The Genetizen

Genetizen

Advances in genetics and biotechnology are impacting society in provocative ways. The Genetizen is written by a select group of scientists, bioethicists, and healthcare professionals who provide you with expert analysis and commentary on many important issues.

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in blog postings may or may not reflect the opinions of Geneforum. In addition, the content provided here is purely informational and not a substitute for advice from your personal physician.



Long-term effects bone marrow transplants

The long-term effects of bone marrow transplants are currently in the news and I will be posting--later today--an overview of the latest research.

Marie Godfrey, PhD

Genetizen's blog

16 Sept action

There was no Senate or House action on stem cells on 15 Sept and only the following acton of 16 Sept:

S. 1557 At the request of Mr. Coburn, the name of the Senator from Oklahoma (mr. Inhofe) was added as a cosponsor of S. 1557, a bill to amend the Public Health Service Act to provide for a program at the National Institutes of Health to conduct and support research in the derivation and use of human pluripotent stem cells by means that do not harm human embryos, and for other purposes.

read more | Genetizen's blog

No action

The word, stem, does not appear in the Congressional Record for Sept 12. The Record has not been released for today yet. Marie Godfrey, PhD

Genetizen's blog

Appropriations bill

While the Senate is considering H.R. 2862, the Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations bill, it is possible--though unlikely--that an amendment will be introduced to alter federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. I'll be watching and will try my best to inform you of anything that comes up. Marie Godfrey, PhD

Genetizen's blog

No limitations

I read some great news the other day--fat cells are suppposedly great sources of stem cells! I know where there are plenty of those.

On September 10-13, the third annual International Fat Applied Technology Society conference, The Role of Adipose Tissue in Regenerative Medicine: Opportunities for Clinical Therapy is expected to include presentations of findings suggesting that "adipose-derived stem cells can be used to repair or regenerate new blood vessels, cardiac muscle, nerves, bones and other tissue, potentially helping heart attack victims, patients with brain and spinal cord injuries and people with osteoporosis. The work to be presented reflects a growing number of researchers who believe that adipose tissue (fat) will be a practical and appealing source of stem cells for regenerative therapies of the future."

read more | Genetizen's blog

ALL the bills

Just in case you think the list of active bills (in the previous blog entry) covers everything, here is the full list of bills relating to stem cells and cloning introduced into the House (ih) or Senate (is) and the actions taken since then. Each abbreviation, eg (ih), is defined after each title. The ones marked with * are on the current active legislation list.

H.Con.Res. 166 (ih) Expressing the sense of the Congress that the Federal Government should not infringe on State or private programs that fund embryonic stem cell research. [Introduced in House]

H.R. 162 (ih) To authorize the use of Federal funds for research on human embryonic stem cells irrespective of the date on which such stem cells were derived, and for other purposes. [Introduced in House]

H.R. 222 (ih) To prohibit the expenditure of Federal funds to conduct or support research on the cloning of humans, and to express the sense of the Congress that other countries should establish substantially equivalent restrictions. [Introduced in House]

H.R. 596 (ih) To amend the Public Health Service Act to establish a National Cord Blood Stem Cell Bank Network to prepare, store, and distribute human umbilical cord blood stem cells for the treatment of patients and to support peer-reviewed research using such cells. [Introduced in House]

H.R. 810 (eh) To amend the Public Health Service Act to provide for human embryonic stem cell research. [Engrossed in House]

H.R. 810 (ih) To amend the Public Health Service Act to provide for human embryonic stem cell research. [Introduced in House]

H.R. 810 (pcs) To amend the Public Health Service Act to provide for human embryonic stem cell research. [Placed on Calendar Senate]

*H.R. 810 (rds) To amend the Public Health Service Act to provide for human embryonic stem cell research. [Received in the Senate]

*H.R. 1357 (ih) To amend title 18, United States Code, to prohibit human cloning. [Introduced in House]

H.R. 1650 (ih) To amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to allow tax credits to holders of stem cell research bonds. [Introduced in House]

