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BLINDNESS vs. THE CALIFORNIA STEM CELL PROGRAM: Disease-a-week Challenge #6

by Don C. Reed

When I was ten I fell on a bamboo stick, which penetrated my right eye. The doctor taped a patch over it and said that was all he could do, we would just have to wait and see. What did that mean? Losing one eye did not sound too bad, like a pirate in the movies, but what if I lost the other one too? To no longer read comic books, or watch expressions change on a person’s face, or see the colors of the sky? I experimented with being blind, blindfolding myself with tied-together gymsocks, stumbling around the room.
In time I recovered partial vision (20/400), meaning I could see at twenty feet what others see at 400. With corrective lenses, all is well—but I will never take vision for granted again.

Do you know the Saturday Night Live comedian Will Forte? The humorist was friends with another standup comedian, Dennis Rickman, Ph.D.. Rickman’s day job was in medical research: trying to use stem cells to defeat blindness. Forte helped Rickman raise $10,000 to start a program called SCIfEyes (Stem Cell Initiative for Eyes) at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.

http://dukeeyecenter.duke.edu/news-events/snl-comedian-launches-stem-cell-research-fellowship-duke-medical-center

I spoke to Dr. Rickman and his wife, Dr. Catherine Bowes Rickman, a recognized authority on Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD), the most common form of adult blindness in Western society.

Dennis Rickman advocated “the ethical use of both adult… and embryonic stem cells for scientific research”– and had a very good reason for doing so.

In 1995, Dennis Rickman had been diagnosed with leukemia…

After a two-year search, a young woman in Germany was found with bone marrow like Rickman’s; she shared her stem cells with him.

This gave him ten years of additional life. Dr. Rickman used those years to fight to save the vision of others, even as he was losing his own…

He knew that eye disease attacks the retina, the inner lining at the back of the eyeball, which turns light into vision.

Could stem cells restore the damaged retina?

“I’m not naïve enough to think that it will be done in the next few years,” he said, “(but) when I’m not able to do this work anymore, there will be someone else carrying it on.”
On February 21, 2010, Dr. Rickman passed away.

“He had the vision, but not the funding,” said Catherine Bowes Rickman.

What a shame! To have a stem cell idea which might restore sight to the blind, but not be able to carry it forward—for lack of a few lousy bucks? I applaud Will Forte for helping raise ten thousand dollars to start the program—but could not his home state provide for the research?

Such funding shortfalls are exactly the problem the California stem cell program was set up to solve: to connect stem cell scientists with the funding they need to fight disease.

Unfortunately, California money cannot pay for North Carolina research. If that state had a collaborative research agreement with us, ‘our” scientists (funded by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, CIRM) could work with theirs. We would pay our portion, they would pay theirs, more bang for the research buck. But that link has not yet been made.

However! Four scientist friends of the Rickmans’ are Mark Humayun, David Hinton and Dennis Clegg, all of the University of Southern California, and Peter Coffee from University College, London, UK. They recently received a disease team grant from the California stem cell program. Because CIRM and the UK have a collaborative agreement, they can work together, and Coffee is bringing his own funding.

The problem they are taking on is huge. As they state in their public write-up for the CIRM grant:

“… by 2020, over 450,000 Californians will suffer…vision loss or blindness due to AMD, the most common cause of (eye disease) in the elderly. Part of the retina, called the macula …(lets) people read, visualize faces, and drive… The disease initially causes damage in central vision, (leading to) legal blindness.”

http://www.cirm.ca.gov/our-progress/awards/stem-cell-based-treatment-strategy-age-related-macular-degeneration-amd

“Central vision”? : If you have AMD, the center part of your field of vision will be a large black spot, with only a fringe of vision around the edges.

“Put a thumb in front of your eye,” said Dr. Humayun when I interviewed him, “now imagine trying to deal with that all day long.”

What keeps a person’s retina healthy?

“A layer of cells at the back of the eye called the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) provides support, protection, and nutrition to … the retina.”

http://www.nei.nih.gov/health/maculardegen/armd_facts.asp

If those support cells go bad, so does the retina. But the team thinks there may be a way to prevent the deterioration, or even reverse it.

