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Adult Stem Cell Researchers Combat Heart Attacks, Leukemia

By Steven Ertelt



Washington, DC (LifeNews.com) -- Researchers are reporting some major new accomplishments for adult stem cells. These achievements are raising new questions about the wisdom of embryonic stem cell research, an alternative to adult stem cell research which causes a host of ethical problems.

Adult stem cells come from a variety of sources, including umbilical cord blood and fat. Unlike embryonic stem cell research, adult stem cell research does not result in the destruction of a human embryo.

In the latest research, stem cells from umbilical cord blood have been used to treat heart attacks in animals. The University of South Florida research team who conducted the study believes that the research could have applications for humans.

In the study, researchers injected human umbilical cord blood stem cells into the hearts of rats an hour after a heart attack. The researchers found that the stem cells greatly reduced the size of damage, restoring the heart's pumping function to near normal. In addition, scar tissue was minimized.

"Cord blood stem cells may be more amenable to repairing hearts," said study co-author Paul Sanberg in a published report. "In addition, cord blood stem cells are readily accessible, easy to use, and, like adult stem cells, are not as controversial as embryonic stem cells."

The researchers believe the stem cells may release nourishing substances that prompt primitive cells in the heart to form new blood vessels and muscle.

The study appears in the journal "Cell Transplantation."

In another umbilical cord blood development, cord blood transplantation is now a viable option for adult leukemia patients, thanks to research conducted at the University of Minnesota. Minnesota researchers have combined two cord blood units from different donors for transplantation into adult leukemia patients.

While stem cell transplants using umbilical cord blood have become standard treatment for blood disorders in children, they have not been available for adults-until now. The Minnesota project will apparently change that. The study will be published in the February issue of "Blood," the journal of the American Society of Hematology.

"Currently, many adult leukemia patients are not eligible for an umbilical cord blood transplant due to the inability to find a single unit of blood with enough cells for transplantation. With this new technique of increasing the dose by combining two units, this procedure could be made available to thousands more patients and has the potential to save many lives," said Juliet N. Barker, M.B., B.S., Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of Minnesota and co-author of the study.

Although two patients with acute leukemia died from infection shortly after the transplant, in the remaining 21 patients, the transplanted stem cells began to produce normal, healthy cells.

"The results of this study are heartening, but further investigation of this approach in larger clinical trials is needed to determine the full impact of this transplant procedure for adults and larger adolescents," said George Q. Daley, M.D., Ph.D., Associate Director of the Stem Cell/Developmental Biology research program at Children's Hospital Boston.

In Taiwan, researchers say cells from the human placenta could provide an alternative to the controversial use of fetal stem cells. The team has isolated "multipotent" cells from the placenta which they refer to as a "new type of cells" between embryonic and adult stem cells. The cells also have an advantage because they are obtained through a non-invasive procedure.

Meanwhile, cell therapy developer PharmaFrontiers Corp. has entered into a licensing agreement with the University of Chicago relating to stem cell technology discovered at the Department of Energy's Argonne National Lab.

PharmaFrontiers' CEO, David McWilliams, said, "This revised license reflects new knowledge gained by the inventors in the ten months since our initial agreement was signed, and establishes the framework for our ongoing efforts to commercialize the technology."

The agreement also shows just how far adult stem cell research has come in the last year.

"The ability to replace failed pancreatic beta cells with adult stem cell-derived substitutes, if ultimately shown to be effective in humans, could lead to a new approach to the prevention and treatment of diabetes, a major public health problem that afflicts more than 18 million Americans," McWilliams said.

Under the revised license agreement, PharmaFrontiers must spend a minimum of $2 million on research and development by February of 2006, and an additional $4 million on research by February 2008.

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