIF (leukaemia inhibitory factor) and BMP4 (bone morphogenetic protein 4) must be provided to support self-renewal.

    The thinking was that these provided the signals and instructions to stem cells to maintain them in an undifferentiated state and that without these the cells would specialise to become whatever type of cell they were prompted to become.

    The MRC team were able to show that ES cells produce their own signalling molecules and that these signals are the key driving force behind differentiation – the process by which a stem cell gives rise to more specialised cell types.

    This means that while they still need to be grown in a culture giving them the sugars and proteins they need to stay alive, if these signalling molecules are eliminated or blocked, the ES cells can remain in their pluripotent state indefinitely.

    A better understanding of what controls differentiation in mouse ES cells should also allow the work that has so far taken place only with mouse ES to be replicated in human ES cells.

    “We have reason to believe that what we have observed in mice will read across to other mammals and that the new culture conditions we have established may allow us to transfer our experience and techniques from animal models to human,” said Wray.

    The work took place at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Stem Cell Research, University of Cambridge and was funded by the MRC, the BBSRC, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, and the European Commission Framework VI project EuroStemCell.

    Source: Copyright © 2005 - 2008 Business Weekly (09/06/08)

    Tissue of dead humans to be used for human stem cell cloning
    Scientists would soon be able to use tissue from dead people to create cloned human stem cells for research, thanks to a legal change put forward by the British government.

    Health ministers have proposed that laboratories should be given the permission to use stored human tissue to create cloned embryonic stem cells without the explicit consent of the tissue donor, reports Times Online.

    According to them, this would allow research to be done on tissue donated for medical research as long as 30 years ago.

    Many laboratories contain banks of stored tissue that act as DNA libraries that can play a significant role in finding cures for serious disorders such as diabetes and motor neurone disease.

    Until now, ministers insisted scientists to contact tissue donors to gain explicit consent before DNA can be used to create cloned embryonic stem cells. However, leading scientists said that gaining such consent is sometimes impossible because the donors have died, donated anonymously or cannot be contacted.

    They said that the ban on using DNA without consent could hold up vital research.

    Ministers have tabled an amendment to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, now passing through parliament, which would allow stored tissue and cells to be used without the explicit consent of donors.

    The amendment, which is expected to be supported by most MPs, will be debated this week.

    Source: © 2004-2008 02/06/08)

    MPs vote to allow scientists use hybrid embryos for Stem Cell research
    Scientists have been given the green light to use animal-human hybrid embryos for medical research after MPs yesterday resisted calls for an outright ban.

    After hours of anguished debate over the ethics and science behind embryonic research, they decided to back the use of hybrid embryos in the search for medical cures and greater understanding of serious illnesses and allow parents of children suffering serious diseases to use in-vitro fertilisation to select "saviour siblings" who can act as donors for transplants to save their sick brothers and sisters.

    A proposed ban on hybrid embryos was voted down by 336 to 176, as the substantive part of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill sailed through the Commons. It will make Britain one of the few countries that regulates and sanctions the use of hybrid, or "admix", embryos and could also provide a boost to the bioscience industry in research centres such as at Edinburgh University.

    Three Cabinet ministers voted against the use of hybrid embryos: Des Browne, the Defence and Scottish Secretary; Ruth Kelly, the Transport Secretary and Paul Murphy, the Welsh Secretary. The majority of the shadow cabinet – including shadow foreign secretary William Hague and shadow home secretary David Davis – also backed the ban, even though David Cameron, the Conservative Party leader, voted against.

    Religious leaders say hybrid embryos threaten the sanctity of human life and their efficacy in research is unproven. Many MPs disputed Gordon Brown's claims that the development of hybrid embryos was a "moral endeavour" that would potentially save millions of lives.

    All the opposition parties have been given a free vote on the entire Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, while Labour MPs have free votes only on four areas: human-animal hybrids; the creation of saviour siblings; the access to a father figure when considering a woman for fertility treatment and the time-limit on abortion.

    Last night, the main debate was around the issue of "admix" embryos, where the nuclei of human cells are inserted into animal eggs and kept alive for up to 14 days for research.

    Edward Leigh, the Tory MP who introduced an amendment to ban hybrid embryos, argued that there was "no evidence yet to substantiate" claims this may lead to treatment for Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.

    Mr Leigh, a former minister, 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."
    He added: "I believe that science is doing wonderful things, but it can also do terrible things. I do think Science should be our servant and not our master."

    The debate cut across party lines. , with some MPs allowed a free vote on the matter after heaping pressure on Gordon Brown Sir Gerald Kaufman, a former Labour minister, also opposed the hybrid embryo research, saying: "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?"

    But Chris Bryant, the Labour MP for Rhondda and a former Anglican curate, compared Mr Leigh's arguments with those used by church leaders against the smallpox vaccine.

    "They were wrong, and I think you are wrong today," he said.
    Critics of the legislation have branded it "Frankenstein science," and Mr Leigh quoted from the Mary Shelley classic.

    "If an embryo could talk, perhaps it would echo what Mary Shelley did say in Frankenstein: 'I, the miserable and the abandoned, am an abortion to be spurned at and kicked and trampled on'."

    Labour's Ian Gibson, a former cancer researcher, said his support for the bill had been "fired up" by letters from constituents grappling with illnesses. He said scientists should be encouraged to "try everything".

    He told the Commons said: "I would be the last person to prevent our scientific and medical community trying to develop the kind of cures that help people."

    Source: ©2008 Johnston Press Digital Publishing (20/05/08)

    Gordon Brown in plea for embryo stem cell research
    Prime Minister Gordon Brown called on Sunday for members of parliament to support research using embryonic stem cells, including human-animal hybrid embryos, ahead of an important vote in parliament.

    The issue of embryonic cell research has divided Brown's government -- some members of his cabinet oppose it on religious grounds -- at a time when he is faring poorly in opinion polls.

    Brown has allowed a "free vote" in parliament on Monday on some of the most controversial parts of a human reproduction bill, allowing members of his Labour Party to oppose them if they choose without being required to resign from the cabinet.

    But in an article in the Observer newspaper, the prime minister said the research could "save and transform millions of lives" by providing important therapies to fight disease.

    "That is why we have -- patiently and with full regard for religious concerns -- sought to introduce clear laws which permit the use of stem cells within a clear, managed, legal framework subject to the strictest supervision," Brown wrote.

    British scientists have been pioneers in research on using "stem cells" -- undifferentiated cells that can turn into many types of tissue -- to cure disease.

    Among the controversial aspects of the research are the so-called hybrid embryos, which involve putting human DNA into cells derived from animals to produce stem cells.

    "Around the world, researchers now face a severe shortage of embryonic stem cells," Brown wrote.

    "They argue that the safest way to maintain progress is to make use of animal eggs from which the animal genetic material is almost entirely removed, then a human cell nucleus added, to make them compatible for research on human diseases."

    Brown is seen as strongly committed to stem cell research, an issue that affects him personally because his youngest son Fraser has the genetic disease cystic fibrosis, a condition that might one day benefit from stem cell-derived treatment.

    Monday's debate is expected also to see heated discussion of abortion, with some members of parliament seeking to amend the bill to reduce the 24-week period in which women are normally permitted to terminate pregnancies.

    Source: Reuters UK © Thomson Reuters 2008 (19/05/08)

    F.D.A. Delays Clinical Trial of Embryonic Stem Cells
    The Geron Corporation announced Wednesday that its plans to begin the first clinical trial using embryonic stem cells had been delayed by federal regulators.

    The company, based in Menlo Park, Calif., had planned to begin a human trial soon to test its stem cell compound in patients with spinal cord injuries.

    The company received oral notice about the delay from the Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday and is awaiting a letter from the agency explaining its decision, said Geron’s chief executive, Thomas B. Okarma.

    Ren Benjamin, an analyst with Rodman & Renshaw, said the F.D.A. action was not surprising and was likely to delay rather than stop the trial.

    While companies typically do not announce when they submit an application to begin a trial for an investigational new drug, the F.D.A.’s action means Geron must have submitted its application in the last 30 days, Mr. Benjamin said.

    The F.D.A. convened a meeting April 10 of expert advisers who stressed the need for stringent safety measures in embryonic stem cell trials.

    Steven Bauer, chief of the F.D.A.’s cell and tissue therapy branch, said at the meeting that the agency might require “particularly strong” evidence early in studies that stem cell treatments are effective. The agency may also require longer trials of stem cell therapies than it does for conventional drugs, Mercedes Serabian, a supervisory toxicologist for the agency, said after the meeting.

    The company will announce its plans once it receives the F.D.A. letter, Mr. Okarma said. “We are disappointed with this action given the interactions we had with the F.D.A. over four years leading to the filing” of the company’s 21,000-page application for the trial, he said.

    Source: The New York Times Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company (15/05/08)

    Germany eases restrictions on stem cell research
    The German parliament voted Friday to ease a ban on imports of embryonic stem cells to enable scientists to do more up-to-date medical and biological research.

    The Lower House of the German parliament voted 346 to 228, with six abstentions, in favor of easing restrictions on embryonic stem cell research.

    Under the new rule, scientists will be allowed to use imported embryonic stem cells created before May 1, 2007, rather than only use cells created prior to 2002.

    Human embryonic stem cell research has been a highly controversial issue in Germany partly because of genetic experiments conducted by the Nazis to create the so-called "master race."

    Opposition against the research also comes from Christian churches and conservatives who argue that embryonic stem cell research means killing life at conception.

    Researchers, however, have argued that younger embryonic stem cells are needed for advanced research to develop drugs and therapies for diseases such as diabetes, and strict German restrictions have prevented them from keeping up with global advance.

    German Education and Research Minister Annette Schavan told the parliament Friday that extending the cut-off date is "justifiable to open a narrow corridor for research with younger embryonic stem cells."

    Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries said that the new cut-off date is compatible with the German constitution. "Although we have the duty to protect human life, the freedom of research should not be restricted," she said.

