Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Parkinson's Disease Research Basics - Part I

Information about stem cells and stem cell research for PD

Let's do a quick summary of stem cells. They are the cells which can renew themselves through the process of mitosis. Once the nuclei separate the chromosomes to replicate itself, the cell can then split to form two identical cells with the second cell carrying all of the genetic information as the first.

In the body there are two types of stem cells, adult and embryonic. The adult stem cell is the repairman/woman, some being very versatile themselves. The embryonic stem cell (ESC) can differentiate itself into all of the specialized tissues...functions. It is for this reason that it is known as a pluripotent cell. (Preceding the pluripotent cell is the totipotent cell but that is another story.) The stem cell creates the existence of all three germ layers which form the body.

A stem cell line is a family of cells from one parent group. They require the correct signaling in order to differentiate into the cells required. This is where the research picks up.

The first stem cell lines were created in 1988 at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Dr James A Thompson's directed the group which isolated the first human embryonic stem cells, those undifferentiated cells which can multiply in the body. Currently at UW-M they are working to understand the mechanism by which embryonic stem cells can form any body cell (pluripotency), how that cell chooses between self-renewal and differentiation, and how the differentiated cell can be reprogrammed for pluripotency.

If you look up the National Stem Cell Registry online you will see the NIH website. One of the topics which gave us a big smile was the link to an archive entitled, Registry Information Under the Former Presidential Policy.

Here is the National Institute of Health stem cell site. If you haven't been there yet, check it out some time.

President Obama's Executive Order was not a complete green light for embryonic stem cell research. It did lift the ban on a few lines that were in existence as of 8/09/01 and has been interpreted to mean that new stem cell lines may be developed. The NIH has the responsibility to determine the guidlines for what scientists can do with federal monies.

NIH will receive $10.4 billion stimulus money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. $3 billion will go to the National Science Foundation which already has $2 billion in approved but unfunded grants.

Something we were pleased to see at the NIH site were the links to what is happening in Congress. These are earlier pieces of legislation which are moving through the legislative process. The full text of each is available at the Library of Congress website links. You can link to the site and read the text of each pending Act.

111th Congress, House Bills
H.R. 110—Human Cloning Prohibition Act of 2009
H.R. 872—Stem Cell Research Improvement Act of 2009 H.R. 873—Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2009
H.R. 873—Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2009
H.R. 877—Patients First Act of 2009
111th Congress, Senate Bill
S. 99—Ethical Stem Cell Research Tax Credit Act of 2009

While these things are going on in D.C. several states have already passed legislation encouraging and sometimes funding stem cell research. Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Illinois, Iowa and California passed programs authorizing research spending after the 2001 federal ban. These programs are costly and some states have had to limit funding in the current economy so it is hoped that donations will not stop although many private philanthropies have been devastated recently.

On November 4, 2008 Michigan saw the passage of a state constitutional amendment which would permit researchers to create new stem cell lines by using surplus embryos from fertility clinics.

In contrast Oklahoma and Georgia have taken an opposite position and are presenting legislative action to restore the Bush status quo. In Georgia the senate has already passed legislation to prevent using cloning to create human embryos. The bill does allow induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS) which we will discuss tomorrow.

Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas already have laws on the books concerning use of state funds for research which would destroy a human embryo, would manipulate stem cells for treatment or potential cures or conduct research using the in vitro clinic (IVF) discards.

Most stem cells used in research have come from unused embryos of fertility clinics. They were at a "use 'em or lose 'em" condition. Since they were not going to be used in an attempt to create new humans, they would have been discarded if there had not been another use for research to develop a way to save existing human lives. There is a fear that in the future other sources which do not police themselves will be used.

Meanwhile there is much work to be done to develop effective, safe treatments.

A few places which have received federal grants for stem cell research recently or are sponsoring stem cell research:
University of Buffalo just received $4.9 million.

In Michigan on March 9th the University of Michigan announced a $5 million initiative with the Alfred A Taubman Medical Research Institute Consortium for Stem Cell Research. The consortium could also collaborate with with the University Research Corridor partners: Michigan State University, Wayne State University, Oakland University, University of Michigan at Dearborn as well as Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. They will be looking to create new stem cell lines from IVF clinics using the International Society for Research guidelines (see: link in FAQs below.)

California's Stem Cell Agency announced $17.5 million in grants for embryonic stem cell technology: training students in lab work, research techniques and ethics in a program which can lead to a masters degree.

Research being sponsored by:

FAQ links:

Information about embryonic stem cell research for other conditions
The National Stem Cell Bank:

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