With embryonic stem cells, they hope to nurture the cells which nourish the retina.

Will it work? Maybe yes, maybe no. But thanks to the California stem cell program, the scientists will have the funding (almost $19 million) to find out.

This column is dedicated to the memory of Dennis Rickman. He and his wife Catherine’s efforts have advanced the cause of vision research. May she continue to find funding: she and every scientist who struggles to defeat chronic disease.

The fight for sight must go on.

Don C. Reed is the author of the forthcoming book, STEM CELL BATTLES: Proposition 71 and Beyond: How Ordinary People Can Fight Back Against the Crushing Burden of Chronic Disease

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DISEASE-A-WEEK CHALLENGE  #5: The California Stem Cell Program vs. Autism

by Don C. Reed

Before I met the boy who liked Stanford too much, I knew almost nothing about autism.

I had seen the movie, RAINMAN, in which Dustin Hoffman played an autistic person.  He seemed like a genius with emotional  problems: he could instantly count spilled toothpicks,  memorize phone books, play cards at Las Vegas– but was terrified of physical contact, shrieking if hugged.

But there at the door of my 8th grade classroom was a boy in a bright red sweater, telling me Stanford was the greatest university in the world.

He wore that red sweater every day, hot or cold. And every essay he wrote—almost every sentence that he wrote—was about Stanford.

If the assignment was an in-class essay on sharks, he would frown and freeze, sitting motionless for two or three minutes. Then he would smile, and I knew he had found a way to work the subject around to Stanford, which did not have any aquarium for sharks, but if it did, that shark aquarium would be the best in the world, because…

His writing was neat, his thinking well-organized, as long as you wanted to talk about Stanford.  If the subject was anything else, he would tune out.

On the writing he produced, he earned an A. In my class, he was successful.

Some high-achieving autistic adults can be valuable and effective employees, if a company’s needs coincide with their own. They can remain focused on one subject for astonishingly long periods of time.

http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/05/22/us-sap-autism-idUSBRE94L0ZN20130522

Others are not so fortunate.

In an open letter to the California stem cell program, Nicki P. spoke about her 9-year-old child, Christopher.

“At two, Christopher was normal, a cheerful intelligent boy…

“But on March 21, 1999,  he  said, ‘I’m finished, all finished,’ repeating the phrase for days…

“At age 9, he cannot read, write, or even hold a pencil appropriately. His limited speech is unclear, sometimes even to me. He cannot access many of the skills he had as a toddler, and needs help with almost all daily living skills…(My fear is that) he will end up in a home that will not understand his two-to-three-word-requests, and he will not have me to advocate for him…”

https://www.cirm.ca.gov/sites/default/files/files/agenda/transcripts/04-06-06.pdf

Eight years later, I made contact with Ms. P. again.  Her son Christopher, now 17, was functioning at the level of a two-year-old.

“Sometimes, when I am asleep,” she said, “he wakes up, comes quietly into my bedroom, and dives through the air to crash-land on top of me—like he used to do, when he was two.”

Ms. P. was quoted in a newspaper article about the tragic murder/suicide of another mother of an autistic child– for whom the strain became too much.

A woman called Elizabeth H. shot and killed her 22-year-old autistic son, and then herself. She had been trying to get help for him, but state budget cuts took away her hope.  Apparently, when her son was of school age, assistance was available; but once he turned 21, his eligibility ended.

No one can condone murder/suicide. But Ms. P. points to a problem which must be faced.

“Our system has crumbled,” she said, “The disabled, elderly and chronically ill are being left behind…

“…the problem will only grow worse, as autistic children nationwide become adults…(and) states cut more social and medical services…”

http://www.mercurynews.com/ci_20133086/parents-autistic-children-speak-out-sunnyvale-murder-suicide

In monetary terms, how big a problem is autism?

“It can cost about $3.2 million to take care of (one) autistic person over his or her lifetime. Caring for all people (U.S. citizens)…costs an estimated $35 billion per year.” (emphasis added)

(http://archive.sph.harvard.edu/press-releases/2006-releases/press04252006.html)

But the California stem cell program is fighting for cure.