    Source: China View ©2003 Xinhua News Agency (11/04/08)

    Scientists develop technique to 'clean' stem cells
    Scientists in Singapore have developed a strategy to "clean up" embryonic stem cells, which researchers hope can one day be used to replace damaged tissues and for other tailor-made personal treatments.

    Embryonic stem cells are master cells that can grow, or "differentiate", into any type of cell or tissue, and are subsequently transplanted into the body.

    But some studies have shown that residual stem cells that fail to differentiate can turn cancerous later on.

    In the journal Stem Cells, scientists in Singapore said they generated antibodies that successfully killed off these residual stem cells in mice.

    "Although human embryonic stems cells are a very powerful source to make differentiated cells, like heart cells, the problem is that you can have residual cells and there is a safety concern because they can form ... a mass of tumour cells," said Andre Choo, senior scientist at the Bioprocessing Technology Institute in Singapore.

    "So if you give a product that is 95 percent heart cells, but 5 percent embryonic stem cells, it may be a problem later on," he said by telephone.

    The researchers managed to generate antibodies in mice after injecting human embryonic stem cells into the animals.

    The antibodies were then harvested and added to cultured embryonic stem cells that had been newly differentiated on laboratory dishes.

    "It (the antibody) specifically eliminated undifferentiated cells within 30 minutes but left differentiated cells untouched," the researchers wrote.

    The mixture was later injected into a batch of mice, while another batch of mice were given untreated stem cells.

    After 6 to 8 weeks, the researchers detected tumours in the mice that received untreated stem cells, but those that received the mixture of stem cells and antibodies were free of tumours even after 20 weeks.

    "We made antibodies that can kill them (undifferentiated stem cells) ... it acts as a clean up step for you to remove any of these rogue cells or potentially problematic cells," Choo said.

    Source: Reuters © Reuters Foundation 2008 (08/04/08)

    First Human-Animal Embryos in U.K. Bring Opposition
    The creation of the U.K.'s first part-human, part-animal embryos may increase pressure on Parliament for tougher regulations on stem cell research.

    Lyle Armstrong and colleagues at Newcastle University made embryos using human cells and a cow egg, the college said yesterday in a statement on its Web site. Debate in the U.K. over the so-called hybrid embryos increased after Catholic leaders, in Easter sermons, attacked the technique used for making stem cells. Cardinal Keith O'Brien of Edinburgh said creating such embryos were ``experiments of Frankenstein proportion.''

    Parliament is discussing changes to a 1990 law that governs stem cell research, including the hybrid work. U.K. scientists, who can conduct research U.S. President George W. Bush restricted in 2001, are concerned that they'll fall behind other countries if legislation before Parliament is defeated. Chinese and U.S. academics already have produced stem cells extracted from part- human, part-animal embryos.

    The new hybrids ``will open the door to a better understanding of disease processes without having to use precious human eggs,'' John Burn, head of the Institute of Human Genetics at Newcastle University, said in the statement. ``Cells grown using animal eggs cannot be used to treat patients on safety grounds but they will help bring nearer the day when new stem cell therapies are available.''

    Armstrong presented preliminary data last month at a lecture in Israel, and is working to verify the data, the university said yesterday.

    Lobbying, Debates

    In response to the criticism from religious leaders, medical organizations are organizing supporters to lobby legislators. O'Brien has agreed to a Catholic lawmaker's request that he meet researchers who want to use hybrid embryos. Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, the leader of Catholics in England and Wales, wants a national bioethics panel established.

    Two days after O'Brien's Easter sermon, Prime Minister Gordon Brown agreed to allow lawmakers in his Labour party and Cabinet ministers to vote based on their consciences as opposed to their party's position when they're polled in May or June. Three of Brown's Cabinet ministers are Catholic and may have resigned rather than support the bill.

    Among the proposed changes to the 1990 Human Fertilization and Embryology Act is a provision allowing researchers to generate stem cells from hybrid embryos.

    How it Works

    The embryos are created by inserting DNA from the skin cell of a person into animal eggs whose own nucleus and genetic material have been removed. The law would prohibit developing hybrid embryos beyond 14 days or transferring them to a person or animal.

    Embryonic cells are valued because they have the ability to turn into any of the roughly 210 cell types found in the human body. Researchers want to make hybrid embryos using the DNA of humans with incurable conditions such as Parkinson's disease, diabetes and spinal cord injury. The resulting stem cells would give another way to study the diseases and develop treatments. Human eggs are in short supply and donating them can be uncomfortable for women.

    The House of Lords passed the bill in January after three hearings. Debate on it is scheduled to begin in the House of Commons in May.

    That same month, the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority, the agency overseeing embryological research, gave Armstrong and Stephen Minger of King's College London one-year licenses to use hybrid embryos, after the group held public hearings on the matter.

    Poll Results

    The regulator cited a poll that found 61 percent of Britons it surveyed agreed scientists should be allowed to use hybrid embryos for research that might help them to understand diseases.

    The Association of Medical Research Charities and the Genetic Interest Group, which together represent 245 U.K. charities for conditions such as Parkinson's disease, cystic fibrosis and multiple sclerosis, asked the 646 members of the House of Commons to support the bill in a March 19 letter.

    ``We've got 3 million patients in the U.K. who could potentially benefit from the treatments that could be delivered by this research,'' said Nick Meade, a policy officer for the Genetic Interest Group.

    The government-backed Medical Research Council and AMRC member charities, including the Wellcome Trust, have spent about 90 million pounds ($178 million) funding stem-cell research projects in the U.K. since 2002.

    Postcard Protests

    At Easter Masses, Catholic worshippers were given postcards protesting against the proposals to send to their parliamentary representatives. Catholic leaders in London, Liverpool and Birmingham joined O'Brien in coming out against the bill in their sermons.

    ``It does seem extraordinary that the HFEA should have granted a license before there has been a full public and parliamentary debate,'' the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales said today in a statement. ``There must be a thorough public discussion about the serious ethical issues raised by the possibility of creating human-animal hybrid embryos.''

    The Church opposes all research and procedures that tamper with embryos. Embryonic stem cells haven't produced any cures so far and medical research could do without them or hybrids by focusing on adult stem cells, mature cells that have developed into specific tissue types, the Catholic Bishops' Conference argues.


    ``Regardless of where you stand on this issue, it's wholly unnecessary to use human embryos'' in stem-cell research, said David Alton, a Catholic layman and House of Lords member who doesn't belong to a political party. Alton unsuccessfully sought to block the hybrid embryo provision in the bill in January.

    Charities are arranging meetings with lawmakers to present their case, Kieran Breen of the Parkinson's Disease Society said. His group has asked its members to contact their representatives in Parliament and let them know what is at stake for sufferers.

    ``If the bill or sections of the bill don't go through, that could put research and our understanding of conditions like Parkinson's back by a number of years,'' Breen, director of research and development, said.

    Source: © Bloomberg L.P. (03/04/08)

    A clump of cells? Or a living being with a soul?

    Embryo research has pitted scientists against bishops, caused a cabinet split and divided the country. Religion, politics, medicine and ethics all collide in a debate that boils down to the question above.

    Is a bunch of cells just that: a bunch of cells, as scientists would have it, or is it, as the Catholic Church insists, a human being with a soul?

    It is the dispute that lies at the heart of the controversy over the Embryo Bill and it is as fundamental a difference of opinion as it is possible to imagine.

    Gordon Brown performed a political climbdown yesterday and promised Labour MPs a free vote on the most emotive measures in the Bill, in effect throwing open the debate to the entire country. It is a piece of legislation that challenges our deepest notion of what it is to be human and what it is right to sanction in the interests of scientific progress.

    MPs, in deciding how to cast their votes, will be taking soundings in their constituencies at the same time as consulting their consciences. In doing so, they are certain to be harangued with views from both sides in the acrimonious debate. The mammoth Bill is designed to update the 1990 regulatory framework for fertility treatment and embryo research in line with scientific advances and changes in public attitudes during the past 18 years.

    At its heart lie three issues on which Mr Brown has now granted MPs a free vote, although Labour MPs will be required to back the Bill as a whole when it is voted on in principle at the third and final reading.

    The specific issues are: allowing research into possibilities such as making sperm from bone marrow that might mean women could become "fathers"; allowing the creation of "saviour siblings" (babies created with the correct tissue match to treat a sick brother or sister); and the creation of so-called hybrid animal/human embryos to aid stem cell research.

    It is that last issue – the creation of hybrid embryos (also called "admix" or "cybrid" embryos) – that has angered senior members of the Catholic establishment who attacked the proposal in their sermons delivered over Easter.

    Most outspoken was Cardinal Keith O'Brien, leader of the Scottish Catholic Church, who said: "This Bill represents a monstrous attack on human rights, human dignity and human life. In some European countries, one could be jailed for doing what we intend to make legal. It is difficult to imagine a single piece of legislation which more comprehensively attacks the sanctity and dignity of human life than this particular Bill.

    "One might say that in our country we are about to have a public government endorsement of experiments of Frankenstein proportion – without many people really being aware of what is going on."

    The Anglican Bishop of Lichfield, the Right Rev Jonathan Gledhill, also attacked the Bill. He said: "It's a very important part of our society and a very important part of the Christian faith that you should have respect for human embryos.

    "If you stop obeying God, you start to limit the rights of human beings and this is a case in point. A society has to be judged by the way that it treats its poorest, most vulnerable and weakest. And what can be weaker than an unborn child?"

    Cardinal O'Brien's outburst drew a stinging rebuke from Lord Winston, the Labour peer and IVF pioneer, who accused him of deliberately misrepresenting the Bill. "His statements are lying. They are misleading and I am afraid that when the Church, for good motives, tells untruths, it brings discredit on itself," he said.

    Professor Colin Blakemore, former head of the Medical Research Council, expressed the same view in more moderate language. "The Bill is not about creating monsters or mocking the sanctity of human life. Indeed, it will reduce the number of human eggs and embryos used in the production of stem cells for research."