*H.R. 1822 (ih) To prohibit human cloning and protect stem cell research. [Introduced in House]

H.R. 2520 (eh) To provide for the collection and maintenance of human cord blood stem cells for the treatment of patients and research, and to amend the Public Health Service Act to authorize the C.W. Bill Young Cell Transplantation Program. [Engrossed in House]

H.R. 2520 (ih) To provide for the collection and maintenance of human cord blood stem cells for the treatment of patients and research, and to amend the Public Health Service Act to authorize the C.W. Bill Young Cell Transplantation Program. [Introduced in House]

*H.R. 2520 (rds) To provide for the collection and maintenance of human cord blood stem cells for the treatment of patients and research, and to amend the Public Health Service Act to authorize the C.W. Bill Young Cell Transplantation Program. [Received in the Senate]

*H.R. 2541 (ih) To amend the Public Health Service Act to provide for the expansion, intensification, and coordination of the activities of the National Institutes of Health regarding qualifying adult stem cell research, and for other purposes. [Introduced in House]

H.R. 2574 (ih) To amend the Public Health Service Act to provide for a program at the National Institutes of Health to conduct and support research on animals to develop techniques for the derivation of stem cells from embryos that do not harm the embryos, and for other purposes. [Introduced in House]

H.R. 3144 (ih) To amend the Public Health Service Act to provide for a program at the National Institutes of Health to conduct and support research in the derivation and use of human pluripotent stem cells by means that do not harm human embryos, and for other purposes. [Introduced in House]

H.R. 3444 (ih) To amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to provide credits against income tax for qualified stem cell research, the storage of qualified stem cells, and the donation of umbilical cord blood. [Introduced in House]

*S. 471 (is) To amend the Public Health Service Act to provide for human embryonic stem cell research. [Introduced in Senate]

*S. 658 (is) To amend the Public Health Service Act to prohibit human cloning. [Introduced in Senate]

S. 681 (is) To amend the Public Health Service Act to establish a National Cord Blood Stem Cell Bank Network to prepare, store, and distribute human umbilical cord blood stem cells for the treatment of patients and to support peer-reviewed research using such cells. [Introduced in Senate]

S. 876 (is) To prohibit human cloning and protect stem cell research. [Introduced in Senate]

S. 1317 (is) To provide for the collection and maintenance of cord blood units for [Introduced in Senate]

*S. 1317 (rs) To provide for the collection and maintenance of cord blood units for [Reported in Senate]

S. 1520 (is) To prohibit human cloning. [Introduced in Senate]

S. 1557 (is) To amend the Public Health Service Act to provide for a program at the National Institutes of Health to conduct and support research in the derivation and use of human pluripotent stem cells by means that do not harm human embryos, and for other purposes. [Introduced in Senate]

*S. 1557 (is) To amend the Public Health Service Act to provide for a program at the National Institutes of Health to conduct and support research in the derivation and use of human pluripotent stem cells by means that do not harm human embryos, and for other purposes. [Introduced in Senate]

In Thomas (the source of the list), the list is identified as Last updated: January 14, 2005, however the list includes actions in response to Hurricane Katrina, so it is probably up-to-date.

Marie Godfrey, PhD

Genetizen's blog

Active legislation 9 Sept 2005

Congress returned early—on Sept 2—for its fall session, receiving reports of matters taking place during recess and addressing the crisis resulting from Hurricane Katrina. Work resumed on Sept 6. The following bills are included in the “active legislation” list—bills that have been receiving legislative or media attention. I have included bills related to cloning. This list, arranged by subject, was updated Sept 9, 2005.

read more | Genetizen's blog

Science, ethics, politics

The work of Harvard scientists to produce the latest “fig leaf” (see the earlier Genetizen blog entry) has many interesting ramifications. How does the scientist view the research, ethical, and political ramifications? An article from Nature discusses just this question: http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v437/n7056/pdf/437185a.pdf

read more | Genetizen's blog

Is embryonic stem cell research necessary?

