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MIT bioengineer advances survival, promise of adult stem cells

Anne Trafton, News Office

February 27, 2007


MIT researchers have developed a technique to encourage the survival and growth of adult stem cells, a step that could help realize the therapeutic potential of such cells.

Adult stem cells, found in many tissues in the body, are precursor cells for specific cell types. For example, stem cells found in the bone marrow develop into blood cells, bone cells and other connective tissues, and neural stem cells develop into brain tissue.

Those stem cells hold great promise for treatment of injuries and some diseases, says MIT professor of biological engineering Linda Griffith.

Griffith is the senior author of a recent study showing that when presented in the right physical context, certain growth factors encourage the survival and proliferation of bone marrow mesenchymal stem cells grown outside of the body.

The work offers hope that one day, stem cells removed from a patient could be transplanted to an injury site and induced to grow into new, healthy tissue. The research appears in the January 18 online issue
of Stem Cells.

Full story.

Sixth Annual International Bioethics Forum

Gehrke & Associates, S.C. is proud to be a Silver Sponsor of the Sixth Annual International Bioethics Forum: From Therapy to Enhancement on April 19- 20, 2007, at the BioPharmaceutical Technology Center at 5445 East Cheryl Parkway in Madison, WI.

For more information, please visit the BioPharmaceutical Technology Center Institute.

Focusing on the interface between molecular biology, medical applications and ethics, keynote presentations and break-out sessions are designed to facilitate participants’ understanding of:

  • The process of developing new medical therapies – research lab to market
  • Uses of the term “enhancement,” including “therapeutic” and “non-therapeutic” enhancement
  • The diversity of viewpoints regarding these issues; how policies and regulations are developed and implemented
  • The complexities associated with both the scientific and ethical

Scientists triumph in battle over ban on hybrid embryos

Mark Henderson, Science Editor
From The Times
February 27, 2007

Scientists triumph in battle over ban on hybrid embryosMark Henderson, Science Editor
Plans to outlaw the creation of human-animal hybrid embryos for potentially life-saving stem cell research are to be dropped after a revolt by scientists.

The proposed government ban on fusing human DNA with animal eggs, which promises insights into incurable conditions such as Alzheimer’s and motor neuron disease, will be abandoned because of concerns among senior ministers that it will damage British science.

While ministers will not endorse the research in full yet, they are no longer seeking legislation to prohibit it, The Times has learnt. The Government will instead provide the fertility watchdog with funds for a public debate on the subject before new laws are drafted.

Government support for an interim ban had been announced by Caroline Flint, the Public Health Minister, in December, in a White Paper reviewing the fertility laws. It provoked outrage in the scientific community, with researchers describing the proposal as “an affront to patients” that would jeopardise Britain’s position as a world leader in stem cell science.

Last month 45 scientists, ethicists and politicians, including three Nobel prizewinners, wrote to The Times to support the hybrid embryo work. It has been backed by the Medical Research Council and the Wellcome Trust, Britain’s two biggest funders of medical science, and by the Human Genetics Commission, which advises ministers on genetic matters.

Full story.

First direct electric link between neurons and light-sensitive nanoparticle films created

Development could lead to creation of an artificial retina

GALVESTON, Texas — The world's first direct electrical link between nerve cells and photovoltaic nanoparticle films has been achieved by researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston (UTMB) and the University of Michigan. The development opens the door to applying the unique properties of nanoparticles to a wide variety of light-stimulated nerve-signaling devices — including the possible development of a nanoparticle-based artificial retina.

Nanoparticles are artificially created bits of matter not much bigger than individual atoms. Their behavior is controlled by the same forces that shape molecules; they also exhibit the bizarre effects associated with quantum mechanics. Scientists can exploit these characteristics to custom-build new materials "from the bottom up" with characteristics such as compatibility with living cells and the ability to turn light into tiny electrical currents that can produce responses in nerves.

That's what the UTMB and Michigan researchers did, using a process devised by Michigan chemical engineering professor Nicholas Kotov, one of the authors of a paper on the research appearing in the current issue of Nano Letters. The process starts with a glass plate and then builds a layer-by-layer sandwich of two kinds of ultra-thin films, one made of mercury-tellurium nanoparticles and another of a positively charged polymer called PDDA. The scientists then added a layer of ordinary clay and a cell-friendly coating of amino acid, and placed cultured neurons on the very top.

When light shines on them, the mercury-tellurium nanoparticle film layers produce electrons, which then move up into the PDDA film layers and produce an upward-moving electrical current. "As you build up the layers of this, you get better capabilities to absorb photons and generate voltage," said UTMB research scientist Todd Pappas, lead author on the Nano Letters paper. "When the current reaches the neuron membrane, it depolarizes the cell to the point where it fires, and you get a signal in the nerve."

Continue reading "First direct electric link between neurons and light-sensitive nanoparticle films created" »

Don't put all eggs in biomedical basket

Posted: Feb. 24, 2007
John Torinus

There is every reason to be excited about the expansion of biomedical business in the metro Milwaukee area. But it isn't the only horse we should be betting on.

The region now has 10,800 jobs in that sector, led by GE Healthcare with 6,800. Most of the 68 biomedical firms identified in a recent Milwaukee 7 survey are new and small, but optimistic.