    That is the core of the scientific case for the creation of hybrids – it is a response to the shortage of human eggs available for research. Extracting eggs from women is an invasive procedure that requires them to take powerful drugs to stimulate their ovaries and then undergo surgery to retrieve the eggs.

    The procedure carries risks. Most human eggs used for research are therefore obtained from women undergoing IVF, as a by-product of the treatment.

    But women having IVF need their eggs first and foremost for treatment – hence the shortage of eggs available for research.

    A decade ago, scientists found another source – animal eggs. They discovered that by removing the nucleus from a cow or rabbit egg and replacing it with the nucleus from a human skin cell, they could create a hybrid embryo that would develop like a human one, from which stem cells could be grown.

    The resulting embryo is 99.9 per cent human in genetic terms. It would never be grown beyond a few days, and the stem cells would only be used in research. But the potential benefits would be great, providing insights into diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and motor neurone by producing stem cells containing genetic defects that contribute to those conditions.

    The Association of Medical Research Charities, representing 223 organisations, said in a letter to MPs last week that the Bill "would allow new avenues of scientific inquiry to be pursued which could greatly increase our understanding of serious medical conditions affecting millions of people throughout the UK, and ultimately lead to new treatments".

    The Department of Health spelt out the restrictions set out in the Bill. "There will be a limit of 14 days development of the embryo, and they cannot be put in a woman or an animal. This is not about 'creating monsters' it is purely laboratory research aimed at increasing knowledge of serious diseases and treatments for them."

    In scientists' eyes, the use of animal eggs is a practical answer to a practical problem but in the eyes of the Catholic Church, it is something else entirely – a monstrous creation that is an affront to human life and dignity.

    Source: The Independent © (26/03/08)

    Embryo research Bill could block life-saving stem-cell treatments

    Stem-cell therapies for diseases such as Parkinson’s and diabetes could become illegal under embryo research laws planned by the Government, The Times has learnt.

    The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill currently passing through Parliament could prevent patients from receiving potentially life-saving treatments based on embryonic stem cells, because it does not permit regulators to license them for therapeutic use.

    Embryonic stem cells are powerful master cells found in human embryos, which can grow into any type of tissue. They hold great promise for treating conditions such as diabetes, Parkinson’s and spinal paralysis.

    While the Bill allows scientists to obtain licences to use these cells for medical experiments, it contains no mechanism for approving treatments should this research prove successful.

    Leading scientists, lawyers and MPs have warned ministers that unless the legislation is amended when it reaches the House of Commons in late spring, it could stop patients from benefiting from the very medical research the Government is encouraging.

    The problem has arisen because the Bill allows the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority to license the use of human embryos only for medical research or treatment of infertility. This does not matter at present, as no embryonic stem-cell therapies are ready to be given to patients, and it would not affect clinical trials because these would be classified as research.

    Once techniques move beyond an experimental stage, however, doctors would not be allowed to give them to patients without fresh primary legislation, scientists and lawyers say.

    This would significantly delay patients’ access to therapies that are the goal of stem-cell research, and would make it harder for scientists to raise funds from the biotechnology industry.

    Professor Robin Lovell-Badge, a stem-cell scientist at the National Institute for Medical Research in London, said: “They have not thought the whole picture through properly. Once you get the protocol right, and you want to grow embryonic stem cells to treat patients, that is no longer research.”

    James Lawford Davies, a solicitor with Clifford Chance who specialises in embryology law, said: “There is at the very least a grey area here. Without proper provisions you can guarantee that people who object to embryo research are going to try a legal challenge.”

    Evan Harris, the Liberal Democrat science spokesman, said: “One of the goals of embryonic stem-cell research is to provide therapies, but as the Bill stands it may not be possible to license these.”

    The Government rejected amendments tabled in the House of Lords that would have allowed the HFEA to include treatment in the terms of its licences, saying that the definition of research would be sufficiently broad.

    A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said: “On the basis of [legal] advice, the Government is of the view that the currently anticipated licensing framework would in fact allow the derivation of embryonic stem cells, and the development of those cells into a therapeutic product without the need for amendment of the Bill.”

    The Times understands, however, that the Government is now reconsidering its position, and may table an amendment in the Commons to address scientists’ concerns.

    The Government also came under pressure yesterday to allow Labour MPs a free vote on the entire Bill, after MPs who support more liberal legislation said their opponents should be free to vote with their consciences.

    An early day motion calling for a free vote, tabled by David Burrowes, a Conservative MP, has been signed by 70 MPs. They include advocates of embryo research such as Dr Harris, Robert Key, a former Tory science spokesman, and Phil Willis, who chairs the Innovation, Skills, Science and Universities Select Committee, as well as opponents such as Mr Burrowes and Ann Widdecombe.

    Last week more than 100 academics with different opinions on the legislation wrote to The Times to demand a fully free vote, as was granted when the present laws were passed in 1990.

    Dr Harris said: “Individual MPs should be entitled to vote with their conscience on clear conscience issues such as these.”

    The big issues

    Three issues on which the Government has backed down

    Merged regulators
    Original Human Tissue and Embryos Bill proposed merger between embryo research and IVF watchdog and human tissue regulator. Plan dropped and Bill renamed after criticism from scientists, MPs and peers

    Hybrid embryos
    Draft Bill would have banned research on embryos created by combining human and animal tissue, which scientists want to use to make laboratory models of disease. These will now be permitted

    Legislation would have banned scientists using tissue for cloning when donors had not given explicit consent. This will now not be applied retrospectively, after researchers said this would deny them access to important cell libraries that were donated for general medical research

    And three more on which it might

    Treatment licences
    Bill does not provide for licences to be issued for therapies based on embryonic stem cells. Ministers considering revising it to permit this

    Artificial sperm and eggs
    Present Bill bans the use of sperm or eggs made from stem cells in fertility treatment. MPs will table an amendment that would give Parliament the right to approve this at a later date without primary legislation

    Existing wording means parents cannot consent to use of their children’s cells in cloning experiments, even when they would die before reaching the age of majority. Government has accepted the case for revising this, and lawyers are drafting a clause that would be compatible with the Human Rights Act.

    Source: TimesOnline © Copyright 2008 Times Newspapers Ltd. (16/03/08)

    Improved genetic alteration technique may better disease study
    American researchers have developed a novel stem cell technique that may make it easier to study and treat thousands of disorders, including Huntingtons disease, muscular dystrophy, and diabetes.

    The developers of the new technique at the University of California, Irvine (UCI) describe it as a dramatically improved method for genetically manipulating human embryonic stem cells.

    As regards how the technique works, the researchers have revealed that it blends two existing cell-handling methods to improve cell survival rates, and to increase the efficiency of inserting DNA into cells.

    They claim that this procedure is 100 times more efficient than current methods at producing human embryonic stem cells with desired genetic alterations.

    The ability to generate large quantities of cells with altered genes opens the door to new research into many devastating disorders, said Peter Donovan, professor of biological chemistry and developmental and cell biology at UCI, and co-director of the UCI Sue and Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center.

    Not only will it allow us to study diseases more in-depth, it also could be a key step in the successful development of future stem cell therapies, he added.

    In a previous study, which Professor Donovan carried out in collaboration with Assistant Adjunct Professor Leslie Lock, the research team had identified proteins called growth factors that help keep cells alive by telling them how to behave or remain a stem cell.

    In the current study, Professor Donovans team used the same growth factors to keep cells alive, and then inserted DNA into the cells using a technique called nucleofection a process in which electrical pulses are used to punch tiny holes in the outer layer of a cell.

    The researchers say that with nucleofection, scientists can introduce into cells DNA that makes proteins that glow green under a special light.

    In a report describing the process, published in the journal Stem Cells, they say that the green colour makes it possible to track the movement of cells once they are transplanted into an animal model, which in turn makes it easier to identify the cells during safety studies of potential stem cell therapies.

    These days, DNA are inserted into cells using chemicals, but that method can kill the cells sometimes, and is inefficient at transferring genetic information.

    UCI scientists reckon that for every one genetically altered cell generated using the chemical method, the new growth factor/nucleofection method produces between 10 and 100 successfully modified cells.

    Before our technique, genetic modification of human embryonic stem cells largely was inefficient. This is a stepping stone for bigger things to come, said Kristi Hohenstein, a stem cell scientist in Donovans lab.

    The researchers say that with the new technique, scientists can develop populations of cells with abnormalities that lead to disease, and study them to learn more about the disorder and how it is caused.

    According to them, the novel method may also facilitate the correction of the disorder in stem cells so that healthy cells can be used in a treatment.

    Source: Thaindian news (10/03/08)

    Ministers back down on stem-cell cloning ban

    The Government is to back down from introducing strict curbs on stem-cell experiments after a plea by scientists.

    Leading researchers expressed fears that the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill would delay potentially life-saving research by making it necessary to have the explicit consent of donors before any tissue could be used to create cloned embryonic stem cells.

    The Bill, which will receive its third reading in the Lords on Monday, would have banned access to most of the tissue banks which provide a library of the genes that contribute to serious disorders.

    But more than 50 biomedical researchers, including four Nobel prize-winners, have warned ministers that the move would deny scientists the ability to use tissue banks for studying diseases such as muscular dystrophy and diabetes.

    In a joint letter, they argued that requiring explicit consent threatened years of costly research and would undermine attempts to find a cure.

    The Department of Health wrote to peers last week conceding that exceptions should be allowed. "A compelling case has been made that the requirement for express consent could, in certain circumstances, impose a significant burden in this field," the department said.

    Dr Evan Harris, the Liberal Democrat MP who organised the scientists' letter, said: "Plaudits to the scientists for speaking out and to the Government for listening."

