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Adult stem cells succeed for lethal disease

WASHINGTON (BP)–University of Minnesota researchers have used non-embryonic stem cells to treat successfully children with a lethal skin disease.

Another team of researchers, meanwhile, reported Aug. 16 they had used a different form of non-embryonic stem cells to provide therapies for laboratory rats with Parkinson’s Disease.

Using adult stem cells from donor bone marrow or donor umbilical cord blood, the Minnesota scientists treated children with recessive dystrophic epidermolysis bullosa (RDEB), a severe form of epidermolysis bullosa (EB). EB, which also affects the lining of the mouth and esophagus, causes skin to blister, which can lead to infections and a virulent form of skin cancer. The disease has been regarded as incurable. Most children with EB do not survive their 20s.

The research team, led by John Wagner and Jakub Tolar, has transplanted adult stem cells into 10 children since 2007. The recipients have responded to a variety of degrees, Wagner said.

“This discovery is more unique and more remarkable than it may first sound,” Tolar said. “… What we have found is that stem cells contained in bone marrow can travel to sites of injured skin, leading to increased production of collagen which is deficient in patients with RDEB. Bone marrow transplantation is one of the riskiest procedures in medicine, yet it is also one of the most successful. Patients who otherwise would have died from their disease can often now be cured. It’s a serious treatment for a serious disease.”

David Prentice, senior fellow for life sciences at Family Research Council, posted an Aug. 12 report about the Minnesota research on the organization’s weblog. The study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Meanwhile, researchers at the Buck Institute for Age Research in Novato, Calif., used human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) to treat Parkinson’s in rats, they reported. The iPSCs were derived from skin and blood cells and converted into neurons, then transplanted into rats with mid-brain injuries similar to those in human beings with Parkinson’s. The rats demonstrated improvements in their motor skills, they said.

“Human iPSCs may provide an end-run around immuno-rejection issues surrounding the use of human embryonic stem cells (ESCs) to treat disease,” said researcher Xianmin Zeng. “They may also solve bioethical issues surrounding [embryonic stem cells].”

The extraction of embryonic stem cells requires the destruction of the tiny human embryos from which they are taken. Extracting iPSCs and other non-embryonic stem cells does not harm the donor.
Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.