If--according to the last entry I posted--adult stem cells can treat 65 different diseases/conditions and embryonic stem cells 0, why is research being conducted with embryonic stem cells and why is there a debate about federal funding of same? A number of possible reasons have been proposed:

  • Media hype, hope, and promises
  • Terminology is confusing, so few know what is going on
  • The limitations of adult stem cells
  • The National Academies of Science (and NIH) said so

Media hype, hope, and promises

The first embryonic stem cell was created in 1998. Seven years is plenty of time for media hype, but not enough to cure the many diseases/conditions promised daily in newspapers and television. Over the Labor Day weekend, Robert Winston, a leading fertility expert in the UK where embryonic stem cell research is legal and funded stated that he believes that the benefits of stem cells have been overhyped. His announcement has received almost as many Google alerts as Senator Frist's change of mind, indicating that sensational news whether good or bad tends to get transmitted around the world very quickly.

Testimony by famous people such as Christopher Reeves and Nancy Reagan help keep the widest possible options active.

Terminology is confusing, so few know what is going on

Perhaps embryonic stem cell research is still in the news because people are so confused about the language used that the most controversial keeps hogging the spotlight. The phrase stem cell alerts readers to interesting and perhaps controversial news, as does the word cloning. Even embryonic is not specific enough. Reiterating some of the confusion may show how complex the terminology problem is.

An adult cell is one that has fully differentiated into its functional state in the body for example, the rods and cones of the eye are adult cells even if they are found in a child or a fetus. An adult stem cell is, presumably, a cell in a cell in a human body that produce a copy of itself under some conditions and a more differentiated cell in other conditions these are the hematopoietic (blood-forming) and mesenchymal (connective-tissue forming) cells of the bone marrow and other clusters of cells elsewhere in the body.

Stem cells taken from the umbilical cord of a newborn human infant or from the fluid around a developing fetus or from other amniotic tissues (including a portion of the placenta) are also called adult stem cells. These are sometimes called stem cells with embryonic potential or embryonic-like stem cells, since they are believed to be capable of developing into more tissue types than adult stem cells from a particular adult tissue.

Generally, the name embryonic stem cell is reserved for cells derived from the inner cell mass of the blastocyst stage of early embryonic development. By the way, the outer layer of the blastocyst is necessary for implantation and for development of the placenta and umbilical cord.

A stem cell derived by transfer of adult DNA into an unfertilized egg (the Korean stem cell lines) or into an embryonic stem cell (the Harvard stem cell) is also an embryonic stem cell even though it may not have been taken from an embryo and certainly could not have developed into a human being.

The earlier blog entry, Interpreting stem cell research, provides a clear way to analyze reports in the media and--perhaps--to deal with confusing terminology

The limitations of adult stem cells

Some argue about it, but there is strong support of the conclusion that adult stem cells are not as versatile as embryonic stem cells. One limitation is that most of the diseases/conditions treated with adult stem cells (bone marrow source) are related to rescuing the body's ability to make blood cells and fight infections. Many of those who argue against embryonic stem cell research include umbilical cord blood cells in the category of adult stem cells. We are learning, as expected, that the manipulation of stem cells into tissues in the laboratory differs from the same differentiation in the body and that the milieu in which the cells live matters greatly. Perhaps adult stem cells are not as limited as they seem and we only need to figure out what's needed to make them more versatile.

At the same time, adult stem cell transplants have been around for 40 years and have yet to cure Parkinsons, Alzheimers, muscular dystrophy, spinal cord paralysis.

The National Academies of Science (and NIH) said so

In 2002 the National Academies report Stem Cells and the Future of Regenerative Medicine called for human stem cell and human embryonic stem cell research to move forward. The report argued for federal funding of research deriving and using embryonic stem cells from a variety of sources, including those from nuclear transfer. The reasons for federal funding were that progress in the field is less likely to be hindered and there's greater opportunity for regulatory oversight and scrutiny of the research. Bush's later Presidential Directive limited the stem cell lines to those in existence in August, 2001. The National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine recently released their Guidelines for Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research, which are intended to provide some consistency in how embryonic stem cell research is conducted.