To some extent, big parts of the health care cluster can be looked at as part of the biomedical picture. Health care has passed the $2 trillion mark in the country, pushing toward 20% of Gross Domestic Product, making it the No. 1 industry in America.

Mike Bolger, president and chief executive of the Medical College of Wisconsin, points out that health care represents 8% of Wisconsin jobs and will increase its employment by 30% by 2012. Over the next 25 years, from 30% to 40% of all new jobs will be in health care, he said.

A recent article in Health Affairs predicts annual health care growth over the next decade at 6.9%, meaning $4 trillion in volume by 2016.

So, while the emerging biomedical cluster does not yet have critical mass in the metro area, if you link it to health care in general, it merits being a strategic bet for the region.

And that is what is happening. A bonafide biomedical cluster is taking shape. Four universities have added degrees in biomedical disciplines and medical informatics. And more academic muscle is being built.

Full story.

Dean says no to cloned cow milk

By Libby Quaid
Associated Press

WASHINGTON - Milk from cloned cows is no longer welcome at the nation's biggest milk company.

Although the government has approved meat and milk from cloned animals while it conducts further studies, Dean Foods Co. of Dallas said Thursday that its customers and consumers don't want milk from cloned animals. The $10 billion company owns Land O'Lakes and Horizon Organic, among dozens of other brands.

"Numerous surveys have shown that Americans are not interested in buying dairy products that contain milk from cloned cows and Dean Foods is responding to the needs of our consumers," the company said in a statement.

Federal scientists say there is virtually no difference between clones and conventional cows, pigs or goats. The Food and Drug Administration gave preliminary approval to meat and milk from cloned animals and could grant final approval by year's end.

Full story.

Biotech leader joins Caden

Cellectar chief Clarke will be on board
Posted: Feb. 22, 2007

A little more than two years ago, William Clarke was telling more than 300 people at the state biotech association's annual meeting about Wisconsin's potential to help "design and weave" the dramatic changes on the horizon for medicine.

Now the man who oversaw technology development at GE Healthcare has thrown himself into the front lines of the young Madison companies aiming to make those changes happen.

Clarke in December left his position as chief technology officer and chief medical officer at GE Healthcare to run Cellectar LLC, a company aiming to bring to market drug-based radiation treatments that it believes will kill cancer tumors.

Caden Biosciences Inc., another Madison company, said Thursday that Clarke, who is 55, has joined its board of directors. Caden is developing screening tools to sell to pharmaceutical and biotech companies to help identify new drugs for a variety of diseases.

Clarke's move signals that Madison is becoming the kind of biotech center that can attract high-caliber managers.

Full story.

Record power for military laser

By Paul Rincon
Science reporter, BBC News

A laser developed for military use is a few steps away from hitting a power threshold thought necessary to turn it into a battlefield weapon.

The Solid State Heat Capacity Laser (SSHCL) has achieved 67 kilowatts (kW) of average power in the laboratory.

It could take only a further six to eight months to break the "magic" 100kW mark required for the battlefield, the project's chief scientist told the BBC.

Potentially, lasers could destroy rockets, mortars or roadside bombs.

For many years, solid state, electrically powered lasers like SSHCL were only able to operate at a fraction of the 100kW mark.

Full story.

First embryonic stem cell research grants approved under California Proposition 71

Medical Research News
Published: Thursday, 22-Feb-2007

The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine's Independent Citizens' Oversight Committee on Friday announced the approval of the first human embryonic stem cell research grants provided under Proposition 71, the San Francisco Chronicle reports (Hall, San Francisco Chronicle, 2/17).

Full story.

Cancer is a stem cell issue

There is an urgent reason to study stem cells: stem cells are at the heart of some, if not all, cancers. Mounting evidence implicates a clutch of rogue stem cells brandishing ‘epigenetic’ marks as the main culprits in cancer. Wiping out tumours for good, some biologists believe, depends on uprooting these wayward stem cells.

A team in the Netherlands has uncovered a key protein that could stop these stem cells from becoming malignant. “This is a hot topic in the cancer field,” Maarten van Lohuizen of The Netherlands Cancer Institute, Amsterdam told participants at a EuroSTELLS workshop, held in Montpellier, France, 23-24 January. “To be successful in cancer therapy you need to target these stem cells: they are intrinsically resistant to chemotherapy.”

Polycomb proteins have emerged as key players in cancer pathogenesis. They are powerful epigenetic regulators that normally silence genes without altering the cell’s DNA. Compounds that regulate polycomb could result in novel anticancer drugs that shrink malignant tissue, and prevent cancer recurrence, a common problem with most chemotherapies.

That tumours and stem cells have much in common has been known for many years. Both self-renew and both spawn many different types of cells. But only recently, new techniques have enabled biologists to identify stem cells buried in tumours.

Van Lohuizen has found that stem cells in cancerous tissues are locked in an immature state in which they carry on multiplying instead of maturing into specific tissues. “Some resistant cancer cells don’t listen to the ‘stop’ signal any more,” he explains. That stop sign is delivered by the polycomb proteins. They silence several genes at once by affecting the way the DNA is compacted into chromatin fibres, without altering the DNA sequence.

Full story.