June 21, 2009
Stem Cell Therapies Move Into Clinical Trials
Some people ask me why I think we have a chance of living until rejuvenation therapies become available. I get the sense they feel that making the body young again sounds too much like science fiction. Well, stem cell therapies are no longer only in our distant science fiction future. Geron is running a spinal cord repair clinical trial with embryonic stem cells while ACT has applied for permission to try embryonic stem cells against age-related macular degeneration.
Geron, a biotech company based in Menlo Park, CA, received FDA approval in January for a trial to treat patients with acute spinal-cord injuries with cells derived from embryonic stem cells.
This latest treatment for eye disease, developed by Advanced Cell Technology (ACT), based in Worcester, MA, uses human embryonic stem cells to re-create a type of cell in the retina that supports the photoreceptors needed for vision. These cells, called retinal pigment epithelium (RPE), are often the first to die off in age-related macular degeneration and other eye diseases, which in turn leads to loss of vision. Several years ago, scientists found that human embryonic stem cells could be a source of RPE cells, and subsequent studies found that these cells could restore vision in mouse models of macular degeneration.
THe article mentions that the targeted tissue types in these therapies are being chosen due to expected lower risk of immune rejection. The use of embryonic stem cells means that the cells contain DNA from someone other than the intended therapy recipients. It is not practical to create embryonic stem cell lines for each person to be treated from that person's DNA. So immune rejection is a real concern.
I see embryonic stem cells as a transitional technology. Other approaches show signs of promise. Induced pluripotent stem cells made from a person's own adult cells will allow avoidance of the immune rejection problem by using cell lines created from one's own cells and DNA.
While the use of SENS (Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence) in order to do full body rejuvenation is still not an idea accepted by the mainstraem the advances needed to do rejuvenation will come as a result of attempts to repair the body for a very long list of diseases. Each type of tissue repair (e.g. stem cells and gene therapies to repair arthritic joints or to repair a heart) done to treat individual diseases will basically serve as another building block toward the goal of full body rejuvenation. We could get there faster with a big explicit SENS push. But we will get there anyway with lots of smaller steps aimed at less ambitious goals.
It's my understanding that so far no therapies that use embryonic stem cells have done much more than produce tumors. If this is so, is there any indication that the therapies for macular degeneration and spinal cord repair will actually work?
Yes, we can get there. We will need the decentralized, cooperative minds of many people working in a loose network in order to succeed. And for that to happen we need to largely disassemble the patent system and reform the tort laws so that ideas and trials can proceed apace, free from the interference of special interests posing as concerns.
Randall, have you seen this article about colleges mulling outsourcing introductory and core curriculum classes? If this catches on it could be the end of liberal humanities professors - or at least result in a substantial culling of the great herd:
Kansas school stirs debate over outsourced classes
For some education reformers, the experiment at FHSU is an example of how universities can move beyond one-size-fits-all economic models and streamline their introductory courses.
"There is simply not enough money to sustain higher education in its current format," said Carol Twigg, president and CEO of the National Center for Academic Transformation, which works with universities to redesign their own introductory courses. "There will always be a Harvard and people willing to pay ... whatever it's going to cost for four years, but for all other students we really need alternative models."
Drive thru U? Colleges outsourcing classes to private companies
After World War II, as the vocational aspect of education became more entrenched, college degrees became a prerequisite for many jobs that previously had gone to high school graduates. In the process, general knowledge and the ability to think became less prominent as collegiate goals. After all, as millions of students have endlessly moaned, a knowledge of Shakespeare's major plays is not an obvious necessity for a doctor, a programmer, or a hedge-fund manager. The same, arguably, could be said of numerous other core curricula, including geography, composition, art, music appreciation, and political science. In fact, in light of the recent financial meltdown, it's worth wondering if a knowledge of history and an understanding of basic arithmetic haven't become something of a liability for people looking for a job on Wall Street.
This vocational reworking of education has resulted in a decidedly goal-oriented perspective among students and administrators. Students are interested in getting high grades, which will presumably help them get jobs after graduation. Administrators, meanwhile, are interested in enrolling as many students as possible, and realizing the largest possible profit margin from their tuition. On the one hand, this results in students who are eager to parrot their teachers in the quest for high grades; on the other end, it results in universities that are more focused on moving students through the system than in what they gain along the way.
In this environment, ideologues thrive. After all, dogma is easy to parrot and, while students may gripe about being indoctrinated, teachers are rarely punished for promoting politically correct perspectives in their classrooms. Unfortunately, however, dogma is pretty much the opposite of independent thought, and ideologically-driven course lists often fly in the face of any concept of general knowledge. The upshot is that, at many schools, a college education no longer indicates the critical and intellectual vigor that it once did.
The headline is misleading. There's nothing new about stem cell therapies moving into clinical trials and even into clinical practice. Scientists and physicians have been doing this with adult stem cells for decades.
Now the vampires have brought stem cells obtained by breaking up the bodies of human embryos to the clinical trial starting line and some pundits pretend there's never been a stem cell anything before. This isn't science reporting, it's fakery.
You have a typo in the 'THe' of the middle paragraph.
While I agree that these technologies will extend life, there will be no age reversal or immortality within the next 50 years. There is a biological 'Wall' that people hit. That is why, even among people who live to cross 100 today, only 1 out of 1,000 of those cross 110. The other 999 die between 100 and 109. Of those who cross 110, only 1 in 1,000 of those cross 120. And so on....
Thus, the wall is pretty solid, and will be hard to break through. Life expectancy will rise to 100, but it will be extremely hard to make gains after that
Regarding living past 100 or 110 with today's technology, it seems much more doable for a motivated person that we normally think. Most people are neither very smart or very motivated, and they seem to kind of just give up after they retire (or before).