FRC Blog

Making Memories with Adult Stem Cells

by David Prentice

September 30, 2008

New nerve cells, produced naturally by adult neural stem cells present in the brain, appear to be essential for learning and memory. The old idea that brain cells are not renewed (that “you start with as many brain cells as you’ll ever have, and it’s downhill from there”) was tossed out the window by scientists years ago. Researchers showed in the early 1990’s that the adult brain continues to make new neurons, a process termed “neurogenesis”, throughout life (Gage has a good review of the early years.) Now researchers at Kyoto University in Japan have shown in mice that new brain cells are necessary for learning and for memory. The new research, published in Nature Neuroscience, indicates that neural stem cells in the adult brain continue to produce new brain cells that are important for memory and learning. The new study supports work published earlier this year showing that new brain cells can affect learning and memory. Last year research showed that transplanting adult neural stem cells into brain-injured mice could restore some memory, and in March 2008 another study showed that injecting human umbilical cord blood stem cells into the brains of aging animals boosted neurogenesis. A recent study also suggested that stimulating specific molecules in the brain could reactivate adult neural stem cells. Exercise has also been shown to stimulate neurogenesis in the brain. So various methods seem to have the potential to help the mouse remember where he put his cheese, or where you left your keys, by stimulating your own brain adult stem cells.

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Fireproof Lights Up the Box Office

by Michael Leaser

September 29, 2008

Score another success for Alex and Stephen Kendrick. The creators of Facing the Giants have offered up an unexpectedly poignant film about a firefighter trying to save his failing marriage. And moviegoers have responded with a $6.5 million opening weekend, giving Fireproof the second-highest per-screen average behind Eagle Eye. This on a budget of just $500,000, paltry by Hollywood standards. By comparison, Facing the Giants earned $1.3 million in its opening weekend on its way to a surprisingly successful take of $10 million in its 117-day run, and that on a $100,000 budget.

Like its predecessor, Fireproof employs amateur actors for most of its roles with mixed results, but the leads are solid, and Kirk Cameron is particularly effective as the frustrated fireman who’s not even certain at first that he wants to save his marriage. The film definitely has a low-budget look to it, but Alex Kendrick and his camera crew clearly know their craft. They make every dollar in that budget count. The story itself, though, is reason enough to see the film, especially for recently engaged or newlywed couples. One rarely sees such a life-affirming, marriage-affirming tale on the big screen. Fireproof doesn’t claim marriage is easy, but it should successfully convince skeptics that it’s well worth the work.

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Adult Stem Cell Hope for ALS

by David Prentice

September 28, 2008

Adult stem cells have been used in a rat model of ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; “Lou Gehrig’s disease”) to strengthen muscles and their connecting nerves. Researchers injected bone marrow adult stem cells carrying a gene for GDNF (glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor), a nurturing protein for nerves. Previous work by the group had shown that transplanting neural stem cells that released GDNF into the spinal cord could protect motor neurons that degenerate in the ALS rat, but that the nerves still did not effectively connect with the muscles that waste away due to ALS. In the current study published in Molecular Therapy, the researchers were pleasantly surprised to find that when they injected the adult stem cells into muscle, however, the cells pumped out GDNF that helped the connecting nerves survive and maintain connection, and that this delayed progression of the disease and extended the lifespan of the ALS animals. The bone marrow adult stem cells had a slight effect on their own, possibly by releasing their own protective factors, but the effect was greater when they delivered the nurturing growth protein. While any human application is still in the future, the new study provides hope for treatment in a disease that currently has no effective therapy. An advantage of this approach is that muscle is easy to access and adult stem cells could be used from the patients themselves.

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Doggone Resemblance

by David Prentice

September 28, 2008

Or is it political comment? The Times of London notes that the journal Nature had an interesting juxtaposition of front and back covers for this week’s issue. The front cover is a serious pair of pictures of the two U.S. Presidential candidates, with various articles in the issue discussing the positions of the candidates on science topics.

