Tag Archives: stem cells

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Spicy News

Audio Podcast (192kbps MP3)
(video at bottom of text)

Welcome back to the Cripple Command Center or C-to-the-3 podcast on ericvalor.org. My name is Eric Valor and I will be your host and head nerd in charge. In this episode I will report on a recent webinar given by CIRM, the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine, and a particular clinical trial discussed therein. I will also report on a new potential treatment target for ALS found using CRISPR, a new proposed treatment for SOD1-linked ALS, a new open-label trial for a form of curcumin, and a new stem cell model to assess possible treatments for neurodegenerative diseases such as ALS.

The first item up for bids is the new CRISPR study. Researchers at Stanford University have used CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing technology to gain insight into the genetic basis of ALS. The team, led by Doctor Aaron Gitler, used the technology to sift through the entire human genome to find genes that help neurons defend against toxic protein aggregation. In ALS it is known that proteins inside the motor neurons clump together, depriving the cell of the beneficial function of these proteins as well as choking the machinery which normally breaks down malformed or deficient proteins for recycling by the cell. The Stanford team used CRISPR to sequentially alter genes which either help cells cope with protein aggregation or enhance the toxicity. They ceased the function of each gene one by one in what’s called a “genetic knock-out” and evaluated the effect. That way they can identity potential drug targets for future therapies. You can read more about this in the Stanford News Center website. You can read the paper in Nature Genetics.

Our next item is the CIRM webinar and the upcoming clinical trial described therein. The webinar was held on Facebook. It was an “Ask The Experts” format where information is presented and then questions are asked by people watching the webinar online. The presentation was made by Doctors Clive Svendsen, Bob Baloh, and Ralph Kern. First, a little information was shared first about the NurOwn therapy in trial by Brainstorm. The Phase 3 trial is enrolling 300 people with enrollment expected to finish by early 2019. The protocol is repeat injections of the person’s own mesenchymal stromal cells which reduce local inflammation and secrete trophic factors which help the motor neurons heal and grow.

The juiciest part of the webinar was the presentation of the new Phase 1 clinical trial being prepared by Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles. This trial is similar to the old Neuralstem trial using human fetal brain-derived neural progenitors which are multi-potent stem cells which can only become cells of neural lineage (neurons, astrocytes, microglia, etc.). In contrast to the Neuralstem product where the cells mostly became interneurons these cells become astrocytes which would replace the native astrocytes which become toxic in ALS. The cells are transduced using GDNF (glial-derived neurotrophic factor).

Cedars also uses a new method called “chopping” (which when you read the paper on the method should really be called “slicing”) to expand the cell line into a pharmaceutically-relevant number. A clump of neural cells called a neurosphere is repeatedly sliced up and the parts allowed to expand. The usual method is to break apart the neurosphere by hand and individually plate the cells. Chopping is much faster and increases yield by allowing the cells to be cultured in 3D rather than in 2D. This means the cells have more contact with others which promotes health and growth. Instead of having cells just on the left and right and on top and bottom, they also have cells above and below. Like penguins grouping together tightly in a snowstorm the cells fare much better in a 3D arrangement as in the body. Like the Neuralstem trial the Cedars trial uses a laminectomy to inject the cells into the spine but uses a new rig which is significantly less invasive. The patients undergo a year of immunosuppression to ensure the body doesn’t reject the implants. After that the cells are expected to survive for life.

Next up is the new clinical trial for the spice curcumin being put together by my friend and ALS Untangled colleague Doctor Richard Bedlack. The trial is called ROAR for Replication Of ALS Reversals. ROAR is open-label with no placebo and is designed to have faster enrollment with much better retention, and wide inclusion criteria like no 2-year cutoff or many of the other exclusions found in usual trials. That’s not to say that the usual trial design is “bad” but ROAR is looking for a huge unmistakable signal: A reversal of ALS such as regaining use of limbs or getting out of a wheelchair (the latter being a more extreme example). The trial will also have few/no in-person visits. ROAR will use a particular product called Theracumin which is a highly concentrated form of curcumin which is readily absorbed, properly metabolized, and is well-tolerated even in high doses. Trial participation for each person is 6 months. The real-time results will be available on Patients Like Me and the full protocol will be made available on www.alsreversals.org should anyone not in the trial want to follow along.