    Source: The Daily Telegraph © Copyright of Telegraph Media Group Limited 2008 (04/02/08)

    Human-animal embryos get the go-ahead
    British scientists will try to create human-animal embryos for the first time after receiving the go-ahead from the government's fertility regulator yesterday. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority said it had offered year-long licences to two teams of scientists that hope to use the embryos to study stem cells, the body's master cells that have the potential to form any tissue or organ.

    The decision ends 12 months of delay during which the HFEA has sought to clarify whether the creation of embryos by fusing animal and human tissues is legal and scientifically justified.

    Leading scientists, including the government's former chief science adviser Sir David King, have given their backing to the research, but anti-abortion and religious groups launched a fervent campaign against the proposals, claiming that the research would undermine human dignity and blur the boundary between humans and other species.

    Scientists at Newcastle University and King's College London want to create hybrid embryos by merging human cells with cow or rabbit eggs, in the hope of extracting valuable embryonic stem cells from them. The cells are expected to lead to revolutionary therapies for diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and even spinal cord injuries.

    Under existing laws, the embryos must be destroyed after 14 days when they are no bigger than a pinhead, and cannot be implanted into the womb. In a statement, the authority said its licensing committee had "determined that the applications satisfied all the requirements of the law".

    Sir Richard Gardner, chairman of the Royal Society's stem cell working group, added: "This is the right decision by the HFEA and it will maintain the UK's position as an innovator and world leader in stem cell research."

    Source: The Guardian © Guardian News and Media Limited 2008 (18/01/08)

    Advanced Cell Technology Announces Creation of Human Embryonic Stem Cell Lines Without the Destruction of Embryos
    Advanced Cell Technology, Inc. together with colleagues announced today the development of five human embryonic stem cell (hESC) lines without the destruction of embryos. These new results have the potential to end the ethical debate surrounding the use of embryos to derive stem cells. In fact, the NIH report to the President refers to this technology as one of the viable alternatives to the destruction of embryos.

    The new method will be published today in the journal Cell Stem Cells, published by Cell Press. The peer-reviewed technique was initially carried out by ACT scientists under the direction of Robert Lanza, M.D., and then independently replicated by scientists on the West Coast. Single cells were removed from the embryos using a technique similar to preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD). The biopsied embryos continued to develop normally and were then frozen. The cells that were removed were cultured utilizing a proprietary methodology that recreates the optimal developmental environment, which substantially improved the efficiency of deriving stem cells to rates comparable to using the traditional approach of deriving stem cells from the inner cell mass of a whole blastocyst stage embryo. The stem cells were genetically normal and differentiated into cell types of all three germ layers of the body, including blood cells, neurons, heart cells, cartilage, and other cell types of potentially therapeutic significance.

    "This is a working technology that exists here and now," said Robert Lanza, M.D., Chief Scientific Officer at Advanced Cell Technology and senior author of the paper. "It could be used to increase the number of stem cell lines available to federal researchers immediately. We could send these cells out to researchers tomorrow. If the White House approves this new methodology, researchers could effectively double or triple the number of stem cell lines available within a few months. Too many needless deaths continue to occur while this research is being held up. I hope the President will act now and approve these stem cell lines quickly."

    The paper published today also addresses several other important issues. First, the stem cells were derived without culturing multiple cells from each embryo together, and at efficiency levels similar to that reported for conventional stem cell derivation techniques using blastocysts. Second, it addresses ethical objections that the derivation system required co-culture with hESCs from other embryos that were destroyed. The current study demonstrates that hESC co-culture is not an essential part of the derivation procedure. The stem cell lines generated in the present study appear to have the same characteristics as other hESC lines, including expression of the same markers of pluripotency, self-renewing capacity, genetic stability, and ability to differentiate into derivatives of all three germ layers of the body.

    "We are excited that our new method for generating human embryonic stem cell lines without the destruction of embryos has been accepted for inclusion by such a prestigious publication," said William M. Caldwell IV, Chairman and CEO of Advanced Cell Technology. "This new approach addresses the President Bush's ethical concerns. We are hopeful that the NIH will consider this new approach for federal funding. We believe that such consideration reflects the desire of the American people to bring therapies derived from stem cell research to patients with few or no alternatives."

    Other contributors to the study and publication include Young Chung and Irina Klimanskaya, Sandy Becker, Tong Li, Marc Maserati, and Shi-Jiang Lu of Advanced Cell Technology; Tamara Zdravkovic, Olga Genbacev, and Susan Fisher of the University of California, San Francisco; and Dusko Ilic and Ana Krtolica of StemLifeLine.

    Source: PR (11/01/08)

    Human embryonic stem cell lines created that avoid immune rejection
    In a groundbreaking experiment published in Cloning & Stem Cells, scientists from International Stem Cell (ISC) Corp. derived four unique embryonic stem cell lines that open the door for the creation of therapeutic cells that will not provoke an immune reaction in large segments of the population. The stem cell lines are “HLA-homozygous,” meaning that they have a simple genetic profile in the critical areas of the DNA that code for immune rejection.

    The lines could serve to create a stem cell bank as a renewable source of transplantable cells for use in cell therapy to replace damaged tissues or to treat genetic and degenerative diseases.

    “This study has used a novel approach to producing cells that may one day be used to treat large numbers of patients. While there is a great deal of discussion about the possibility of producing stem cells for each patient this approach to therapy is unrealistic because of the enormous costs involved. Rather it is likely that treatment of large numbers of patients by cell therapy will only be possible if methods are found using any one cell line to treat very large numbers of patients. This very exciting paper represents a significant step forward towards the use of such cells in cell therapy,” says Ian Wilmut, PhD, journal Editor-in-Chief and Director of the Centre for Regenerative Medicine at the Queen’s Medical Research Institute, University of Edinburgh.

    “Immune reaction is one of the most serious problems facing the development of stem cell therapy, and cell lines of this type may enable us to treat a large number of patients without immune rejection, offering an enormous practical advantage. Further research is required to confirm that the cells produced in this way are able to replace cells that have been lost in human degenerative disease.”

    Jeffrey Janus, President of International Stem Cell and colleagues at the company and from the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences, described the successful parthenogenetic activation of human oocytes and the subsequent derivation of cell lines having the morphology and markers characteristic of human embryonic stem cells. In a paper entitled, “HLA Homozygous Stem Cell Lines Derived from Human Parthenogenetic Blastocysts,” the authors emphasize two key factors that would make this technology so valuable for future efforts to generate replacement tissues and organs and to use donor-derived cell repositories to develop cell-based therapies.

    First, the four human parthenogenetic stem cell lines, designated as HpSC-Hhom, are HLA (human leukocyte antigen) homozygous. This makes it possible to match the HLA types of a donor and recipient, reducing the chances of provoking an immune reaction against the transplanted donor cells.

    Second, the stem cells are derived from unfertilized donor eggs, not from fertilized embryos, so the technique does not carry the same ethical burden.

    The future clinical relevance of this work will depend on the ability to reproduce these results and to demonstrate that the stem cell lines can be induced to form pluripotent progenitor cells and, ultimately, to differentiate into specific mature cell types that can be safely and successfully delivered to patients.

    The paper was published online ahead of print in the Journal and is available online. The paper is part of the Spring 2008 (Volume 10, Number 1) issue of the Journal, which is published by Mary Ann Liebert, Inc.

    Source: Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. (21/12/07)

    An Alleged Cloning First: Cloned Primate Delivers Stem Cells
    Researchers from Oregon allege that they have successfully derived embryonic stem cells (ESCs) from a blastocyst created through somatic cell nuclear transfer. If confirmed, this would be a world first and could potentially lead to the creation of human ESCs through cloning.

    While details of the new research—led by Shoukhrat Mitalipov and performed at the Oregon National Primate Research Center—will be unavailable until the work is published in the journal Nature, his past work may provide some indication of what to expect. (Given the fraud of Hwang Woo-Suk, who came out of nowhere, one can't be too careful.)

    A 2002 Biological Reproduction paper demonstrated that nuclear transfer (NT) monkey embryos (using non-embryonic donors) were comparable with IVF embryos through the 8-cell stage, but not thereafter. An October 2006 Human Reproduction paper reported that Mitalipov's team was able to generate blastocysts at a rate of almost 1-in-4 (24.4%) using a modified nuclear transfer technique with fetal skin donor material. (Adjusting for various factors, the 2006 paper suggested that one "normal" blastocyst, from which to obtain ESCs, could be created with the number of eggs normally released in one menstrual cycle.)

    Where could this new research lead?

    The Independent reports that Mitalipov has successfully cloned embryos using donor material from an adult monkey, using a new technique to transfer donor nuclei into the egg. They go on to say that Mitalipov told scientists at a June meeting that he had (at that point) obtained two stem cell lines from 20 cloned embryos, but fail to mention a success rate or whether the obtained stem cell lines came were created with the help of an adult donor.

    A published report in the hopefully near future should answer whether the team succeeded in improving the NT technique to a point where ESCs can be obtained from adult donor material or just to where blastocysts could be created that may one day allow ESCs to be extracted.

    I would bet on the latter given Mitalipov's past work, with derivation of ESCs from a cloned embryo created with fetal tissue being the bonus. There could be more, but only time will tell.

    Source: Wired Science © 2007 CondéNet, Inc. All rights reserved.(13/11/07)

    Human stem cell consortium unveiled

    The pharmaceutical industry on Tuesday announced its first direct involvement in research using human embryonic stem cells.

    Three companies have set up a consortium with the government to develop stem cells for safety testing of new drugs through a public-private partnership. The launch of Stem Cells for Safer Medicines, or SC4SM, is significant because “big pharma” has been reluctant to engage in embryonic stem cell research.

    Companies fear the reaction in markets such as the US, where the use of human embryos is controversial, and they have left the field to universities and biotechnology businesses.

    GlaxoSmithKline, AstraZeneca and Roche are inaugurating SC4SM in collaboration with several government departments.

    More companies are expected to join, according to Philip Wright, science director at the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, who will also serve as chief executive of SC4SM.