The back cover? A pair of pictures of two dogs, cannily (caninely?) posed similar to the two gentlemen on the front cover. Nature says they were completely unaware of the mirroring between the front and back covers until the issue landed on the desk…

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Perkins Perspective: Bailing Out - An issue of Responsibility

by Tony Perkins

September 28, 2008

On Friday the USA Today carried a story of Nebraska’s “Safe Haven” law. I authored and passed Louisiana’s version of that law back in 1999. Several states now have those laws on the books which are designed to encourage frightened and confused young mothers not to throw their newborn babies in the trash but drop them at a “Safe Haven” like a hospital or fire station, no questions asked.

Since the Nebraska law went into effect in July there have been some unintended results. Over a half dozen parents have dropped off not new born babies, but kids ranging in age from 1 to 17.

A few parents with challenging teenagers might be tempted to chuckle and leave the article in their teen’s room as a veiled threat, but when you get beyond that temptation you can’t help but realize that this speaks to a profound problem in our nation - a lack of commitment and responsibility.

Men and women faced with the difficulties of parenting find a way for government to bail them out, or should we say rescue them. No matter what street we drive down, whether it is Main Street or Wall Street, the growing refusal to assume responsibility cast a dark and ominous cloud over our nation’s future.

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Adult Stem Cells for Stroke

by David Prentice

September 28, 2008

Researchers at Texas A&M have shown that adult stem cells injected into the brain can repair stroke damage. They injected human bone marrow stem cells into the brains of mice that had induced stroke, and found that the adult stem cells could alleviate the damage caused by the stroke. Their study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, also indicated the mechanism of action of the adult stem cells in the brain. Previous studies have shown that mesenchymal stromal cells (a type of bone marrow stem cell) can reverse neural degeneration in the brain caused by disorders such as Parkinson’s disease and stroke, but the mechanism was unclear. Dr. Darwin Prockop, the senior investigator, noted that “Our paper provides for the first time a molecular explanation of how adult stem/progenitor cells can ameliorate ischemic (reduced blood flow) damage to the brain.” The adult stem cells act primarily by signaling other cells in the brain, stimulating the brain cells to block inflammation that can lead to cell damage and death. Stroke is the third leading cause of death in the U.S. This result, and the mechanism uncovered for adult stem cells, could lead to significant treatments not only for stroke and other brain disorders, but also for diseases and injuries to other tissues throughout the body.

prockop.jpgWhile not the first to suggest this mechanism of action for adult stem cells, Dr. Prockop has been a leader in investigating the actions of adult stem cells to repair tissue damage. Previous research includes the potential of adult stem cells to stimulate repair of the pancreas and kidney, to promote growth of new neural stem cells in the brain, and to form new airway cells for potential lung repair. One of his recent papers discussed at length the potential mechanisms used by adult stem cells for tissue repair.

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Adult Stem Cells May Help Childhood Motor Neuron Disease

by David Prentice

September 27, 2008

Researchers at the University of Milan have published results indicating that adult neural stem cells might be used as a treatment for spinal muscular atrophy. This motor neuron disease is the second most common genetic disorder leading to death in childhood. Using a mouse model for the disease, the scientists injected neural stem cells into the spinal cords of animals. They found that treated mice showed improved muscular function and increased lifespan compared to untreated controls. While some of the transplanted cells developed into motor neurons, the major effect of the injected cells seems to be improving survival and function of existing motor neurons already present in the mice, suggesting that the adult stem cells secrete factors to assist survival and regeneration.

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Adult Stem Cells Help Liver (No Onions)

by David Prentice

September 27, 2008

Doctors at Imperial College, London have published results showing improvement in patients with alcoholic liver cirrhosis, after treatment with their own adult stem cells. Nine patients had their adult stem cells from blood collected, the numbers were boosted in the lab, and then the cells were injected into their livers. Positive results were seen within one week. Seven of the nine patients showed significant improvement up to 12 weeks (the extent monitored for this study), with three patients showing almost complete resolution. Dr. Nagy Habib, the senior author, said “We are encouraged that the majority of patients in this study experienced a significant improvement in their liver functions.” These latest results were published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology.