Meet Dr. Alysson R. Muotri, of UC San Diego, funded by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM, the Proposition 71 initiative approved by California voters ).

A slender, energetic man, originally from Brazil, Dr. Muotri had been trying to gather tissue samples from autistic children.

“Taking blood samples from autistic children is… not nice,” he said when I interviewed him, “They scream and fight…. So, we came up with the Tooth Fairy program.”

When an autistic child lost a baby tooth, they could donate it to Dr. Muotri’s program.

“It was so successful we got more teeth than we needed!”,  he said.

Dr. Muotri had three main goals for his research. First, there had to be a microscopic  human model of the disease, so he could test drugs on it, see which therapies helped and which did not. Second, he wanted to find a “molecular footprint” for the disease, like finding the tracks of a predator. That way newborns could be tested; the earlier they were diagnosed with the disease, the better the chance for a positive outcome.

Third and most importantly, he hoped to actually reverse the disease.

The California stem cell program offered a chance. As his weapon of choice, Muotri picked Induced Pluripotent Stem cells, similar to embryonic stem cells, but made from patient body tissues. Why not human embryonic stem cells, (hESCs)? Dr. Muotri said he wanted stem cells directly from an autistic person, and so they had taken tissue samples—from inside the donated baby teeth.

Muotri changed the tissue samples into embryonic-like cells. Then (in a process taking about three months) he converted those cells into brain cells, like those of the patient.

Now he had diseased brain cells to work with in the lab: almost like a living autistic brain.

He found that neurons (nerve cells) derived from autistic patients make less connections than do those from healthy individuals. Diseased astrocytes—a star-shaped cell type in the brain—contributed to these connection shortfalls. But if healthy astrocytes were added, they could help recovery.

He found some experimental drugs that the malfunctioning neurons seemed to like, and which seemed to reverse the effects of autism. The experiment is new as this article is written, but there is reason to hope.  Most of his work has been done with human cells in a “disease in a dish” model.   Naturally Dr. Muotri wants to go ahead, possibly trying  for one of CIRM’s  Disease Team grants, which would provide enough funding to go all the way into human trials.

How does he feel about this?

“The possibility of helping people with autism is so exciting. (We are  eager) to see the results of candidate drugs we’re screening against autism…

“We should complete the screening of 55,000 drugs on astrocytes derived from (the tissue samples from teeth)… Around 5,000 are re-purposed drugs (which have already gone through much FDA testing) so if we get a hit on these, clinical trials are around the corner.

“When I talk to parents now, I see hope in their eyes, that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

“And when I get up in the morning every day, I run to my lab…”

Update: In stark contrast to the California effort, Illinois’s Republican Governor Bruce Rauner recently eliminated state funding for autism programs—and he did it on April 2, World Autism Awareness Day.

http://abc7chicago.com/society/state-funding-for-autism-program-cut-on-world-autism-day-advocate-says/612111/

Don C. Reed is the author of the forthcoming book, STEM CELL BATTLES: Proposition 71 and Beyond.

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DISEASE-A-WEEK CHALLENGE #5: The California Stem Cell Program vs. Autism

by Don C. Reed

Before I met the boy who liked Stanford too much, I knew almost nothing about autism.

I had seen the movie, RAINMAN, in which Dustin Hoffman played an autistic person. He seemed like a genius with emotional problems: he could instantly count spilled toothpicks, memorize phone books, play cards at Las Vegas– but was terrified of physical contact, shrieking if hugged.

But there at the door of my 8th grade classroom was a boy in a bright red sweater, telling me Stanford was the greatest university in the world.

He wore that red sweater every day, hot or cold. And every essay he wrote–almost every sentence that he wrote–was about Stanford.

If the assignment was an in-class essay on sharks, he would frown and freeze, sitting motionless for two or three minutes. Then he would smile, and I knew he had found a way to work the subject around to Stanford, which did not have any aquarium for sharks, but if it did, that shark aquarium would be the best in the world, because…

His writing was neat, his thinking well-organized, as long as you wanted to talk about Stanford. If the subject was anything else, he would tune out.