    SC4SM is the international industry’s first public-private partnership on human embryonic stem cells, following a recommendation by Sir John Pattison’s 2005 report on the future of stem cell research in Britain.

    Dr Wright said: “It has taken a long time to set up because of the sensitivities. We have an ethical framework that says we should only use existing embryonic stem cell lines [in the UK stem cell bank] and next year we will have an independent ethics advisory board to provide further advice.”

    The £1m first phase of a five-year, £10m programme will focus on producing liver cells. Ian Cotgreave, head of molecular toxicity for AstraZeneca, said: “The liver is a key organ for toxicity. It is the dustbin of the body, which neutralises and destroys drugs and toxins.”

    Unexpected liver toxicity is the biggest single reason why medicines fail during trials. AstraZeneca’s Exanta, a blood-thinning drug, was a recent casualty.

    Animal tests had given no clue to this problem, said Prof Cotgreave. “The predictability for liver toxicity from pre-clinical regulatory testing is almost as good as tossing a coin.”

    SC4SM plans to fund five projects over the next year, aimed at converting human embryonic stem cells into hepatocytes (liver cells). These should be a more reliable guide to a new drug’s effect on the human liver.

    Two biotech companies with research labs in Dundee – CXR Biosciences and Cellartis – are working on hepatocytes for toxicity and are likely to be involved.

    The consortium’s long term strategy will include the conversion of stem cells into other cell types. The second target will be cardiomyocytes (heart cells).

    SC4SM will not investigate the therapeutic use of stem cells directly to treat disease, though it will collaborate with researchers who are doing so.

    Stem cells grown without animal-derived products
    Three teams in Scotland have managed to derive and grow stem cells without using any animal cells that might contaminate them, overcoming one of the obstacles of using human embryonic stem cells to treat diseases, a media report has said.

    The approach has led to the hope that embryonic stem cells (ESCs), the primitive cells in embryos from which all our tissues originate, can be grown into transplantable tissues for treating many disorders, from diabetes to osteoporosis, the New Scientist Magazine said on Thursday.

    Until now it had been impossible to grow them without mouse "feeder cells" and animal-derived serum.

    The magazine said that Paul De Sousa and his team at the Roslin Institute in Scotland, where Dolly the sheep was cloned, have produced what they say are the first animal-free ESCs. "We have cells that have never directly been exposed to animal products," De Sousa said.

    Source: Hindustan Times (30/09/07)

    Human-animal embryo research approved

    Regulators decided on Wednesday to permit in principle the creation of hybrid human-animal embryos for research into illnesses such as Parkinson's, Motor Neurone Disease and Alzheimer's.

    The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) agreed to allow a specific kind of inter-species hybrid, where human DNA is injected into a hollowed out animal egg cell, a spokeswoman for the regulator said.

    The resulting "cytoplastic hybrid" embryo, or "cybrid" would be 99.9 percent human and 0.1 percent animal.

    Two teams of British scientists have applied to the HFEA for permission to create such hybrids to overcome a shortage of donated human eggs.

    Their applications have been on hold for nearly a year, awaiting the outcome of a public consultation by the HFEA.

    The researchers hope to use the hybrid embryos, which must be destroyed after 14 days, to create stem cells to help find new medical treatments for degenerative diseases.

    "This is not a total green light for cytoplasmic hybrid research, but recognition that this area of research can, with caution and careful scrutiny, be permitted," the HFEA said of Wednesday's decision.

    The HFEA will now consider the two research applications in the coming months.

    Opponents say mixing even a tiny amount of human genetic material with that of an animal is unnatural and wrong.

    Scientists in China, the United States and Canada have already carried out similar work.

    The HFEA regulators deferred a decision on other types of human-animal embryos, such as "true hybrids", created by the fusion of a human sperm and an animal egg, and "human chimeras", where human cells are injected into animal embryos.

    This was because there was no evidence that scientists are at present considering using such hybrids in research.

    The regulators considered findings from their consultation which included an opinion poll of more than 2,000 people.

    The survey found people supported the creation of the kind of hybrid embryos proposed by the two research teams, but only when they were given a reason for the experiments.

    A majority of those asked -- 61 percent -- gave their backing if the hybrids would help understand some diseases.

    That support fell to 35 percent if the hybrids were being created purely for non-specific research.

    Source: Yahoo! News Copyright © 2007 Yahoo! All rights reserved.(05/09/07)

    Researchers discover human embryonic stem cells are the ultimate perpetual fuel cell

    Breakthrough at new McMaster institute will dramatically change focus for human stem cell science.

    Human Embryonic Stem Cell

    Illustration shows a human embryonic stem cell colony expressing insulin-like growth factor (IGF) receptors (red), surrounded by niche cells expressing fibroblast growth factor (FGF)receptors (green). Blue indicates the nucleus of all cells in the dish.

    A startling discovery on the development of human embryonic stem cells by scientists at McMaster University will change how future research in the area is done.

    An article published in the prestigious scientific journal Nature this week reports on a new understanding of the growth of human stem cells. It had been thought previously that stem cells are directly influenced by cells in the local environment or ‘niche’, but the situation may be more complex. Human embryonic stem cells are perpetual machines that generate fuel for life.

    In this week’s Nature, researchers of the McMaster Cancer and Stem Cell Research Institute show that human embryonic stem (ES) cells can actually produce distinctive niche cells, which then release stem-cell nourishing proteins to help keep their ‘parents’ ticking over.

    Scientific Director Mick Bhatia and colleagues provide the first evidence that human ES cells have the unique ability to generate human-ES-cell-derived fibroblast-like niche cells (hdFs) in vitro despite removal from their in vivo microenvironment. These hdFs then provide a continuous source of supportive proteins, including insulin-like growth factor 2 (IGF-II), which they now show could be “the” protein to sustain hESCs.

    Researchers are interested in the relationship between stem cells and their niche, because the niche represents a route for modifying stem cell behaviour — if human ES cells can be reliably guided down a particular pathway, then they can be more readily used for future clinical therapy to regenerate damaged tissue such as neurons for Parkinson’s disease, or insulin producing cells for diabetes.

    The research has been funded by the Canadian Institutes for Health Research and the National Cancer Institute of Canada.

    The Nature article is the latest in a series of important papers published by scientists at the 18-month-old institute, which was established with funding by philanthropist Michael G. DeGroote. The institute has a research focus on the molecular determinants of cancer and tissue repair and is building scientific momentum.

    “This discovery of a new fundamental understanding about how human stem cells develop is the kind of scientific work which has already put this Institute on the map as the leader in this field,” said John Kelton, dean and vice-president of McMaster’s Faculty of Health Sciences.

    Mick Bhatia said that he and his scientific team have been working for the past year to prove themselves wrong, but as every test confirmed their discovery, it was time to submit the work for international peer review from other experts.

    “This will be critical for future developments involving drug and gene screening of human ES cells, that will be required before clinical use of human stem cells of this kind,” he said.

    The paper will be published electronically on Nature’s website on July 11, but will be published in print later this month.

    McMaster University, a world-renowned, research-intensive university, fosters a culture of innovation, and a commitment to discovery and learning in teaching, research and scholarship. Based in Hamilton, the University, one of only four Canadian universities to be listed on the Top 100 universities in the world, has a student population of more than 23,000, and an alumni population of more than 125,000 in 125 countries.

    Source: McMaster Stem Cell and Cancer Research Institute (11/07/07)

    Researchers find 'missing link' stem cells
    Scientists at Britain's two leading universities have made a massive breakthrough in stem cell research.

    The two independent teams based at Cambridge University and Oxford University have discovered a new type of embryonic stem cell in mice and rats, which is very similar to human embryonic stem cells.

    The discovery, and its virtually simultaneous verification, is likely to accelerate understanding of stem cell development and help the derivation of stem cells in other species - including livestock and disease-prone mice used in research.

    Up until now, embryonic stem cells derived in humans and mice had looked different and not behaved in the same way. The main thing they had in common was their pluripotency, that is to say their ability to turn into any type of cells: nerve cells, blood cells, among others. But researchers had found that mouse and human stem cells maintained this state in quite different ways, which required distinct techniques for their growth in culture.

    The two teams found that when mouse stem cells are derived from epiblast (the innermost cell layer) of the one-week old rodent embryo, rather than from the more usual early blastocyst stage (3-4 days after conception), they actually resembled human embryonic stem cells and had many of the same properties.

    Further verification studies were undertaken with researchers at University College London and the US National Institutes of Health to analyse the molecular characteristics of the newly-derived stem cells. Their evidence further confirmed the similarity of the novel mouse stem cells to human embryonic stem cells.

    The 'epiblast stem cells', as they have been named, constitute the "missing link between mouse and human embryonic stem cells" says Professor Roger Pedersen leader of the Cambridge team.

    Because epiblast stem cells are so similar to human embryonic stem cells they will provide better models for human ES cells and will help move stem cell research toward potential therapies.

    Both papers are published online this week in Nature.

    Source: Onmedica Copyright © OnMedica Group Ltd 2007 (27/06/07)

    Unused IVF eggs used for stem cells
    Human eggs discarded in fertility treatments could provide a new source of embryonic stem cells, scientists have said.

    Up to 30% of eggs used during in vitro fertilisation are found to be unusable and are discarded. But now researchers have extracted stem cells from one of these unusable eggs.

    This discovery could provide a much-needed resource in the fight against diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, liver disease and diabetes, researchers from Midlothian-based Roslin Cells Ltd said.

    It could also provide a less controversial source of embryonic stem cells. Over the last decade, these cells have been taken from embryos developed in IVF. But this provoked protest from the pro-life movement, who argue an embryo is a human being and entitled to the same level of dignity.

    Scientists at the institute created Dolly the sheep in 1996, the first mammal to be cloned from an adult cell.

    Dr Paul De Sousa, Roslin Cells' chief scientific officer, said: "The new cell line which we have produced demonstrates that embryonic stem cells can be produced from tissue which was previously not considered of use to our research."

