Stem Cell Research Bringing Doctors Closer than ever to HIV Cure

After 30 years and thanks to extensive stem cell research, scientists are closer than ever before to finding a cure for Human Immunodeficiency Virus, or HIV. Led by Dr. Scott Kitchen, an associate professor of hematology and oncology at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine, the group of US scientists from California, Maine, and Washington have successfully engineered blood-forming stem cells that can carry genes capable of detecting and destroying HIV-infected cells.

But it’s not just that the stem cells were able to destroy the HIV-infected cells, they persisted in doing so for over two years without any negative effects. This equates to long-term immunity and the potential to completely eradicate the disease which, after 1981, quickly became the world’s leading infectious killer.

Kitchen received just over $1.7 million from California’s Stem Cell Agency to carry out his research. California has a special interest in the research as the state ranks second in the United States in cases of HIV. Over 170,000 people are infected, incurring healthcare costs which are being billed to the state. The total has continued to rise and now equates to over $1.8 billion per year.

California’s Stem Cell Agency maintains that “A curative treatment is a high priority. A stem cell based therapy offers promise for this goal, by providing an inexhaustible source of protected, HIV specific immune cells that would provide constant surveillance and potential eradication of the virus in the body.”

In the grant details, Kitchen identifies the potential impact of his research:

“The study will allow a potentially curative treatment for HIV infection, which currently doesn’t exist. This will eliminate the need to administer antiviral medication for a lifetime.”

According to his study published in the journal PLOS Pathogens, Kitchen’s curative treatment involves the use of a ‘optimized’ chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) gene that interferes with interactions between HIV and CD4 cells (white blood cells).When a part of the CAR molecule binds to HIV, it’s instructed to kill the HIV-infected cell. These CAR proteins proved highly effective as they killed HIV-infected cells throughout the lymphoid tissues and gastrointestinal tract, two major sites in HIV replication.

If Kitchen and his team are able to effectively kill off infected cells, they have the potential to save millions of those currently infected with HIV across the globe and can also prevent the virus from advancing into Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome, or AIDS. In both cases, the immune system is completely broken down. T-cells, which normally fight and prevent all kinds of bacteria and viruses in the body, are weakened and depleted allowing common and usually treatable infections to become deadly.

Throughout the 80’s and early 90’s, long before stem cell research, the number of people carrying HIV continued to climb as it continued to spread and in 1995, complications from AIDS became the leading cause of death for adults aged 25-44. Shortly thereafter, in 1997, the first truly effective treatment was developed. Highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) became the standard and there was a 47% decline in death rates.

By the early 2000’s, the World Health Organization set a goal to treat 3 million people and by 2010 there were 20 different treatment options available.  5.25 million people had treatment and over 1 million more were set to start treatment soon.

While these numbers are a massive improvement and the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) is continuing to approve and regulate HIV medical products, the disease is being slowed rather than halted. According to UNAIDS, over 35 million people are still currently living with HIV/AIDS.

Back in 2011, Kitchen co-authored a study about stem cell research in the treatment of HIV/AIDS in the journal Current Opinion in HIV and AIDS. In it, he said that stem cell-based strategies for treating HIV were “a novel approach toward reconstituting the ravaged immune system with the ultimate aim of clearing the virus from the body.”

Since then, he’s continued to reach higher towards that ultimate aim.

Stem cell treatments utilize patients’ own cells for testing on humans and stem cell advances provide the very necessary opportunity for large clinical trials. It is Kitchen’s hope – and it’s safe to assume the worlds’ hope – that stem cell innovation can one day effectively eliminate the disease, therefore preventing its spread, saving billions of dollars in healthcare costs, and – most importantly – saving lives.

Enhanced Culture System Allows Scientists to Quickly Derive Embryonic Stem Cells From Cows

Ever since embryonic stem (ES) cells were derived from mice in 1981, the scientific community has been looking to do the same with bovine ES cells. Now, 37 years after the cells were cultured from mice and 20 years after the cells were cultured from humans, they’ve finally captured and sustained the cells in their primitive state from a cow. In a study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, scientists at the University of California, Davis, detail how they were were able to enhance culture systems and derive stem cells with almost complete accuracy in just 3-4 weeks, a relatively quick turnaround time.

Access to these cells – which are able to develop into more than one mature cell or tissue type from muscle to bone to skin – could mean healthier, more productive livestock and could also give scientists and researchers an opportunity to model human diseases.the

ES cells are easily shaped and moulded and have a potentially unlimited capacity for self-renewal. This means that they’re extremely valuable in regenerative medicine and tissue replacement. In livestock and cattle, they offer the potential to create a sort of Super Cow that produces more milk and better meat, emits less methane, has more muscle, that adapts more easily to a warmer climate, and that is more resistant to diseases.