On the writing he produced, he earned an A. In my class, he was successful.

Some high-achieving autistic adults can be valuable and effective <a href=”http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/05/22/us-sap-autism-idUSBRE94L0ZN20130522&#8243; target=”_hplink”>employees</a>, if a company’s needs coincide with their own. They can remain focused on one subject for astonishingly long periods of time.

Others are not so fortunate.

In an open<a href=”https://www.cirm.ca.gov/sites/default/files/files/agenda/transcripts/04-06-06.pdf&#8221; target=”_hplink”> lette</a>r to the California stem cell program, Nicki P. spoke about her 9-year-old child, Christopher.

“At two, Christopher was normal, a cheerful intelligent boy…

“But on March 21, 1999, he said, ‘I’m finished, all finished,’ repeating the phrase for days…

“At age 9, he cannot read, write, or even hold a pencil appropriately. His limited speech is unclear, sometimes even to me. He cannot access many of the skills he had as a toddler, and needs help with almost all daily living skills…(My fear is that) he will end up in a home that will not understand his two-to-three-word-requests, and he will not have me to advocate for him…”
Eight years later, I made contact with Ms. P. again. Her son Christopher, now 17, was functioning at the level of a two-year-old.

“Sometimes, when I am asleep,” she said, “he wakes up, comes quietly into my bedroom, and dives through the air to crash-land on top of me–like he used to do, when he was two.”

Ms. P. was quoted in a newspaper <a href=”http://www.mercurynews.com/ci_20133086/parents-autistic-children-speak-out-sunnyvale-murder-suicide&#8221; target=”_hplink”>article</a> about the tragic murder/suicide of another mother of an autistic child– for whom the strain became too much.

A woman called Elizabeth H. shot and killed her 22-year-old autistic son, and then herself. She had been trying to get help for him, but state budget cuts took away her hope. Apparently, when her son was of school age, assistance was available; but once he turned 21, his eligibility ended.

No one can condone murder/suicide. But Ms. P. points to a problem which must be faced.

“Our system has crumbled,” she said, “The disabled, elderly and chronically ill are being left behind…

“…the problem will only grow worse, as autistic children nationwide become adults…(and) states cut more social and medical services…”
In monetary terms, how big a problem is autism?

“It can <a href=”http://archive.sph.harvard.edu/press-releases/2006-releases/press04252006.html&#8221; target=”_hplink”>cost</a> about $3.2 million to take care of (one) autistic person over his or her lifetime. Caring for all people (U.S. citizens)…costs an estimated $35 billion per year.”
But the California stem cell program is fighting for cure.

Meet Dr. Alysson R. Muotri, of UC San Diego, funded by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM, the Proposition 71 initiative approved by California voters ).

<a href=”http://images.huffingtonpost.com/2015-06-22-1434977199-353736-Alysson_Muotri.jpg”><img alt=”2015-06-22-1434977199-353736-Alysson_Muotri.jpg” src=”http://images.huffingtonpost.com/2015-06-22-1434977199-353736-Alysson_Muotri-thumb.jpg&#8221; width=”570″ height=”380″ /></a>

A slender, energetic man, originally from Brazil, Dr. Muotri had been trying to gather tissue samples from autistic children.

“Taking blood samples from autistic children is… not nice,” he said when I interviewed him, “They scream and fight…. So, we came up with the Tooth Fairy program.”

When an autistic child lost a baby tooth, they could donate it to Dr. Muotri’s program.

“It was so successful we got more teeth than we needed!”, he said.

Dr. Muotri had three main goals for his research. First, there had to be a microscopic human model of the disease, so he could test drugs on it, see which therapies helped and which did not. Second, he wanted to find a “molecular footprint” for the disease, like finding the tracks of a predator. That way newborns could be tested; the earlier they were diagnosed with the disease, the better the chance for a positive outcome.

Third and most importantly, he hoped to actually reverse the disease.

The California stem cell program offered a chance. As his weapon of choice, Muotri picked Induced Pluripotent Stem cells, similar to embryonic stem cells, but made from patient body tissues. Why not human embryonic stem cells, (hESCs)? Dr. Muotri said he wanted stem cells directly from an autistic person, and so they had taken tissue samples–from inside the donated baby teeth.