    Scientists from Roslin Cells teamed up with colleagues in Manchester and began developing the project last October.

    Dr Daniel Brison, who led the Manchester team, warned the discovery was still at an early stage. He said scientists had only developed one "stem cell line" - a group of cells extracted from one egg, and tests had not been completed on them.

    Rosin Cells Ltd is a company established by the Roslin Institute last year. Its aim is to produce new human embryonic stem cell lines for the stem cell sector in Scotland, supplying academics, NHS Scotland and companies.

    Source: Channel 4 News (20/06/07)

    Stem cells without the embryo
    Scientists say they have developed a method in mice for creating the equivalent of embryonic stem cells without using eggs or destroying an embryo, a finding that could help circumvent the controversy surrounding the promising research. The finding, which was published online by Nature, comes as the U.S. House of Representatives is set to vote on a bill relaxing restrictions on federal funding of embryonic stem cell research and a separate bill that would authorise cloning for therapeutic purposes.

    Sean Tipton, president of the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research, an organisation that supports embryonic stem cell research, said the new research, while important, probably won't have a significant impact on the current political debate.

    "It will change the talking points a little, but I don't think it's going to change any votes," Tipton told United Press International.

    He predicted Congress would pass the stem cell bill, setting up a repeat of last year's situation in which President Bush used his first veto to reject the legislation.

    Bush opposes the research because it requires destroying an embryo, but the consensus of biomedical researchers is that it has the potential to lead to disease treatments, and at least two companies -- Advanced Cell Technology and Geron -- have said they plan to file investigational new drug applications this year to take their stem cell-based therapies into the clinic.

    Whether Bush will once again block efforts to relax limits on federal funding he put in place in 2001 remains uncertain because the new legislation contains provisions the president said he would require in order to endorse it.

    "He has changed his mind a little bit on at least one scientific issue," Tipton said, referring to Bush's recent switch on dealing with global warming. "Maybe there's somebody giving some science advice over at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue."

    As it is, Tipton said, Bush's current policy may be inhibiting research, such as the current study, that would enable scientists to develop ways of obtaining human embryonic stem cells without embryos.

    "If people really want to allow the research to develop, we need to lift the restrictions on embryonic stem cells," he said.

    In the new research, two teams of scientists -- one led by the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research and the other by Japan's Kyoto University -- used viruses and genetic engineering to reprogram mice skin cells to an earlier stage where they appeared to have the capability of giving rise to all the different cell types of the body.

    Genetic tests showed the cells to be indistinguishable from embryonic stem cells, and further research showed they could give rise to a live mouse when injected into an embryo and implanted into a uterus.

    "The work shows that you can take any specialised cell and turn it back into a cell that can generate all the different cell types," Alex Meissner, a scientist involved in the research at the Whitehead Institute, told UPI.

    The technique still has to be modified to work in human cells, and there are several challenges to doing that, such as the fact that the viruses used to reprogram the mice cells cause cancer, but researchers agree the technique holds promise for treating human illness.

    George Daley, a stem cell researcher at Children's Hospital Boston, said the work is "incredibly exciting" and scientists may be close to finding a way to make it work with human cells because his lab and other groups have previously been looking at that aspect.

    "There are many labs worldwide attempting this strategy in human cells," Daley said. "I would be surprised if this doesn't lead fairly rapidly to a similar breakthrough in human cells."

    Still, Daley said the new technique does not negate the need to pursue other embryonic stem cell research.

    "I think it's going to be seized upon by opponents of embryonic stem cell research to say we don't need to go forward with work already under way," he said. "That would be a real mistake."

    For one reason, it could take some time to figure out how to apply this technique to human cells and get it to the current state of embryonic stem cell research.

    Noting that there are more than 200 embryonic stem cell lines, Daley said, "It would take a number of years before the equivalent number of lines is ever developed from this alternative procedure, so I wouldn't put the other research on hold."

    Another reason for continuing embryonic stem cell research is there are lots of phenomena that can be studied with embryonic stem cells, such as understanding development, birth defects or chromosomal abnormalities, that can't be done with cells generated by the new technique, he said.

    Source: United Press International © Copyright 2007 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. (08/06/07)

    ProtoKinetix’s AAGP™ Dramatically Increases Recovery Rate of Cryopreserved Stem Cells
    ProtoKinetix Inc. has just received the results of studies conducted by ITTEC Stem, Inc. at the University of Finland. These outstanding results using AAGP™ in the cryopreservation process for stem cells demonstrate the vital importance of this molecule in the rapidly expanding stem cell industry. This is the first series of tests using AAGP™ on human embryonic stem cells.

    Using standard cryogenic protocol for stem cell storage, the addition of 2mg/ml of AAGP™ resulted in an amazing recovery of 87%. Traditional recovery rates after cryopreservation with DMSO (Dimethyl Sulphoxide) are typically between 30% and 40%. Stem cells grown, after cryopreservation with AAGP™, maintain their identity as stem cells, not differentiated. Differentiation occurs when a stem cell has started to change into another defined cell, such as kidney, liver, skin, or even nerve cells. It is critically important that stored embryonic stem cells do not differentiate during storage.

    The use of and research on human embryonic stem cells is being debated by every society in the world over moral and ethical issues. The ability of this molecule to dramatically increase the survivability and viability of human embryonic stem cells should assist in solving some of these highly contentious debates. Embryonic stem cells are the most versatile of the stem cell group, with the ability to transform into any cell in the human body.

    About ProtoKinetix:

    ProtoKinetix Inc. is a Biotechnical Company dedicated to the development of a family of synthetic antifreeze glycoproteins (AAGP™) for human and veterinary medicine and the biotechnology and cosmetic industries. Using previously published research on native antifreeze proteins and antifreeze glycoproteins as a guide, and coordinating a vast pool of world-recognised intellectual talent in a networked environment, PKTX is conducting rapid and meaningful research with a view to developing markets for this very useful family of molecules.

    Source: ProtoKinetix Inc. (23/05/07)

    EU To Spend EUR1 Million To Fund Human Embryonic Stem Cell Registry
    The European Commission Thursday said it will spend over EUR1 million to fund a registry for human embryonic stem cell lines, providing researchers with information on all the human embryonic stem cell lines available in the European Union.

    "The E.U. is 100% committed to the highest possible standards of ethics in regard to its research program and this includes the use of human embryonic stem cells," said E.U. Science and Research Commissioner Janez Potocnik. "This registry plays an important part, making the most effective use of existing stem cell lines and avoiding the unnecessary creation of new ones."

    The registry will be operated jointly by the Center of Regenerative Medicine in Barcelona and by the Berlin-Brandenburg Center for Regenerative Therapies in Berlin.

    A human embryonic stem cell line is a group of cells plucked from an early- stage human embryo. What makes human embryonic stem cells special is that they can be grown into any kind of human tissue, making them key to developing new regenerative and transplant cures as well as drugs that can replace diseased cells with healthy ones. The hope is that human embryonic stem cells can be used to heal patients with Parkinson's disease, diabetes, multiple sclerosis and other chronic diseases.

    Yet the research is controversial, and is condemned by anti-abortion groups and by the Catholic church, who say it is immoral to destroy one human life to save another.

    Last year European research and industry ministers agreed to let researchers keep using E.U. money for embryonic stem cell research, but banned researchers from using the money to extract the stem cells from the embryos. The money may still be used to purchase embryonic stem cells from researchers who extracted them from the embryo using non-E.U. funds.

    Currently the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Greece, the Netherlands, Portugal, Belgium, the U.K., Sweden and Spain are the only E.U. countries which allow scientists to create new cell lines by extracting stem cells from human embryos, the commission said.

    Source: The Wall Street Journal Copyright (c) 2007 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. (29/03/07)

    Stemagen, UPenn partner to advance therapeutic use of stem cells
    Stemagen has acquired the exclusive rights to a patent for a groundbreaking technique that allows the development of embryonic stem cells appearing to have a markedly enhanced potential for therapeutic use - uniparental embryonic stem cells. Because these extraordinary stem cells are created without fertilization, they may represent an acceptable alternative for those who oppose the traditional method that requires the use of embryos that are potentially capable of reproduction.

    "Because Stemagen has been successful in developing human uniparental embryonic stem cell lines, we believe we are uniquely positioned to capitalize on this patent," said Stemagen CEO Samuel H. Wood, M.D., Ph.D.

    This announcement follows the recent publication of a paper in Genes and Development in which a major breakthrough in the field of cell transplantation is reported by Dr. John McLaughlin and his team of researchers at the University of Pennsylvania. The study describes the successful transplantation of differentiated uniparental cells to rescue mice subjected to lethal doses of radiation. In conjunction with this agreement, La Jolla-based Stemagen is sponsoring a joint research program with McLaughlin to assess the viability of human uniparental cells in regenerative medicine.

    "As a result of this strategic partnership with the University of Pennsylvania, Stemagen now holds exclusive rights to an existing patent that may lead to the therapeutic use of this technology," said Wood.

    Traditional embryonic stem cell lines are derived from embryos that result when an egg is fertilized by a sperm.

    Because uniparental embryos are derived from the genetic material of either an egg or sperm only (one parent source), they are incapable of being used for reproduction. However, scientists are still able to generate stem cell lines from these uniparental embryos.

    "We are excited about this partnership, and believe this intellectual property complements our existing expertise in developing lines of embryonic stem cells for a new era in regenerative medicine," said Andrew French, Ph.D., Stemagen's chief scientific officer.

    Source: SanDiego Source Copyright 1994-2007 San Diego Daily Transcript (27/03/07)

    Scientists unlock mystery of embryonic stem cell signaling pathway
    A newly discovered small molecule called IQ-1 plays a key role in preventing embryonic stem cells from differentiating into one or more specific cell types, allowing them to instead continue growing and dividing indefinitely, according to research performed by a team of scientists who have recently joined the stem-cell research efforts at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California.