“In two and a half years, you could have a cow that would have taken you about 25 years to achieve. It will be like the cow of the future. It’s why we’re so excited about this,” author of the study Pablo Ross, an associate professor in the Department of Animal Science at UC Davis’ College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, told Science Magazine.

In order to enhance culture systems to sustain the ES cells, scientists at the Salk Institute in San Diego, California, had to expose ES cells to a new culture medium, a substance (sometimes a solid, sometimes a liquid, and sometimes a semi-solid) that’s designed to support the growth of microorganisms and cells. In this case, scientists used a protein to encourage cell growth and another molecule that hinders cells from separating or evolving.

“They used an accelerator and a brake at the same time,” George Seidel, a cattle rancher and a reproductive physiologist at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, told Science Daily.

In order for the enhanced culture systems to eventually lead to genetically superior cows, scientists will first have to augment these ES cells into the cattle’s gametes, or sperm and egg cells. The result would be endless genetic combinations, a sort of controlled evolution and accelerated natural selection. Of course, given that the evolution is taking place in a lab, each ‘generation’ would progress without any animals actually being born.

Ross maintains that “It could accelerate genetic progress by orders of magnitude”.

But it’s not just farmers and consumers that could benefit. The cows’ cells could help create larger models for studying human disease, something that mice simply couldn’t aid in due to their size. The science has also proved effective in deriving and sustaining cells from sheep. On scientists’ radars now: dogs.

Are stem cells the link between bacteria and cancer?

Is there A link between stem cells, bacteria and cancer?

 

Scientists have long believed that an increase in stem cell turnover plays a part in the development of cancer, and now new research has uncovered findings that could strengthen the link.

A study was carried out by the Max Planck Institute in Berlin in conjunction with researchers in Stanford, California, and examined the presence of bacteria and it’s impact on stem cell regeneration. The survival rate for stomach cancer is low, mainly because patients don’t present any symptoms until the cancer has reached an advanced stage. Stomach cancer, or gastric cancer, is caused by the bacterium Helicobacter pylori, which is naturally present in all humans. However, this bacteria acts differently to tumour viruses, leaving scientists in the dark as to how they actually cause cancer. The new research has revealed that this bacterium “sends stem cell renewal in the stomach into overdrive”, a discovery that could open doors to further understanding the cause and therefore treatment of stomach cancer.

About the research

The study confirmed that in the majority of cases, patients with most  stomach cancer experience chronic infections with H. pylori bacterium.

Prof. Dr. Thomas F. Meyer specialises in molecular biology, and worked alongside

fellow researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology in Berlin. Having spent many years examining the impact H. pylori has on the stomach’s epithelium cells, the team were in search of answers as to why cancer was able to form in an environment in which cells are being replenished so rapidly. As stem cells are the longest living cells in the stomach, the researchers began their search for answers here. While it had previously been believed that H. pylori affected only the rapidly-replaced surface cells, but the research revealed that the bacteria managed to infiltrate the stem cells, causing them to rapidly multiply.

The team arrived at this conclusion following tracing the behaviour of two different types of stem cells in the stomach of mice. According to Science News Online:

Both respond to a signalling molecule called Wnt, which maintains stem cell turnover in many adult tissues. Crucially, they discovered that myofibroblast cells in the connective tissue layer directly underneath the glands produce a second stem cell driver signal, R-spondin, to which the two stem cell populations responded differently. It is this signal, which turned out to control the response to H. pylori: Following infection, the signal is ramped up, silencing the more slowly cycling stem cell population and putting the faster cycling stem cell population into overdrive.

According to one of the study authors and clinical scientist Michael Sigal, these results substantiate the theory that chronic bacterial infections are strongly linked with cases of stomach. “Our findings show that an infectious bacterium can increase stem cell turnover,” he says. “Since H. pylori causes lifelong infections, the constant increase in stem cell divisions may be enough to explain the increased risk of carcinogenesis observed.”

Could Stem Cells Be Used To Restore Vision?

The eye is one of the most structurally complex parts of the body. Different disorders of the eye develop when one or more of the components stop working. This is why it is so difficult to treat conditions of the eye, and reverse sight loss.

Stem cells may well hold the answer.  By replacing damaged cells with new, healthy, specialised cells, it could be possible to reverse the damage done and restore vision.

Currently the only clinically approved stem cell treatment for the eye is Holoclar®, a treatment which restores vision to patients with damaged corneas by transplanting limbal stem cells into areas where these cells are lacking.

Use in Macular Degeneration

One of the leading causes of vision loss is Macular Degeneration (MD), a painless, age-related eye condition, which causes the person to lose their central vision making vision blurry.

Stem cell therapy has been trialled to treat MD but has so far been unsuccessful due to the replacement cells struggling to integrate into the original tissue.