Muotri changed the tissue samples into embryonic-like cells. Then (in a process taking about three months) he converted those cells into brain cells, like those of the patient.

Now he had diseased brain cells to work with in the lab: almost like a living autistic brain.

He found that neurons (nerve cells) derived from autistic patients make less connections than do those from healthy individuals. Diseased astrocytes–a star-shaped cell type in the brain–contributed to these connection shortfalls. But if healthy astrocytes were added, they could help recovery.

He found some experimental drugs that the malfunctioning neurons seemed to like, and which seemed to reverse the effects of autism. The experiment is new as this article is written, but there is reason to hope. Most of his work has been done with human cells in a “disease in a dish” model. Naturally Dr. Muotri wants to go ahead, possibly trying for one of CIRM’s Disease Team grants, which would provide enough funding to go all the way into human trials.

How does he feel about this?

“The possibility of helping people with autism is so exciting. (We are eager) to see the results of candidate drugs we’re screening against autism…

“We should complete the screening of 55,000 drugs on astrocytes derived from (the tissue samples from teeth)… Around 5,000 are re-purposed drugs (which have already gone through much FDA testing) so if we get a hit on these, clinical trials are around the corner.

“When I talk to parents now, I see hope in their eyes, that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

“And when I get up in the morning every day, I run to my lab…”

Update: In stark contrast to the California effort, Illinois’s Republican Governor Bruce <a href=”http://abc7chicago.com/society/state-funding-for-autism-program-cut-on-world-autism-day-advocate-says/612111/&#8221; target=”_hplink”>Rauner</a> recently eliminated state funding for autism programs–and he did it on April 2, World Autism Awareness Day.
Don C. Reed is the author of the forthcoming book, STEM CELL BATTLES: Proposition 71 and Beyond.

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http://www.huffingtonpost.com/don-c-reed/diseaseaweek-challenge-4-_b_7584406.html

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DISEASE-A-WEEK#4: The California Stem Cell Program vs. Arthritis

By Don C. Reed

In the 1966 movie-so-bad-it-might-be-fun, 1966 BILLY THE KID VS. DRACULA, there is a scene that made me cringe, and not for the reasons the film-makers intended.

As Dracula, John Carradine lurched toward whomever he was menacing– but the camera focused on the actor’s poor hands.

Arthritis. The swollen-knuckled joints were unmistakable.

The rest of the movie I found myself worrying for him, scared he might bump into something, or that somebody might shake his hand, and squeeze too hard.

Arthritis may not sound like much: perhaps because it is so common, affecting more than 20 million people in America alone. But the pain can be excruciating: it would be classified as torture, if done deliberately.

My wife Gloria and I have the condition in our knees.

For me, it’s a minor inconvenience: my six-year-old grand-daughter can outrun me; plus getting up from the floor is like a camel rising, rear end first, one awkward joint at a time.

But Gloria suffers. Stairs are the worst. Our bedroom is on the second floor, and she tries to only use the stairs twice a day: down in the morning, back up at night.

Think what is happening inside her knee: where thigh bone and shin bone meet. Between the bones is (or should be) a spongy cushion of cartilage. If it is thick and healthy, all goes well.

But take away that cushion, either from wear-and-tear of age or ripping injury? No shock absorber. Now it is bone on bone as the weight presses down, and gravity grinds the joint at every step.

Surgery can rebuild the knee structure with metal and ceramic implants. Sometimes the operation goes well, and the patient recovers a degree of mobility. But still it is a foreign object in the body. More surgeries may be required, expensive, invasive, and always with an element of risk.

There are drugs to mask the pain, and cortisone shots and gel insertions; but these are temporary fixes at best. Gloria has had several cortisone shots, but each one helps less than the one before, and side effects threaten. Most recently, she had gel injected into both knees, and again, some temporary relief, but nothing lasts.

But what if we could grow new cartilage, rebuilding the cushion inside the knee?

Denis Evseenko of UCLA is trying to do just that. His grant (RB5-07230) from the California stem cell program is active; the cell of choice is embryonic.