The new results using adult stem cells to treat liver damage are a follow-up to previous work done by Habib’s group and reported in 2006 and in 2007. Positive results using adult stem cells to treat liver damage in patients has also been reported by another group in Greece and in Japan.

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Patenting A Fraud

by David Prentice

September 26, 2008

Australia is apparently considering granting a patent for human cloning to disgraced South Korean researcher Hwang Woo-suk. The patent would cover the method of producing cloned human embryos and destroying the cloned embryos to harvest human embryonic stem cells. If granted, it would allow Hwang to collect royalties on proceeds from the sales of new medicines developed with his technology. Not that there are any such developments, nor likely to be. But it certainly seems wrong to reward a fraudulent scientist for a process he faked.

Hwang supposedly created cloned human embryos and destroyed them for their cells in 2004 and 2005, publishing the results in the journal Science. In late 2005 it was revealed that the research was a fraud and the results fabricated; the published papers were withdrawn. Hwang was indicted in May 2006, and prosecutors say he was the mastermind behind the fraud. South Korea has banned Hwang from research on cloning human embryos, though he continues to clone animals.

Hwang has supposedly applied for patents on his cloning technique in 11 countries but has been rejected by the European Patent Office and most countries, though a decision is still supposedly pending in four countries. One international patent expert, though, said even if Australia went ahead and granted a patent, it could be revoked if Hwang fails to present the cloned human embryonic stem cell line. If that is the case, Hwang is out of luck; the cell line that Hwang did create was determined to be from parthenogenesis, not from cloning. If you’re interested, you can review his patent claims and patent description.

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The $700 Billion Bailout Ballet

by Family Research Council

September 26, 2008

 

While it has been a few years since I focused strictly on fiscal issues this bailout plan is troubling me (and that is not just because Hugo Chavez has basically endorsed it).  Whenever the Federal Government demands that “this needs to be passed now” and “trust us,” my first feeling is one of great doubt.

I agree with National Review’s (NR) assessment that something needs to be done and that it needs to insure strong conservative ideas (something I am not seeing coming from the White House or the Senate).  Others, including NR, have analyzed some of the even more socialistic proposals coming from the Democrats such as government controlled CEO pay and allowing judges to set and change mortgage rates.  

I have seen nothing however addressing what I see as a huge problem - there appears to be no withdrawal plan (or “exit strategy” as Code Pink might say).  Once the market rights itself what will the federal government do to extract itself from this huge takeover and involvement?  Every indication seems to point that they plan on sticking around for quite a while.

Since last Friday I have been inundated with an unprecedented number of e-mails and daily requests to be on White House phone calls where it appears the only

StageCoachRobbery.jpg

people allowed to ask questions are those who support the plan (I say this knowing myself and others - all of us with questions - have not been called on to comment during the Q and A sections of the calls, despite repeated attempts to do so.)  The e-mails coming from the White House have been your typical talking points and “what others are saying” sheets.

However the one I received yesterday titled “A Lot Of That Money - And Maybe All Of It - Will Come Back: The Financial Rescue Plan Will Not Be A Handout,

But A Purchase Of Assets That Are Expected To Be Repaid Over Time” stood out.  This handout is telling us all the things that others are saying on how the Paulsen plan will make the government money and potentially even bring back a profit.  Is there no one disturbed that if this is true that once the government makes money they will be more reluctant to get out of the market? 

Additionally, say the government does make the money back and even makes a profit - what happens with that money?  The Congress has no plans to cut spending to make up for the billions of dollars going to this bailout so this is money on top of the trillions they are already spending.  “(P)erhaps the eventual profits can fund new investments in infrastructure or energy technology,” is one of the quotes from the White House handout.  And today it has been revealed Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is looking to add to the proposal that any profits from the takeover be directed to groups like ACORN, which is infamous for violating election laws while receiving over 50 percent of its budget from the taxpayers.  Neither the White House or the Democratic Leadership has suggested “we will pay for this by cutting Washington’s already out of control spending - and we will return the money and any profits to the American taxpayer directly.”

Is it any wonder fiscally minded Americans are not swallowing this bitter tasting medicine coming from DC?

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