Researchers may have found a solution to this in the form of an injection of an  immune system protein- Mesencephalic Astrocyte-derived Neurotrophic Factor (MANF) – to assist with the integration.  Research carried out by the Buck Institute showed success in retinal stem cell transplants on congenitally blind mice, and human trials are the next step.

If the protein is successful in human therapy, it could be used to treat early-stage MD in the future.

MANF has previously been studied by other scientists, including  Ajan Rejinald, CEO of Celixir,  for its role in conditions like Parkinson’s disease

New Research Provides Insight into How Cancers Develop

Cancer cells - 3d RenderingA study carried out by Cancer Research UK has shown that cancers need a ‘perfect storm’ of conditions to be able to develop.

Carried out at the Cambridge Institute, this research gives a clearer picture than ever before of why and how cancers develop, and why some organs are more likely to develop the disease. This research could prove invaluable in learning how to prevent and best treat many different kinds of cancer.

The researched focused on the role of stem cells, which replicate to repair damage, or create other cells that the body needs. Certain stem cells can end up with random mistakes in their DNA, or certain environmental factors can increase the likelihood of these mistakes. This includes things like smoking, drinking, and obesity – all things that we’ve long know increase the risk of cancer.

When damaged stem cells are ‘sleeping’, no cancer develops, so the stem cells with DNA mistakes aren’t able to cause cancer alone. The problem begins when these cells with DNA mistakes start to replicate, to repair some sort of damage or wear and tear. The ‘faulty’ stem cells then develop into a cancer.

For a patient to develop a cancer, there has to be a ‘perfect storm’ of factors at play. There has to be something in the body that needs to be healed, plus the stem cells with DNA mistakes to begin replicating. That’s why certain areas where the stem cells are most active, such as the colon, are common sites for cancer.

One scientific debate that this study aims to resolve is whether cancer is just down to bad luck, or whether environmental and lifestyle factors have a greater proportion of blame. The study showed that cancer requires three separate things in order to grow; tissue damage, stem cell DNA mutations, and the activation of these mutated stem cells.

Some other findings in the study included the fact that DNA mistakes in stem cells build up as you get older, which accounts for the risk of cancer being higher as you age.

To carry out the study, researchers used mice that had modified cells which produced a fluorescent green protein when ‘switched on’. This allowed them to track what happened to the cells in various organs and at different stages of their lives. For example, when the mice had damaged livers, researchers were able to see the cells divide rapidly and tumours formed.

By being able to replicate how cancers are formed, this could open up the potential of cancer research, and mean that preventative medicines and new treatments could be coming to the market.

‘Mini Organs’ Grown from Stem Cells Could Personalise Treatments For Cystic Fibrosis Patients

bd1487ce-3935-457e-830e-022a0318f97aTreatments for illnesses such as cancer and cystic fibrosis could soon become more personalised, thanks to a technique that grows organoids from stem cells.

When being treated for serious illnesses, many patients will suffer side effects from their medication, and it’s not always possible to predict how the body will react, or how effective treatment will be. By taking a sample of stem cells, researchers at University Medical Centre Utrecht have been able to grow ‘mini organs’ known as organoids. They can then test different drug combinations on these organoids, and see how they react.

These experiments give doctors a much clearer picture of how effective certain treatments will be. It means that they don’t have to rely on the results of clinical trials, and can personalise medicine to each patient’s needs. This is especially helpful in cases of Cystic Fibrosis, where there often aren’t enough patients to carry out effective studies.

So far, doctors in the Netherlands have treated 1,500 patients with this technique, and have successfully helped many cystic fibrosis sufferers. It’s also beginning to be utilised in cancer cases.

Only one biopsy is needed to harvest the stem cells, and the same sample can be used over and over, which means fewer tests for the patient. Not only can they build one organoid and run tests, but researchers can build an entire mini-system to see how different organs might react to various medicines.

Professor Dr Kors van der Ent, who is heading the research, told the Daily Express “Some of these patients were waiting for lung transplants, but can now be found on the hockey pitch again thanks to the right medication. Their lives have completely changed.”

This news again shows the potential that stem cells have to treat diseases, and give patients a better quality of life.

The first skin to eye stem cell transplant in humans was successful

Researchers in the US have successfully transplanted stem cells derived from skin into the back of an eye in an attempt to restore vision. A small section of skin was taken from the patient’s arm, cells where then collected and modified. The modified cells “known as IPSC” were converted into eye cells which were then transplanted into the patients eye.

The cells survived and contributed towards improved vision.

The patient suffered from age related macular degeneration which had not responded to any previous treatments. The slight improvement in vision showed the massive potential for stem cell therapy and regenerative medicine.

IPSCs are adult cells are converted back into an embryonic stem cell state which allows them to take on the role of other cells within the body, like a programmable template.

Original source: Sciencedaily.com