    Their findings are being published today in an early online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    This discovery takes scientists another step closer to being able to grow embryonic stem cells without the “feeder layer” of mouse fibroblast cells that is essential for maintaining the pluripotency of embryonic stem cells, says the study’s primary investigator, Michael Kahn, Ph.D., who was recently named the first Provost’s Professor of Medicine and Pharmacy at USC. Such a layer is needed because it is currently the only proven method to provide the stem cells with the necessary chemical signals that prompt them to stay undifferentiated and to continue dividing over and over.

    Still, growing human embryonic stem cells on a layer of mouse fibroblasts has never made much sense to the scientists forced to do just that. “Stem cells that grow on feeders are contaminated with mouse glycoproteins markers,” Kahn says. “If you use them into humans, you’d potentially have a horrible immune response.”

    And so, in order to take any eventual stem cell-based treatments from the laboratory to the clinic, there needs to be a way to keep the cells growing and dividing without the use of mouse fibroblasts. The discovery of IQ-1, says Kahn, is a significant step in that direction.

    What IQ-1 does, Kahn explains, is to block one arm of a cell-signaling pathway called the Wnt pathway, while enhancing the signal coming from the other arm of the Wnt pathway. The Wnt pathway is known to have dichotomous effects on stem cells i.e. both proliferative and differentiative. More specifically, IQ-1 blocks the coactivator p300 from interacting with the protein ß-catenin; this prevents the stem cells from being ‘told’ to differentiate into a more specific cell type. At the same time, IQ-1 enhances the interaction between the coactivator CBP and ß-catenin, which signals the cells to keep dividing and to remain as fully potent stem cells. “This way, you can essentially maintain the stem cell’s growth and potency for as long as you want,” Kahn says.

    The studies of IQ-1 and its effects reported in the newly published PNAS paper were performed at the University of Washington in Seattle by Kahn and his colleagues (along with collaborators from the Asahi Kasei Corporation in Shizuoka, Japan) using mouse embryonic stem cells, but Kahn notes that subsequent pilot studies using human embryonic stem cells, in collaboration with Dr. Qilong Ying at the Center for Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine at the Keck School of Medicine, have confirmed that IQ-1 plays a similar role in that system as well.

    “If we can create a totally chemically defined system for growing human embryonic stem cells without any risk of contamination, it would make life much easier for scientists than it is at the moment,” says Kahn. “And that’s our goal.”

    "Kahn's study provides us with striking new insights into the molecular regulatory machinery inside embryonic stem cells,” adds Martin Pera, Ph.D., director of the Center for Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine at the Keck School of Medicine. “His team has identified a chemical that controls a critical switch that enables stem cells to multiply indefinitely in the laboratory. These findings will help lead to the development of new techniques to propagate pure populations of embryonic stem cells on a large scale, an essential prerequisite to the successful development of stem cell based therapies."

    Source: ©2002-2006 (20/03/07)

    UCSF human embryonic stem cell research fueled with CIRM funding
    Eight UCSF faculty members intent on using human embryonic stem cells to explore treatment strategies for a variety of disorders -- heart disease, stroke, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy and blood disorders -- were among the 29 scientists awarded major grants today by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine.

    Seven of the UCSF grants were awarded to scientists based at UCSF and one was awarded to a researcher at the UCSF-affiliated J. David Gladstone Institutes.

    The comprehensive grants to UCSF faculty, totaling $20.6 million, were chosen from among 70 applications from researchers at 23 non-profit institutions in California. They are to fund four years of research.

    The grants are designed to support the work of leading scientists who are already carrying out promising studies with animal or human stem cells but need additional funding to fuel or advance their research into human embryonic stem cells.

    “CIRM has done a tremendous job of laying the groundwork for a powerful research enterprise,” says Arnold Kriegstein, MD, PhD, director of the UCSF Institute for Regeneration Medicine. “Scientists need to carry out a broad, intensive investigation of human embryonic stem cells in order to determine their potential for treating and elucidating a host of diseases. These grants, coupled with the previous round of research and training grants, advance this effort.”

    In most cases, the comprehensive grants issued to UCSF scientists will support research that builds on promising preliminary studies with animal and adult stem cells. Many will involve testing the use of human embryonic stem cells in animal models of particular diseases, such as heart disease.

    One study, drawing together four of UCSF’s leading neuroscientists, involves trying to prompt human embryonic stem cells to specialise as a particular type of nerve cell, known as an inhibitory neuron, that could be used to dampen the electrical activity in the brain circuits of patients with Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy.

    Another involves trying to prompt human embryonic stem cells to specialise as a brain cell known as an oligodentrocyte, with the goal of using the cell to regenerate the myelin sheath that is damaged in some strokes and in multiple sclerosis.

    Another study, led by a scientist who has already derived five lines of human embryonic stem cells, involves exploring the best methods for deriving these cells. This step is necessary, she says, because the techniques that are currently used are essentially random.

    “Given their potential use in patients, it’s critical that we identify the most effective strategies for prompting embryonic stem cells to generate all the cell types of the body,” says the scientist, Susan Fisher, PhD, professor of cell and tissue biology and acting director of the UCSF Human Embryonic Stem Cell Center.

    The grants are the second set of research funds awarded by the state stem cell agency. The first awards, known as Scientific Excellence through Exploration and Development (SEED) grants, were issued in February and were designed to spark novel ideas and yield preliminary data that then could be extended to full-scale investigations. Twelve UCSF faculty members – nine at UCSF and three at the Gladstone Institutes -- received SEED grants, totaling $7.2 million.

    The first round of CIRM funds, for training the next generation of stem cell scientists, was awarded in April 2006. UCSF received one of the largest of the three-year training grants, to support 16 graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and clinical fellows.

    Source: The University of California Copyright 2007, The Regents of the University of California.(17/03/07)

    Chemical cues turn embryonic stem cells into cerebellar neurons

    Neural Stem Cells

    When differentiated embryonic stem cells were implanted into the cerebellums of newborn mice (green), they migrated to the internal granule layer -- the area where fully differentiated granule neurons extend dendrites (bottom right). Credit: The Rockefeller University.

    In order to differentiate and specialise, stem cells require very specific environmental cues in a very specific order, and scientists have so far been unable to prod them to go through each of the necessary steps. But now, for the first time, a study in mice by Rockefeller University scientists shows that embryonic stem cells implanted in the brain appear to develop into fully differentiated granule neurons, the most plentiful neuron in the cerebellum. The findings were reported Feb. 20 in the online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    Embryonic stem cells have shown a great deal of promise for alleviating heart disease and regenerating organs. But for some of the conditions for which people hold out the most hope -- Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, for example -- there's been little evidence to date that stem cells can work. Part of the problem is that neural stem cells, especially those involved in brain development, specialise as they mature and lose their ability to diversify. 

    The cerebellum, which is tucked into the lower, rear portion of the mammalian brain, contains neural circuits that are responsible for motor learning, motor memory and sensory perception. It's also the location of 40 percent of paediatric brain tumors. Mary E. Hatten, Rockefeller's Frederick P. Rose Professor and head of the Laboratory of Developmental Neurobiology, has been studying granule cells for 30 years; she sees her results as a step toward understanding how embryonic stem cells could be regulated in vivo and ultimately used for cell replacement therapy, especially after childhood tumors, in the central nervous system.

    Hatten and postdoc Enrique Salero found that in order to get the embryonic stem cells to differentiate, progressing through each of the known steps of granule neuron maturation as they did so, the cells had to be treated with signals that induce specific transcription factors - proteins that can turn genes on and off - in a specific order. The researchers then implanted the newly differentiated cells into a specific spot in the brains of newborn mice, the grey layer on the surface of the cerebellum called the cerebellar cortex. Once in the brain, the cells extended parallel fibres, migrated to and incorporated themselves into the internal granule cell layer, and extended short projections called dendrites, something that neurons use to communicate with each other. Each of these steps, Hatten says, is characteristic of a typical granule cell.

    Salero and Hatten then looked for evidence that their embryonic stem cells had not just gone through the developmental steps of young granule neurons, but that they also had the known markers of young granule neurons, including those indicating that the neurons had formed in the cerebellum. "We're excited about this paper because it's the first time that anybody has shown that a cell not only migrates to where it's supposed to go, but extends dendrites," Hatten says. "So they're actually in the synaptic network that's sitting on the cortex."

    Hatten isn't yet convinced that the cells differentiated into true granule neurons. "There is such wild-eyed enthusiasm over stem cells," she says, "but it's very hard to know when you've provided sufficient evidence that a cell is actually what you say it is." So her next step will be to work with Nathaniel Heintz, an HHMI investigator and Rockefeller's James and Marilyn Simons Professor, to determine how close a genetic match the native granule cells are to the embryonic stem cell-derived versions.

    "This whole field of stem cell biology is exciting, but also frightening because of the potential harm that could be done," Hatten says. "We have made a lot of progress with stem cells outside the brain, especially with the heart and skin. But neurons in the brain seem to undergo more complicated genetic changes as they progress through a long series of maturation steps. So we want to be absolutely sure that we're generating neurons that will aid, rather than hamper, brain function."

    Source: Rockefeller University (14/03/07)

    Lecture focuses on brain repair
    When studying the brain, researchers often focus on its problems: addictions, mental illnesses and degeneration.

    Gong Chen, assistant professor of biology at Penn State, spoke Saturday about the hopes and challenges of brain repair with a decidedly brighter tone.

    "Today, I hope to show you some positive things about our brain," Chen said to an audience of about 325 in Thomas Building, concluding the 2007 Frontiers of Science lecture series.

    The key to possible brain repair lies in stem cell research, Chen said. A highly controversial topic, stem cell research explores the use of stem cells as a way of repairing tissue, he said.

    Chen explained to the audience that embryonic stem cells are preferred to adult stem cells for research.

    He said all human embryonic stem cells were extracted from in-vitro fertilized eggs, which were voluntarily donated.