Why curcumin? Because it’s generally regarded as safe and is inexpensive to obtain. There are some 12,000 published papers studying curcumin’s effects. Curcumin has powerful antioxidant effects, can reduce protein aggregation in cells, can induce beneficial gene activation, and can alter the gut microbiome, the vast population of bacteria in the stomach and intestines, in ways that are beneficial to health including the brain and nervous system (seriously!). In mouse neuroblastoma cells transfected with mutant TDP43, curcumin improved excitotoxicity, improvd mitochondrial function, and reduced oxidative stress and protein aggregation. Unfortunately these studies have not been independently replicated. You can learn more about curcumin and prior data as relates to ALS in the ALS Untangled report on the subject and by watching the video presentation Dr. Bedlack gave on the ROAR trial.

Alrighty, what do we have next? Ah, yes, the new stem cell model meant to assess potential treatments for neurodegenerative diseases like ALS. The model is specifically for Alexander disease (AxD) because of its relatively simple pathology. But it’s relevant to Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and ALS because it focuses in on malfunctioning astrocytes. In AxD, astrocytes with a mutation in glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP) secrete a protein called CHI3L1, a marker of neuroinflammation that suppresses neural development-related processes, including myelination. The CHI3L1 suppresses cells that are precursors to oligodendrocytes, the cells that wrap the neural axons in a fatty substance called myelin. Myelin acts like the plastic insulation of electrical wires and performs much the same function. The idea is that by understanding more about astrocytes that would reveal clues about how to treat diseases like Alzheimer’s and ALS.

And that’s all for this episode of the C-to-the-Three Podcast on ericvalor.org. I am, and always will be, Eric Valor. Until next time, breathe easy.

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RTT Blues

Audio Podcast (192kbps MP3)
(video at bottom of text)

Hello and welcome back to the Cripple Command Center podcast. My name is Eric Valor and I will be your host for this episode. The Cripple Command Center, or C-to-the-3 (C^3), is where I live, also called The Blue Room. It’s where I make and produce this podcast. It has been a while since I published a podcast. I have had some personal and health issues including one that landed me in the hospital. Afterward I was quite exhausted and needed time to rest and recover. Turns out staying in the hospital is not good for you.

So, now to the news. First, I am pleased to announce that I have self-published a book of my own poetry titled “Hamachi Eyes”,written over the past few decades. It’s on my website under the About Me tab. I also have a bunch of my original food recipes under the same tab so have a look if you’re into the culinary arts. Ironic that I really got into cooking after I could no longer eat. Anyway, the book is about 89 pages of a journey through my interpretations of various experiences.

I think the first poem I ever wrote was when I was around 9 or 10 and I remember it being well received. That’s when I first felt I had a little talent in writing. Unfortunately I don’t have a copy so it’s not included in the book. You can freely download a copy in either PDF, Amazon Kindle, or generic e-book reader format. I hope you download a copy and enjoy it. Since publication I have had selections published in the New England Review of Books. You can also listen to an audio version of the interview I did in support or read it on the NEROB website.

Next, many of you have heard that Brainstorm will not be releasing its proposed therapy for ALS under the recently enacted Right To Try law also called RTT. I have been against RTT since it was first proposed because I knew that it would be ineffective in anything except reducing the ability of the Food and Drug Administration to properly oversee the safety of the drugs produced for sale by pharmaceutical companies. In fact, RTT is no different from the long-existing Expanded Access Program that the FDA created at the turn of the 1990s in response to the HIV/AIDS crisis.

The only difference between RTT and EAP is that the FDA now has a little less authority to halt experimental drugs and therapies that show issues in patients who obtain them outside of official clinical trials. Pharmaceutical companies have no compulsion to provide their products outside of trial and if they do, the patients obtaining them will be subject to large personal cost. And, according to the history of drugs and therapies in trial for life-threatening diseases for which no truly effective treatment options exist, the treatment probably won’t be effective.