In a telephone interview, Dr. Evseenko said:

“Recent tests have shown the ESC-derived cartilage cells to be proliferative and functional only in the presence of specific factors…The Evseenko lab has developed a novel small molecule regulator designed to replace those natural factors. Co-transplantation of the ECS-derived cartilage cells and this rejuvenating molecule is expected to yield the most efficient functional outcomes in patients with arthritis…”—Denis Evseenko, personal communication.

Like all the work of the California stem cell program, Evseenko’s work is not easy for non-scientists like myself to fully comprehend. But the importance of it is clear.

His work “…explores the question of what… control(s) the survival and maintenance of cartilage cells… (It may) provide new transplantation opportunities for patients with cartilage injury or arthritis…and delay or even prevent these patients from needing joint replacement procedures…

https://www.cirm.ca.gov/our-progress/awards/promoting-survival-and-countering-hypertrophy-pluripotent-stem-cell-psc-derived

“The work in his lab is now focused on generating these cells on a large scale and testing their ability to repair cartilage injuries…”

As Dr. Evseenko puts it, “cartilage restoration (should be) one of the major priorities in medicine”.

How big a problem is arthritis?

Dr. Darryl D’Lima of Scripps Health Institute offers a staggering statistic:

“The annual economic impact of arthritis in the U.S. is estimated at over $120 billion, representing more than 2% of the gross domestic product…”

https://www.cirm.ca.gov/our-progress/awards/stem-cell-based-therapy-cartilage-regeneration-and-osteoarthritis

Toward the end of his life, John Carradine’s suffering was unspeakable, and he once described his hands as “arthritic talons”.

Yet he went on to make more than 225 movies (estimates run as high as 500) more than any other actor in the world. Some were quite wonderful, like 1940’s GRAPES OF WRATH, and others of admittedly lesser quality.

Why did he keep on working? He once described himself as “just a ham”, meaning someone who loves the spotlight, but there was more to it than that.

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0001017/bio

John Carradine loved the work of William Shakespeare.

He would take virtually any film or TV role, however bad, as long as it would help finance his true passion: to perform and direct in a traveling Shakespearean troupe. He would work and work, and when he had saved up enough money, he would get his actor friends together, and they would hit the road, bringing the world’s greatest playwright to life for people across the land.

It was a speech from Shakespeare which reportedly gave Carradine his lucky break in Hollywood. The great director Cecil B. DeMille overheard him reciting HAMLET’s soliloquoy, and liked it, and hired him.

https://travsd.wordpress.com/2013/02/05/the-hall-of-hams-16-john-carradine/

Remember? “To be, or not to be…” That immortal speech for me sums up the advocate’s choice: shall we passively endure the agony of chronic disease, or fight back with everything we have?

Listen again to the familiar words:

“To be, or not to be: that is the question; whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to endure the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune– or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing—end them.”

Clearly, the California stem cell program has chosen the latter approach.

Don C. Reed is the author of the forth-coming book, STEM CELL BATTLES: Proposition 71 and Beyond, from World Scientific Publishing, Inc.

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DISEASE-A-WEEK CHALLENGE #3:  The California Stem Cell Program  versus Vascular Disease

By Don C. Reed

In the late 1960’s, Olympic weightlifting was my life. I trained at Pennsylvania’s York Barbell Club, where modern lifting essentially began, and wrote for their magazine, STRENGTH AND HEALTH.  In those days, everybody who was anybody in lifting came to York, and I had the privilege of meeting many of our sport’s greatest champions.

One of America’s legendary weightlifters was Steve Stanko, who in 1941 became the first man to total 1,000 pounds in the three-lift combination of press (310), snatch (310) and clean and jerk (380).

A vascular (circulatory) condition called phlebitis ended Stanko’s competitive lifting career.  He never complained, but I saw him in the locker room once, and had to gasp.  His legs were covered with dark blue lines, pencil-thick swollen arteries. I asked him if it hurt, and he laughed and said:

“HURT LAK HELL!”

For the iron-willed Stanko, vascular disease meant changing from lifting to bodybuilding—in which he also excelled, becoming Mr. Universe—but for others, far more terrible consequences await.

