Sunday, May 31, 2009

A Research Perspective From a CIRM Scholar

The following article was sent to the California Stem Cell Report by Brigitte Angenieux, 32, a postdoctoral fellow at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. She studies stem cells and brain tumors and is sponsored by a training grant from the California stem cell agency.

Angenieux's work involves the characterization of the biology of brain tumors to develop better and more efficient treatments. Her project consists of elucidating the genes that are important for the formation, the progression and the mechanism of drug-resistance of brain tumors. She also is interested in determining the relationship between neural stem cells and cancer cells.

She received her Ph.D. from the University of Lausanne, performing research involving retinal stem cells. She came to the United States in 2001. In addition to her research at UCLA, she enrolled in a journalism certificate program through UCLA Extension.


By Brigitte Angenieux

LOS ANGELES -- Nick Orozco, 26, a young researcher, works at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), one of the top 20 international universities. Orozco looks at his cell culture dish with a big smile. His experiment worked after three weeks, a small victory, but he has to redo the experiment three more times. This will take another month or so. His daily routine is a battle between hope and disillusion. Nevertheless he faces this reality with steely resolve because that’s the journey a stem cell researcher endures.

“There is a lot of hope in stem cell research, but I don’t think we understand everything. It takes a lot of time, more than what people are often willing to accept,” said Orozco.

Stem cell research makes headlines almost everyday. Doctors go on TV to explain the great potential of this new treatment. President Obama lifted the ban on federally sponsored stem cell research imposed by President Bush because of personal beliefs and ethical issues in the use of embryonic stem cells for research.

Hollywood stars haven’t shied away from the subject either. Michael J. Fox is a big advocate of stem cell research and its use to treat Parkinson’s disease, which he suffers. Recently, some news agencies have reported that the actress Farrah Fawcett, of the TV show "Charlie’s Angels," traveled to Germany to undergo a treatment to fight the spread of intestinal cancer. On April 6, the Fox News website mentioned Fawcett’s stem cell therapy even though it has been denied by the Fawcett's representatives.

Despite regular reports of breakthrough findings, this cutting edge treatment is still complex and obscure. Where are the cures researchers promised the public? Cancer is still not eradicated from the earth. Alzheimer’s patients are still struggling.

Science is not a straight-forward path, experts say. It requires time and multiple trials. There is no set time for each phase of drug development, but industry representatives commonly say it takes about two to eight years to carry an idea from the laboratory to FDA approval for a marketable drug.

“I think it’s a learning process, a trial and error effort,” said Orozco, who did his undergraduate degree at UCLA in the neurosciences and just applied to a medical school program starting in July. “This needs to be worked out before clinical trials.”

A recent case demonstrated that stem cell research should be applied with caution. An Israeli child suffering from a brain degenerative disease went to Russia for stem cell transplantation therapy. Now, several years after the transplantation, the child has developed cancer.

Dr. Meeyro Choe, 32, a pediatric fellow, took the opposite path of Orozco. She worked in a laboratory for two years between college and medical school. After medical school she took a fellowship and decided to give research another try because she “missed basic research.” She’s working at UCLA in a laboratory doing research on stem cells and cancer. As a doctor she is confronted with a dilemma: treating and answering her patient’s needs for a cure but not at the expense of their safety.

Clinical trials take an average of ten years, according to scientists. They involve three different phases, each testing a specific hypothesis. In phase I, researchers test an experimental drug or treatment for the first time to evaluate the toxicity. In phase II, the drug or treatment is given to a larger group (100 to 300 persons) to evaluate the efficiency. In phase III, the drug or treatment is given to a larger group (1,000 to 3,000 persons) to confirm its effectiveness. Then the drug or the treatment is available to the general public.

“Currently, nine out of 10 experimental drugs fail in clinical trial studies because researchers using lab and animal studies cannot predict how they will behave in people,” said Steve Peckman, associate director of The Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research at UCLA.

Although the research is time-consuming and complex, it remains intrinsic to the future of medicine as well as the aspirations of such physician-researchers as Meeyro Choe.

“With medicine you can treat hundreds of patients, maybe, but with research you can help many more,” said Choe. Sphere: Related Content

No comments:

Post a Comment