What has happened is that patients, specifically Person(s) with ALS or PALS, have been used by the GOP to advance its decades-long deregulation agenda. I warned of this when it was being presented by PALS and we are seeing now that RTT won’t be effective. The Brainstorm product, Nurown, was the original target of RTT and it will not be provided.

Last, a bit of advice. If you tell a PALS that you love him or her, you better damn well mean it. We already have enough trauma to deal with than to have a mate vacillate and/or suddenly vanish. Nothing can deal a worse blow to the already fragile grasp on hope most PALS have. If you don’t mean it or aren’t fully committed then stay silent. False hope is worse than no hope.

Thanks for tuning in to the C-to-the-3 (C^3) podcast on ericvalor.org. Sorry it was such a short one. I am and ever will be Eric N. Valor, and until next time, breathe easy.

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MAGIC Mitochondria (and more)

Audio Podcast (192kbps MP3 download)
(video at bottom of text)

Hello and welcome back to my podcast.

My name is Eric Valor and today I have a few different subjects to cover. I will cover the new ALS treatment recently approved by the FDA, the latest message from Hope Now For ALS, MAGIC in yeast cells, and trouble for stem cell therapies.

But first, I would like to make a personal announcement. Some of you may already know this, but I was recently accepted to the Academy of Neurology as a researcher. It’s not a huge deal but it’s nevertheless something I am proud to have on my CV.

ENV AAN Cert

Now, to business. My first item on the board is the first drug to be approved for ALS in 22 years.

In May of 2017, the FDA approved edaravone, also called Radicut or Radicava, for use in the United States. Edaravone was developed and originally approved for use in Japan in 2001 for protection from the effects of a type of stroke. Its MOA, or method of action, is as a scavenger of free radicals. These molecules have an unpaired electron in one of their atoms, making them extremely reactive with other molecules. The radicals at subject are called reactive oxygen species or ROS, produced as a byproduct of the mitochondria creating energy for the motor neurons. These molecules, when not properly controlled, cause significant damage to cellular structures. There have been many attempts to eliminate these ROSs as a treatment for ALS, but all previous attempts have failed.

There are some side effects resembling allergic reactions, from redness and itching up to anaphylaxis, which requires immediate emergency medical assistance or the person can perish). The incidence of serious adverse effects (SAEs) was low, with the most common, dysphagia or difficulty swallowing, occurring in 12% of patients. Milder adverse events occurred at the same rate as placebo.

Edaravone Adverse Events

The dosing regimen is 14 days of one infusion per day of 100 milliliters administered over one hour followed by 14 days with no infusions. Subsequent cycles are 10 days of infusions followed by 14 days without. Edaravone showed up to 33% slower progression in patients who were fewer than 2 years post-diagnosis, were still ambulatory, and could still feed, dress, and bathe themselves. Three out of four clinical trials of edaravone for ALS failed to meet clinical endpoints, but the fourth, when restricted to the PALS described previously, met its endpoints. What that means is that it seems effective only in people very early on in progression.

The second item on the agenda is the recent update which Hope NOW for ALS posted about its activity. On May 10, 2017, HNFA released a statement describing their May 1, 2017 meeting with key officials at FDA CDER. The statement also mentioned the approval of Radicava and how it is the first drug approved to treat ALS in 22 years. The main point of the HNFA statement was to indicate willingness by the FDA to consider updated clinical trial methods to make clinical trials more accurate and humane. It’s a hopeful message and indicates, along with the new approval of a treatment for ALS, that the FDA may be really changing how it sees and deals with life-threatening or fatal conditions.

ALZ Forum Logo

Third, the ALZ Forum has a nice article on mitochondria making MAGIC. In a study published in the March 1st edition of Nature, a team from Johns Hopkins University describe mitochondria in yeast cells untangling misfolded cellular proteins before tearing them apart for recycling the components. The process was termed “mitochondria as guardian in cytosol” or MAGIC. Aggregated or misfolded proteins which become tangled in each other are known to be torn apart in cellular machinery called proteasomes. Without mechanisms for breaking down these aggregated proteins they would clog the entire cell like the white of a boiled egg. You can see the same process happen as you fry your breakfast in the morning. That would be very bad for the cell and ultimately us.