One of these conditions is  Critical Limb Ischemia (CLI), hardening of the arteries.

“…hardening of the arteries in the legs…may be present  in as much as 20% of the population. In around two million Americans… it (may)  result in amputation due to wounds that refuse to heal….”
https://www.cirm.ca.gov/…

Right now, surgery is the main defense against CLI. Angioplasty (balloons pushed into the arteries) may nudge the blockage in the “hardened” arteries aside,  or cut it with little knives, or freeze it with helium. Stents are also used, tiny tunnels around the blockage.

But nearly half the operations do not really work. Amputation is still required, and even that may not save the patient from untimely death. Sometimes there are too many clogged veins; or the patients is so sick he/she dare not risk the operation.

With the aging of our society, and the increasing numbers of diabetics at risk of limb amputations, CLI is an all too common threat. My diabetic cousin had to have two toes amputated, when they turned black from loss of circulation.

Could there be a stem cell weapon?  California and Spain hope to find out.

The groups of John Laird and Jan Nolta of the University of California at Davis are working with Immaculada Herrera of the Hospital Universitario Reina Sofia in Cordoba, Andalucia, Spain.

How will they fight this terrifying condition?

A growth factor (VEGF, Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor, like veggie-F) could help the body grow new arteries.
https://www.cirm.ca.gov/…

VEGF by itself will apparently not do the job: first because it does not last long in the body, and second because it may not go where it is needed.

But what if we had a microscopic “emergency vehicle”, which would seek out the trouble and go there?

Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) act like that.  Put into the body, MSCs head to where the trouble is– in this case the blockages in arteries and veins.

Add growth factor (VEGF) to the mesenchymal stem cell (MSC) and you have MSC/VEGF— the  “paramedic van”, self-directing and full of good medicine!

As the scientists put it,  in their progress report:

“We have discovered that mesenchymal stem cells…are remarkably effective delivery vehicles, moving robustly through the tissue and infusing therapeutic molecules into damaged cells they contact.

“…Injections of MSC…have rapidly restored blood flow to the limbs of rodents who had zero circulation in one leg.

“…We are combining the stem cell and growth factor approaches… engineer(ing) human MSC (from a donor’s bone marrow)…to produce high levels of VEGF.

“We propose to use these MSCs as “nature’s own paramedic system”, arming them with VEGF to enhance…blood vessel growth.”
https://www.cirm.ca.gov/…

Scientists from California have visited the lab in Spain, and vice-versa, making sure the joint effort will be the same, when the human trials begin. The only difference will be how the MSC/VEGF will be given: Spain is using an injection into the blood; UC Davis will give the shot into the muscle.

Multiple safety and efficacy experiments have been carried out, with each side bearing its own costs.  If all goes well, the scientists intend to:

“1. Complete … pre-clinical studies within the next few months.

“2. Move toward (FDA) regulatory approval.

“3. Initiate the planned clinical (human) trial in 2016.”

As Dr. Jan Nolta of UC Davis noted in a personal email: “None of this would have happened without CIRM. (CIRM is the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, our state stem cell program, begun by Proposition 71.)

“Thanks in large part to… the California taxpayers who had voted for Prop 71, stem cell therapies are changing the way medicine is done, and also how it is taught to new medical students.

“In the future, when the mysteries of stem cell therapies are more fully understood, patients may not have to endure such relatively barbaric surgical techniques as limb amputation.”

Steve Stanko would have been proud.

Don C. Reed is the author of a forthcoming book, STEM CELL BATTLES: Proposition 71 and Beyond: How Ordinary People Can Fight Back Against  the Crushing Burden of Chronic Disease—with a Posthumous Forward by Christopher Reeve

http://www.worldscientific.com/….

Follow the Disease-a-Week series at http://www.stemcellbattles.net.

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Writers without reviewers and readers are scuba divers without air– If no one reads our stuff, it might as well not have been written– reviewers like Mum’s Writings  perform a wonderful service for the community.

http://bookread-mumswritings.blogspot.com/2015/06/stem-cell-battles-proposition-71-and.html

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