    It was believed until recently that neurons in the brain could not be renewed. Research has shown that neural stem cells can divide and renew, or differentiate, Chen said.

    "Ten to 30,000 new neurons are added into the adult brain every day, but only a small minority will survive and integrate into the adult neural network," Chen said.

    To increase neuron generation, you need to exercise your brain, he said.

    In the second part of the lecture, Chen focused on the possibilities of stem cell therapy. In the future, it may be possible to treat diseases ranging from Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease to strokes and multiple sclerosis by using stem cell therapy.

    Chen said research has focused mainly on Parkinson's disease -- caused by degeneration of a particular type of neuron called dopamine.

    "More than 10 years ago, a group of scientists grafted human fetal tissue, which has a lot of dopamine neurons and perhaps some stem cells, into Parkinson's disease patients. This can alleviate some Parkinson's disease symptoms," he said.

    Human fetal tissue is limited, but stem cells have the capacity to provide tissue supply for all patients, Chen said.

    Chen said stem cell research is very promising, but much more research needs to be done.

    "It will be 10 to 20 years until the therapy is mature enough to successfully apply it to patients," he said. "If I stand here again to give another lecture about stem cell research in 20 years, I am optimistic that I can tell you that several if not many diseases by then will be conquered by stem cell therapy."

    Source: The Daily Collegian Online Copyright © 2007 Collegian Inc. (27/02/07)

    Britain to OK eggs donated for research
    The British government on Wednesday approved plans to allow women to donate eggs for stem cell and cloning research — and said they will also be entitled to compensation for costs incurred.

    The eggs would be used to create cloned embryos, with the hope of extracting stem cells. Because stem cells have the potential to become any cell in the body, scientists believe studying them could lead to cures for numerous diseases, including Parkinson‘s, Alzheimer‘s, or Multiple Sclerosis diseases.

    "It‘s exploitative because there will be women attracted even by the thought of getting 250 pounds from this," said Dr. Stephen Minger, director of the Stem Cell Laboratory at King‘s College. London. "I‘m very uncomfortable with the idea of selling tissue and body parts."

    But the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority — which advised the government — stressed that payment would strictly cover expenses only.

    Britain has long permitted a practice known as egg-sharing, in which women get cheaper in-vitro fertilisation treatments for donating eggs to other women hoping to get pregnant — but donated eggs could never before be used for research.

    "Eggs are already a highly prized commodity," said Anna Smajdor, a medical ethics researcher at London‘s Imperial College. "250 pounds fails on all counts: it is enough to entice women from poorer countries while failing to represent the market value of eggs."

    Source: Jordan Falls News Copywrite LNW Publishing Group. (22/02/07)

    Norway may ease stem cell research ban
    Norway's government proposed lifting a national ban on using human embryonic stem cells for research, saying Friday that the change might help find cures to a broad range of diseases.

    Embryonic stem cells have the ability to become any tissue in the body, leading scientists to see them as a possible source of medical breakthroughs. But the research typically involves the destruction of frozen embryos created for in vitro fertilization, a step that stirs passions over the beginning of life.

    Norwegian biotechnology law from 2003 bars use of fertilized eggs or stem cells taken from them in research, and requires eggs left over after assisted pregnancies to be destroyed.

    The proposed law would allow research on such eggs under strict legal and ethnical limits, including consent from the parents and approval from a national ethics panel, the government proposal said.

    "The government believes it is important to use the opportunities offered by science to gain knowledge that can be used to treat serious illnesses in the future," Minister of Health and Care Services Silvia Brustad said in presenting the legislation.

    "There is hope that stem cell research could contribute to finding treatments for Parkinson's disease, heart conditions, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, cancer and other ailments," she said.

    Brustad also said a new law would be more in line with those of other European nations.

    The proposal would not allow scientists to fertilize eggs for use in research, but only eggs deemed as surplus because of poor quality, or because they have been stored in deep freezer for more than the allowable five years. It would also require the research to be completed within 14 days of fertilization or thawing stored eggs.

    The bill would also ease restrictions on a fertility procedure called pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, or PGD — used when parents want to avoid having a child with a lethal or severely debilitating birth defect. That is only allowed with special authorisation from a government panel, generally for treatment in countries other than Norway.

    The revision would allow a new board, handling only PGD-type cases, to decide whether the risk of a severe, hereditary ailment was great enough to warrant the treatment.

    The three-party coalition government of Labour, the Center Party and the Socialist, has a majority of 87 seats in the 169-seat parliament, or two more votes than needed to pass legislation.

    However, embryonic research is often hotly debated, with opponents arguing that it is wrong to sacrifice human life, even at the embryo stage, for research. It was not immediately clear whether any of the government's majority backing would object to the amendment. (26/01/07)

    Geron says stem cells nurture damaged spine
    Human embryonic stem cells can help regenerate damaged nerves in rats, producing compounds that nurture nerve cells and stimulate the growth of new ones, Geron Corp. said on Wednesday.

    The company's stock rose on the news, published in the journal Stem Cells and Development.

    Geron had earlier reported that human embryonic stem cells had helped replace myelin, a fatty covering on nerves that is vital to function.

    Now, the company's researchers said, they had shown the cells produce multiple nerve growth factors, which are proteins that stimulate the survival and regeneration of neurons.

    "In addition to the remyelinating activity as previously reported, GRNOPC1 produces growth factors that can improve the survival and extension of neuronal circuitry in the spinal cord," said Thomas Okarma, Geron's chief executive.

    Geron is one of several private companies working with human embryonic stem cells, whose use is controversial. Federal law restricts the use of federal taxpayer money for the research.

    Geron has worked to make the embryonic stem cells, which have the power to become any cell or tissue type, develop down certain lines. Its GRNOPC1 stem cells have started down the road to becoming a type of nerve cell called an oligodendrocyte.

    These so oligodendroglial progenitor cells produced numerous proteins that stimulate and nourish nerve cells, called neurotrophic factors, they reported. These included transforming growth factor (beta)1 (TGF-(beta)1), transforming growth factor (beta)2 (TGF-(beta)2), activin A, midkine, vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) and hepatocyte growth factor (HGF).

    Each protein plays a different role in helping direct the growth of new cells.

    "These factors were all produced at physiologically active levels, and each has been reported to have trophic (nourishing) effects on neurons associated with the spinal cord," the company said in a statement.

    Source: Reuters UK © Reuters 2007. All Rights Reserved. (17/01/07)

    House OKs bill expanding study of stem cells
    The House on Thursday overwhelmingly approved a bill that would loosen the restrictions on human embryonic stem cell research imposed by President Bush in 2001, inaugurating the second such assault on the administration's stem cell policy in as many years.

    Thirty-seven Republicans joined 216 Democrats to pass the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act, which would allow federal funding of research on stem cells from embryos slated for destruction at clinics.

    The 253 to 174 vote fell 37 votes short of what it would take to override the veto that Bush on Thursday promised would be forthcoming, assuming the Senate passes the same bill next month, as expected. Bush vetoed the legislation after it passed last year.

    But buoyant research proponents said they still have several options and promised to persevere until the legislation becomes law.

    "While it's not enough to override a veto, it's enough to show we have tremendous momentum," said Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., who spearheaded the House effort with Rep. Michael Castle, R-Del.

    With the Senate near having the two-thirds majority needed to override a veto, DeGette suggested that it is time for the president to begin negotiating with Congress over compromise language.

    Under the existing policy, federal funds may be used to study only those stem cells taken from embryos destroyed by Aug. 9, 2001 — or about 21 of the nearly 400 stem cell colonies created since 1998.

    The House-based bill would expand that pool of available cells to include those from any of the thousands of embryos that are discarded by fertility clinics each year, as long as those cells were freely donated for research by the parents. It would also impose some of the country's first ethics rules on embryo research.

    The vote came after about three hours of impassioned speeches by members on both sides of the issue.

    Rep. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., said that before long, scientists would routinely be creating human embryos "for the express purpose of killing that embryo" for research.

    Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., spoke up for alternative methods of obtaining stem cells. "The assumption by many people that you have to kill human embryos to get embryonic stem cells just isn't true," Bart-lett said.

    Source: © 1985 - 2002 Hearst Newspapers Partnership, L.P. All rights reserved(12/01/07)

    Scientists discover stage when embryonic cells become stem cells
    Scientists at the University of Cambridge have discovered the stage at which some of the cells of fertilized mammalian eggs are fated to become stem cells.

    These findings are contrary to the long-held belief that cells are the same until the fourth cleavage of the embryo.

    The study, published in Nature magazine, also lists the causes behind this phenomenon.

    The researchers say that after fertilisation, the embryonic cells at first undergo equal, symmetrical divisions and unequal, asymmetrical ones that direct smaller daughter cells towards the inside of the embryo, and then they become the inner cell mass of stem cells.

    Previously, it was believed that the mammalian embryo starts its development with identical cells, and only as these inside and outside cells form do differences between cells first emerge.

    But Professor Magdelena Zernicka-Goetz claims to having found evidence suggesting that differences between the embryonic cells are already apparent at the 4-cell-stage, before the cells become partitioned between the inside or outside of the embryo.

    The lead researcher said that those differences depend on the orientation and order of the very first cleavage divisions of the embryo.

    "Our findings were surprising since they showed that cells of the mammalian embryo first start to differ from each other much earlier in development than previously supposed but also they give us a real clue on how to manipulate embryonic cells so that they will develop with the properties of the natural stem cells of the embryo," said Professor Zernicka-Goetz.

    The study also found that the level of a methylated form of histone H3, one of the basic proteins around which DNA is packaged and affects the gene expression when modified, determined the cell fate and transcription activity.

    They found that the higher the levels of modified form of histone, the more predisposed the mammalian embryonic cells were to develop the qualities of inner embryonic cells, a population that have stem-cell-like properties.

    Their findings show that manipulating epigenetic information in this protein in early mouse embryos can influence cell fate determination.


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