In MAGIC, these same aggregated proteins are imported into the intermembrane area, a small space between the outer and inner membranes of the mitochondria. There the proteins are untangled from each other, then passed into the inner mitochondria where the individual proteins are chopped up. When heat shock proteins in the cytosol of the cell aren’t working properly this puts more stress on the mitochondria which are already very hard at work creating energy for the neuron. Think of it like hauling a heavy trailer up a mountain road in your car. Your engine strains under the load, getting hotter and pumping more smoke out of the tailpipe. The “smoke” from the mitochondria is the ROSs. The authors further reported that this process also happens in human cells. If those holds true then it would tie together two critical factors of neurodegenerative disease: protein aggregation and mitochondrial dysfunction. That’s would be an important finding as it would further elucidate the mystery of ALS, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s.

In another story, again from the ALZ Forum, it appears that significant efficacy differences exist between clinical-grade stem cell lines and their research-grade counterparts. The differences may explain why some clinical trials fail. Two studies in the February 14 edition of Stem Cell Reports (study 1 and study 2) suggest that the outcomes could have been anticipated if the production lines were animal-tested the same way as in preclinical studies. The two subject studies looked at the unsuccessful trials by StemCells Inc. of spinal injury treatment using neural precursor cells. The company reported that the cells remyelination and motor recovery in mice with spinal injury.

But in two different trials with the same cells expanded using the Good Manufacturing Process (GMP) standard, required for production for use in humans, the cells failed to demonstrate efficacy. When the same lines were later tested in mice for the subject studies, they matured at about half the rate as the research-grade cells and largely remained as undifferentiated clumps. In one study about 4 percent of the grafted cells continued to divide and in some cases extended neurites into the surrounding tissue. Obviously injecting undifferentiated stem cells is a very bad idea and no two stem cell lines are identical. Together these studies provide strong evidence for preclinical testing of clinical-grade cells prior to use in humans.

Finally, another announcement: Beginning with this podcast (and retroactively back to the prior podcast) the video portion will be included at the bottom of the transcript. This will make viewing easier for my blog readers.

Thank you for reading and/or viewing. Leave a comment with your thoughts or any questions, and subscribe to get a notice in your email whenever a new episode is published. Until then, keep breathing easy!

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Precision Stem Cell

The following should not be taken as a recommendation (or warning) regarding Precision Stem Cell. However, that facility was recently rendered an injustice which requires correction.

On March 19, 2013, ALS Worldwide (ALSWW) published a report on the procedure carried out by Dr. Jason Williams at Precision Stem Cell in Gulf Shores, Alabama (PSC). The report was particularly scathing. However, it was replete with inaccuracies. I would like to contrast points from the ALSWW report with facts reported to me from a number of independent sources which include Dr. Williams, persons who have visited his clinic, and patients treated by Dr. Williams in the subject stem cell procedure. To begin with, I will briefly explain the theoretical underpinnings of the procedure Dr. Williams performed, as well as his motivation for doing something outside of his original medical training.

Dr. Williams explains his history, procedure, rationale, and plans for development in a recently-released video. He had been doing mesenchymal stem cell (MSC) extraction and delivery into joints for a time, a somewhat routine procedure done in many clinics as a sports rehabilitation therapy. A friend, Frank Orgel, approached him about trying the procedure to treat his own ALS. Dr. Williams was initially skeptical but after online literature research learned of studies done using this technique in laboratory settings. Note that the link here is not necessarily the one used by Dr. Williams. The reader can search PubMed using the terms “autologous stem cells amyotrophic mesenchymal” and be presented with results which are representative of the applicable published studies.