Marie Godfrey, PhD
Genetizen's blog

Numbers of changes

In the previous blog entry, I referred to a letter in the 4 September 2005 issue of Nature Genetics, but did not have numbers. The letter included the following numerical information:

We assessed the genomic fidelity of paired early- and late-passage hESC lines in the course of tissue culture. Relative to early-passage lines, eight of nine late-passage hESC lines had one or more genomic alterations commonly observed in human cancers, including aberrations in copy number (45%), mitochondrial DNA sequence (22%) and gene promoter methylation (90%), although the latter was essentially restricted to 2 of 14 promoters examined. The observation that hESC lines maintained in vitro develop genetic and epigenetic alterations implies that periodic monitoring of these lines will be required before they are used in in vivo applications and that some late-passage hESC lines may be unusable for therapeutic purposes.

read more | Genetizen's blog

Embryonic stem cell lines accumulate changes in their genetic material over time

Wow! Google Alerts finally sent me an article that discusses both the genetics of stem cells and my alma mater, The Johns Hopkins University. At the same time, the article feeds into my current discussion of the usability of adult vs. embryonic stem cells.

The notice I received connected to http://www.newswise.com/articles/view/514125/ and was summarized with the following clip:

An international team of researchers has discovered that human embryonic stem cell lines accumulate changes in their genetic material over time.

The researchers' work is described in the Sept. 4 online edition of Nature Genetics.

Anirban Maitra and Dan Arking, two of the authors and members of the McKusick-Nathans Institute of Genetic Medicine at Johns Hopkins state:

Embryonic stem cells are actually far more genetically stable than other stem cells, but our work shows that even they can accumulate potentially deleterious changes over time. Now it will be important to figure out why these changes occur, how they affect the cells' behavior and how time affects other human embryonic stem cell lines.

So, should we continue restricting funding of embryonic stem cell research to lines existing 4 years ago? Should all stem cell transplants be freshly-harvested adult stem cells? What happens with stem cell lines developed from stored umbilical cord cells? Hmmm, once again, more questions than answers.

Marie Godfrey, PhD

Genetizen's blog

65 diseases/conditions treated by adult stem cells

Here are the categories and specific diseases/conditions that www.stemcellresearch.com states are successfully treated by adult stem cells.

Cancers:

  • Brain Cancer
  • Retinoblastoma
  • Ovarian Cancer
  • Skin Cancer: Merkel Cell Carcinoma
  • Testicular Cancer
  • Tumors abdominal organs Lymphoma
  • Non-Hodgkins lymphoma
  • Hodgkins Lymphoma
  • Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia
  • Acute Myelogenous Leukemia
  • Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia
  • Juvenile Myelomonocytic Leukemia
  • Cancer of the lymph nodes: Angioimmunoblastic Lymphadenopathy
  • Multiple Myeloma
  • Myelodysplasia
  • Breast Cancer
  • Neuroblastoma
  • Renal Cell Carcinoma
  • Various Solid Tumors
  • Soft Tissue Sarcoma
  • Waldenstrom's macroglobulinemia
  • Hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis
  • POEMS syndrome

Auto-Immune Diseases

  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Crohn's Disease
  • Scleromyxedema
  • Scleroderma
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis
  • Juvenile Arthritis
  • Systemic Lupus
  • Polychondritis
  • Sjogren's Syndrome
  • Behcet's Disease
  • Myasthenia
  • Autoimmune Cytopenia
  • Systemic vasculitis
  • Alopecia universalis

Cardiovascular

  • Heart damage

Ocular

  • Corneal regeneration

Immunodeficiencies

  • X-Linked hyper immunoglobuline-M Syndrome
  • Severe Combined Immunodeficiency Syndrome
  • X-linked lymphoproliferative syndrome

