April 27, 2006
Stem Cells Repair Rat Spinal Cords

Embryonic stem cells converted into astrocyte cells repaired damaged rat spinal cords and allowed the rats to walk normally again.

Researchers believe they have identified a new way, using an advance in stem-cell technology, to promote recovery after spinal cord injury of rats, according to a study published in today's Journal of Biology.

Scientists from the New York State Center of Research Excellence in Spinal Cord Injury showed that rats receiving a transplant of a certain type of immature support cell from the central nervous system (generated from stem cells) had more than 60 percent of their sensory nerve fibers regenerate. Just as importantly, the study showed that more than two-thirds of the nerve fibers grew all the way through the injury sites eight days later, a result that is much more promising than previous research. The rats that received the cell transplants also walked normally in two weeks.

The University of Rochester Medical Center, Rochester, N.Y., and Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, collaborated on the work. Researchers believe they made an important advance in stem cell technology by focusing on a new cell type that appears to have the capability of repairing the adult nervous system.

"These studies provide a way to make cells do what we want them to do, instead of simply putting stem cells into the damaged area and hoping the injury will cause the stem cells to turn into the most useful cell types," explains Mark Noble, Ph.D., co-author of the paper, professor of Genetics at the University of Rochester, and a pioneer in the field of stem cell research. "It really changes the way we think about this problem."

The breakthrough is based on many years of stem cell biology research led by Margot Mayer-Proschel, Ph.D., associate professor of Genetics at the University of Rochester. In the laboratory, Mayer-Proschel and colleagues took embryonic glial stem cells and induced them to change into a specific type of support cell called an astrocyte, which is known to be highly supportive of nerve fiber growth. These astrocytes, called glial precursor-derived astrocytes or GDAs, were then transplanted into the injured spinal cords of adult rats. Healing and recovery of the GDA rats was compared to other injured rats that received either no treatment at all or treatment with undifferentiated stem cells.

The rats without the GDA cell transplant did not show any nerve fiber regeneration and still had difficulty walking four weeks after surgery.

Note the use of embryonic stem cells. As more therapies are developed in animal models using embryonic stem cells the pressure to allow more research on human embryonic stem cells is going to build. The political opponents of human embryonic stem cell (hESC) research who want to be able to resist this pressure ought to add a couple of billion dollars a year to the money available for adult stem cell treatment.

Mind you, I'm not taking sides in that fight. Rather, I'm always on the look-out for more arguments for why research funding ought to be increased. I figure if hESC opponents can be convinced that they need to fund far more rapid development of alternatives to hESC-based therapies then the total amount of money available to develop rejuvenation therapies will increase.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2006 April 27 10:57 PM  Biotech Stem Cells

Kurt said at April 28, 2006 10:09 AM:

One of the things I noticed about the people and groups against embryonic stem cell research is that they do not seem to put their OWN money into adult and other alternative stem cell research. They yak about these alternative methods all of the time, but you never see them put any of their own money into developing them.

In otherwords, they talk the talk but they don't walk the walk.

Until these groups start financing research using their own money, I see no reason to listen to anything they have to say.

AA2 said at April 28, 2006 8:07 PM:

At the political level if you can get opponents of embryonic stem cells to increase funding of adult stem cell research as a comprimise... It seems like a net win for people like us who want to see the benefits to human life that this field could produce in the future.

I think the Democrats have a major political winner with talking about stem cell research. It seems the Republicans will want to defuse this by increasing funding for the adult lines.

An example is Governor Swarzchnegger.. I don't live in California but I would vote for him regardless of what party he was in, and even if I disagreed with other issues.. because of that huge 3 billion dollar bond referendum he instituted.

Randall Parker said at April 29, 2006 7:35 AM:

Kurt, AA2,

I strongly believe that the proponents of human embryonic stem cells ought to argue loudly that the opponents of hESCs are being unfair because they aren't funding adult stem cell research at the level required to make adult stem cells a replacement for embryonic. The hESC proponents ought to say basically "Either allow hESC research or support a few billion dollars a year to make adult stem cells more flexible".