Selegiline (Anipryl, L-deprenyl, Eldepryl, Emsam, Zelapar) is a drug used for the treatment of early-stage Parkinson’s disease, depression and senile dementia. Dr. Williams found published studies suggesting that selegiline treatment of MSCs was sufficient to trans-differentiate them toward a neural lineage. Dr. Williams extracts the MSCs via machines made exactly for the purpose of extraction of adipose (fat) tissue and real-time separation of MSCs from the adipose tissue. The extraction and separation process is all done in a sterile closed system. The MSCs are then bathed in selegiline solution created by from powder mixed with sterile saline using a professional compounding protocol. After treatment, the cells are then injected into the spine via lumbar puncture The idea is that the treated cells are a mixture of MSCs and neural-lineage cells which then quell the inflammatory aspect of ALS and provide neurotrophic factors. The extent and duration of benefit is presumed based on severity of progression (ie patients with a slower, less aggressive, progression would experience more benefit and of a longer duration).

TCA Cellular of Louisiana had been previously conducting a clinical trial using intrathecal delivery of MSCs to treat ALS until they were shut down for improperly administering the procedure outside of trial (including allogenic products delivered to some patients). Currently, The Mayo Clinic is conducting a similar trial. Clearly there is scientific rationale for investigating this procedure as a treatment for ALS. While Dr. Williams started with the cart before the horse, if you will, he has matured his operation into a true investigative research program. He is partnering with accredited researchers and is forming a company specifically to handle the research program. Together they are working on a genetic modification of the MSCs to more abundantly deliver anti-inflammatory and neurotrophic factors as well as concurrent delivery of the treatment vehicle to the patient cells to help the host cells defend themselves from disease process. This can be likened to the Brainstorm product which nearly everyone is excited about.

1. Precision Stem Cell is conducting a trial
As discussed above, Dr. Williams never claimed that his procedure was a clinical trial. He expanded his current practice of treating joint damage to ALS by request of a friend seeking the possibility of relief via MSC injection. Labeling the procedure as a “trial” and then remarking that there is no rigorous data collection is disingenuous at best. Further, discussion of pricing in the report appears deliberately worded to taint Dr. Williams as a con artist of the sort endemic in the world of life-threatening diseases. Dr. Williams is indeed now planning a trial, in preparation for which he has ceased treating patients, but none of the previous treatments were ever represented as a trial. Dr. Williams had been planning to transition to a trial many months prior to the ALSWW visit.

2. Dr. Williams has no credentials as a neurologist/plastic surgeon
This is true. However, neither of these qualifications are necessary to perform the subject procedure. Mechanically it is almost no different from the joint therapy he has been performing for years. Injection into the spine does carry extra risk. However, nurses without neurology credentials routinely administer spinal taps and injection of spinal block anesthesia daily around the United States, and without benefit of the imaging equipment employed by Dr. Williams. Insofar as the liposuction, Dr. Williams is certified in the use of that equipment since 2010 and can produce a copy of such certificate upon demand.

3. Positive effects lasted only 1-4 days
While the positive effects noted by some patients could indeed merely be placebo effect (impossible to determine either way absent double-blind trial), how Mr. Byer makes this claim is a puzzle. He never contacted any of the patients referred to him by Dr. Williams. The “days” time estimate Mr. Byer repeated in the ALSWW report appears to have come from a public post from a person on the ALSTDI forum. That person denies having been contacted by Mr. Byer.

4. The clinic is a poorly-equipped “stem cell facility”
Leaving aside a discussion of exactly what a “stem cell facility” is, PSC is a radiological facility. No surgical procedures are performed. The equipment used to extract, manipulate, and reintroduce the MSCs are all routine equipment useful in many procedures involving filtering and extraction of select fluids/tissue. The protocol for harvesting MSCs has been well-documented for decades. The liposuction and extraction are done with machines built exactly for those tasks in a closed system which guarantees sterility. The mention of the equipment not being FDA-approved for extracting MSCs is a total red herring apparently intended to taint the reader’s opinion of PSC.