Neural Degenerative Diseases/Injuries

  • Parkinson's disease
  • Spinal cord injury
  • Stroke damage

Anemias/Blood Conditions

  • Sickle cell anemia
  • Sideroblastic anemia
  • Aplastic Anemia
  • Amegakaryocytic Thrombocytopenia
  • Chronic Epstein-Barr Infection
  • Fanconi's Anemia
  • Diamond Blackfan Anemia
  • Thalassemia Major
  • Red cell aplasia
  • Primary Amyloidosis

Wounds/Injuries

  • Limb gangrene
  • Surface wound healing
  • Jawbone replacement
  • Skull bone repair

Other Metabolic Disorders

  • Osteogenesis imperfecta
  • Sandhoff disease
  • Hurler's syndrome
  • Krabbe Leukodystrophy
  • Osteopetrosis
  • Cerebral X-linked adrenoleukodystrophy

The majority of these are treated by bone marrow transplants, the category of stem cell treatment discussed previously in 7 parts in this blog.

Marie Godfrey, PhD 

Genetizen's blog

Adult vs. embryonic stem cells

Everyday I scan many pages of information on stem cells, including the Google Alerts I get 5-10 times a day. Sometimes, I get fired up enough to send my own comment to an article or opinion. Yesterday, I responded to an opinion claiming that 65 diseases can be successfully treated with adult stem cells and referring to an article in the Washington Post. Since I have been diligently exploring the comparison of adult and embryonic stem cells, I read the referenced article only to find no reference to 65 diseases. My opinion was posted (I guess), but I received no response to my comment that statements with faulty or no corroboration are what make ordinary people so confused about stem cell research.

Today, while following leads, I tripped over a site I should have found long ago (http://www.stemcellresearch.com). For some reason, it didn't turn up on Google or Yahoo searches. Anyway, lo and behold, the right side of the screen has 65 vs. 0 for adult stem cells vs. embryonic stem cells. The list of diseases/conditions successfully treated by adult stem cell transplants looked very familiar and, as I linked to the reference list, I knew why. These were the very references sent to me as her own by the head of an organization opposed to embryonic stem cell research. Funny thing, none of the pages had their original footers identifying the real source of the references.

We at Geneforum have been using a blog--rather than just posting chunks of information or providing a list of today's 15 news releases for several reasons. Among them is the comments capability. Anyone reading the blogs can comment or ask questions. Another is to provide an experts analysis of the voluminous, often contradictory, information available primarily through the Internet. I try, as much as possible, to give you the source of the information unless its available from many different sources. And what I write, unless I add a statement such as taken directly from, is original. I read, dig, and read some more until I am fairly confident that what I am posting is accurate and untainted as much as possible by my personal opinions.

Thanks for reading, and please refer others to this site.

Marie Godfrey, PhD

Genetizen's blog

Bills and amendments

Well, August recess is almost over and Congress will soon be back in session. The list of items to be discussed is long.

If the Senate decides to debate the various stem cell options, the possible choices for action are many and varied. Here are some of the issues that are already proposed or might be considered as bills and/or amendments:

  • Change restrictions on federal funding--currently, research involving embryonic stem cell lines can use federal funding only if the cell lines were developed before August, 2001.
  • Encourage one or more categories of stem cell research, eg, adult cells, umbilical cord cells, "fused" cells (Harvard experiments), nuclear transfer 
  • Prohibit specific categories of stem cell research, eg, embryonic
  • Prohibit specific procedures used to derive stem cells, eg "therapeutic cloning"

The proposals and decisions will certainly involve all of the following influences:

read more | Genetizen's blog

Bone marrow transplant 7

 Ongoing research on bone marrow transplants

Bone marrow transplantation is a fast–changing field, with new advances occurring regularly. At present, two new types of bone marrow transplants are being studied in clinical trials and producing significant results. They are:

read more | Genetizen's blog