The problem is that the hESC proponents are more fixed on making hESCs funded by the federal government that they won't consider the alternative.

Tj Green said at April 29, 2006 4:50 PM:

Stem cells would repair the damage caused by our symbiont the mitochondria. Stem cell research must continue.

AA2 said at April 29, 2006 7:31 PM:

Indeed Randall... something I've struggled with in my own life and must always fight against.. Letting perfect be the enemy of the good.

A large increase in funding of research into stem cells of any kind is a good thing. Even if one aspect of research is closed for now.

Garson Poole said at May 1, 2006 12:05 AM:

An article entitled "Embryo Stem-Cell Research Spreads Despite Curbs" that appeared in the Wall Street Journal on April 4, 2006 reports that Federal funding for embryonic stem cell research has actually increased substantially recently. This will probably be counter-intuitive to those who think that the Bush administration has "banned" this research. They did not ban it (as knowledgeable readers of this blog know); however, they did put sharp restrictions on the cell-lines available for Federally funded research. Here is an excerpt:

More than four years after President Bush decided to strictly limit public funding for studies of embryonic stem cells, the federal government's spending on such research hit a high of more than $37 million last year, according to the National Institutes of Health. The growth in NIH funding, up more than 60% from 2004, is one of several signs that despite the heated debate over the controversial cells, U.S. research in the area is gaining steam.

I looked on the web for some data comparing the amount of funding given to embryonic vs. non-embryonic stem-cells and found an interesting Washington Post article entitled "Researchers Turn To Adult Stem Cells" that appeared August 20, 2004. Here is an excerpt:

Executives and academics who work with adult stem cells note that last year the National Institutes of Health spent $190 million on adult-stem-cell research and that there are hundreds of clinical trials in progress that are using such cells. In comparison, the NIH spent $24.8 million on embryonic-stem-cell research last year, though that may be in part a gauge of the political challenges to doing such research. There are no clinical trials in progress using embryonic stem cells, according to the NIH.

As noted above the amount of funding on embryonic stem cells has increased greatly from the time that the Washington Post article was written to today. However, it appears that billions of dollars are not being spent (on an annual basis) for any type of stem cells by the Federal government.

Garson Poole said at May 1, 2006 1:37 AM:

Randall Parker reported earlier on March 27th about “Pluripotent">http://www.futurepundit.com/archives/003334.html">“Pluripotent Stem Cells Found In Mouse And Human Testicles”. German researchers found stem cells in mouse testes that apparently can be enticed into differentiating into a wide variety of cell types. Researchers are now attempting to find similar cells in human testes. This might be highly relevant to this story on spinal cord repair. Imagine if researchers could entice “spermatogonial stem cells” to differentiate into the “astrocyte cells” that help repair spinal cords. It would be possible to obtain a perfect immunological match if the cells used to perform repair were taken from the patients own testes. (Of course, women patients would need an alternative strategy. Perhaps egg progenitor cells can be identified.)

The reportage on the German results provided one fascinating example of highly politicized news coverage. The German research involves stem cells that are derived from ‘adults’ which the researchers call “multipotent adult germline stem cells”. Indeed, Germany has very tight restrictions on embryonic stem cell research - even tighter than those in the United States. When the Washington Post described the results they bizarrely entitled their article “Embryonic Stem Cell Success”.

Garson Poole said at May 1, 2006 6:59 AM:

The April 04, 2006 article in the Wall Street Journal mentioned above contains a pertinent sidebar that lists funding levels for different types of stem cell research. The National Institutes of Health is the primary U.S. national health agency. It spent $28.5 billion on biomedical research in 2005, accounting for the majority of federal health research funding.

NIH Research Budget: $28.5 billion
Human Embryonic Stem Cells: $37.7 million
Embryonic Stem Cells from Animals (mice, worms, etc.): $95 million
Human Adult Stem Cells: $199 million
Animal Adult Stem Cells: $273 million
Total Stem Cell Funding: $604 million
Note: Figures are approximate.
Source: National Institutes of Health

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