5. Sterile procedures are not followed – infection risk
Sterile procedures are indeed not followed. The reason for this is that they are unnecessary. The entire movement of cells is done via hypodermics, transferring from the patient from one sealed sterile container to another throughout the entire process and back to the patient. Alcohol swab wipe on external surfaces prior to injection is all that is necessary. There is no open surgery requiring a sterile environment. Despite the claim in the ALSWW report, surgical drapes are indeed used during liposuction. Talking about the radiology suite as an “OR” is another disingenuous attempt to discredit PSC. The table talked about is a standard flouroscopy table so Dr. Williams can use imaging guidance for his procedure. Photographs reveal the table to be very clean and in fine shape. Since patients are not under general anesthesia or sedation, the risk of “easily falling off” is a function of zero.

6. Patients have retracted statements of benefit
This claim is a mystery because the patients to whom Dr. Williams referred Mr. Byer deny having been contacted. The patient Mr. Byer apparently used in this example denies having been contacted by Mr. Byer. Further, he maintains his original statement.

7. Williams uses a 0.8 micron filter making MSC harvest impossible
Dr. Williams uses an 80 micron filter. It is possible that Mr. Byer was observing another filter type or misread the label. Dr. Williams admits the possibility of having handed Mr. Byer a 0.8 micron filter by accident. Nevertheless, this question could have been resolved by email or phone call prior to publication.

8. The selegiline mixture is unsanitary
The selegiline is not, as claimed in the ALSWW report, ground in a mortar and pestle at PSC. The selegiline solution used for bathing the MSCs is made with sterile saline (not distilled water) under the guidance and protocol of David Rothbardt, a registered compounding pharmacist. According to Dr. Williams, neither Mr. Byer nor his medical adviser Dr. Hematti ever observed compounding of selegiline at PSC. Further, the selegiline is removed via rinse after bathing period and prior to reintroduction to the patient.

9. The PSC facility has no vapor lock system
Perhaps Mr. Byer has confused PSC with a biohazard facility? This allegation makes no sense and appears another in a long string of comments included to confuse the uninformed and unwary.

As demonstrated above, the report by ALSWW is full of inaccuracies, misrepresentations, and diversions from truth. The motivations for Mr. Byer to publish that report are beyond the scope of this blog post. The facts are that PSC is a clinic offering a treatment used by many clinics for joint rehabilitation. The equipment and techniques are common and well-documented. The facility is clean and the procedure is carried out under appropriately-sterile conditions. The applicability of this treatment to ALS is unknown, although the study data available is compelling enough for The Mayo Clinic to run a clinical trial.

There are some questions regarding the treatment provided by Dr. Williams. The dosages administered are estimates based on instrument capacity rather than actual flow cytometry count. The data regarding selegiline needs further independent verification. Without evaluation, it’s impossible to know how complete is the presumed process of trans-differentiation of MSCs to neural lineage. The efficacy of either straight or selegiline-treated MSC intrathecal injection is still an open question.

However, one thing is clear: PSC did not deserve such a baseless derogatory review from ALSWW.

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Growth Potential

Two new studies came out that I found rather interesting. The ability to transfer into humans is years off but the progress is still impressive. First up, a team at the University of Toronto developed a new technique to expand stem cells at industrial capacity. Second, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia generated a new human stem cell type called an “endodermal precursor”. If the new stem cell technique can also be used to generate ectodermal precursors, it could be a major advancement in regenerative therapy for ALS. Many additional steps would still be necessary but mass-production of teratoma-free cells would be an important contribution.

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Headlines

First off, there is some wonderful news: Diaphragm pacing system receives FDA approval for use with ALS patients. This is a device which extends time until vent by electrically stimulating the diaphragm. Note that this will not replace a vent as the diaphragm muscle needs neurons to release acetylcholine to the muscle fibers in order for them to contract. However, I urge all PALS reading this to immediately begin talking with your neurologist about whether this would be right for you. Here is some good information regarding the DPS.

Next up is the recent news regarding the Neuralstem trial involving stem cells implanted in the spines of PALS. Readers can see a poster-style synopsis of current trial data here. The initial results are encouraging, and one patient has even shown improvement. The next step in the trial is cervical implantation where the cells will have the chance to impact the phrenic nerve (the “money” nerve that serves the diaphragm and breathing). There is still much to learn about this technique before it is available to but a few. Remember that this is still a safety trial. I would urge readers to consider the words of Neuralstem’s CEO.

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Brainstorm Coming

Some more very good news for PALS in the USA: Brainstorm is bringing it’s stem cell clinical trial to the US! This technology, named NurOwn, uses a patient’s own mesenchymal stem cells to produce little factories for neurotrophic factors (proteins that nourish and strengthen neurons). This would provide a constant and lifetime production of support for the neighboring neurons, a much more effective approach than drugs which are only present for a short time or may be reduced or blocked by the Blood-Brain-Barrier.

Note that this is not a replacement therapy, but rather one to help feed and protect existing neurons.

You can read about the trial protocol here. For recently diagnosed patients they will inject into muscles to try to take advantage of axonal uptake in the hope that this will preserve the axon and its attachment to the muscle (neuromuscular junction). Patients in later stages of disease will have an injection into the spine to treat the neurons’ cell bodies directly.

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Cell Mates

In 2006, mouse fibroblasts were successfully transformed from a fully differentiated state to a state of pluripotency. These cells were designated induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC).Since that news, human cells were successfully transformed and techniques to increase the safety and efficiency of production have been found. Other techniques have been developed which can correct genetic defects in iPSCs with the eventual goal of repairing or replacing defective tissues.

iPSCs still have issues to be resolved such as:

  • certain methods of inducing pluripotency are tumorigenic
  • iPSCs appear to have “memory” of their original cell type
  • there is some data showing that iPSCs express certain proteins on their surface resulting in immune rejection even in cells donated from the host’s own tissue
  • other complications such as efficiency (allowing sufficient numbers of cells to be generated within a clinically acceptable time at a clinically acceptable cost).

Some of these issues are already being addressed and quite frankly the pace of research has been astonishingly rapid. iPSCs are already being used to model disease and aid drug discovery. Due to the novelty of cell-based therapies and the fact that implanted cells are difficult or impossible to remove (unlike dosages of drugs which can be ceased in the event of adverse reaction), regulatory hurdles are necessarily high. However, as more trials are performed giving more data on safety these hurdles can be lowered somewhat and/or more easily surmounted. There are cell-based therapies already in or going through the regulatory process for trials using a variety of stem cell types. Not only do these prospective treatments face regulatory hurdles, they must also cross the Valley of Death of pharmaceutical research. Some researchers are finding ways of doing this on their own with intellectual property partnerships, and the NIH has been working to bridge the gap with new programs such as TRND.

This is a very exciting time for regenerative medicine.

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Be Yourself

“I’m nobody! Who are you?”

The concept of “self” is critically important in the immune system. Each of our cells present a unique set of molecules on their outer walls which signal to our wandering immunity police that they belong (“your papers, please”). Any other cells not presenting the same combination are considered foreign invaders and are attacked (“your papers are not in order!”). This works great for resisting infection but is a major impediment to transplant surgery. Even “tissue matching” is inexact, requiring recipients to have their immune system forever after repressed in order to maintain the graft. Finding a way to allow for a graft of desirable foreign tissue but also maintain a robust immune system is a therefore a major goal.

A stem cell research grant by theCalifornia Institute of Regenerative Medicine has a quite novel approach: regenerating the thymus, the “police academy” where the immunity cells learn to recognize the body’s own cells from foreign invaders. The thymus atrophies in adulthood, so regenerating it from stem cells from an appropriate HLA line might trick the immune system into accepting the graft with the same HLA type.

Quite a clever approach, and yet another reason that I am glad to have voted in favor of forming CIRM (ironically shortly before I was diagnosed with ALS).

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More Baby Steps

In June I posted a discussion about a prospective regenerative therapy. On December 1, I received a press release that the company developing this therapy has filed an IND with the FDA. This is a huge step forward for people suffering from motor neuron disease (especially late-stage PALS like myself). However, it is but the first baby step in the clinical trial journey. Let’s hope that the FDA acts swiftly and positively on this IND.