Monday, November 07, 2011

Trounson, Parthenotes and International Stem Cell

The president of the California stem cell agency, Alan Trounson, popped up in a recent article in Scientific American dealing with a method for creating pluripotent stem cells from unfertilized human eggs.

The piece by Julia Galef said that "many investigators remain frustrated" that the method "remains offlimits" for federal funding, a barrier that does not apply to financing from the $3 billion California stem cell agency.

Galef wrote that one California firm, International Stem Cell Corp., of Carlsbad, is using the method to develop products. She said the firm's work involves "a process called parthenogenesis, in which researchers use chemicals to induce the egg to begin developing as if it had been fertilized. The egg—called a parthenote—behaves just like an embryo in the early stages of division. Because it contains no genetic material from a father, however, it cannot develop into a viable fetus."

Trounson was quoted as saying, nonetheless, that "proving that unfertilized eggs will produce stable tissues in humans remains an obstacle." He said other labs need to replicate the work.

International Stem Cell has applied unsuccessfully several times for research funding from the California stem cell agency.

The Scientific American article said,
"International Stem Cell scientists have converted them into liver cells and plan to convert them into neurons for treating Parkinson’s disease, pancreatic cells for diabetes, and other tissues. Meanwhile teams at the Massachusetts-based Bedford Stem Cell Research Foundation are working to improve the efficiency of methods of deriving stem cells from parthenotes."
As researcher interest in parthenotes gains attention, the NIH is being urged to change its negative position. Late last year, Teresa Woodruff, founder and director of the Institute for Women's Health Research at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, and others called for a lifting of the NIH ban on funding for parthenotes.

California is not constrained by NIH limitations. One of the key reasons, if not the only reason, that voters approved in 2004 the ballot initiative that created the $3 billion stem cell agency was to fund research that the federal government did not. At the time, the focus was on the Bush ban on financing hESC research.

Ken Aldrich, co-chairman of International Stem Cell, circulated the Scientific American article, touting its significance.

We found this posting on the Stem Cell Pioneers web site in which Aldrich said,
“We at International Stem Cell Corporation (ISCO.OB) are finding it increasingly gratifying that mainstream and highly respected publications like Scientific American are now beginning to take notice of the fact that our parthenogenetic stem cells may well turn out to be a viable alternative to the embryonic stem cells that have dominated research and headlines for the last 10 years.

"Like embryonic stem cells, our parthenogenetic stem cells can be converted into almost any kind of cell that might ever be needed for therapy, but can also provide a solution to the two biggest issues that have surrounded embryonic stem cell research: 1) the ethics of destroying a fertilized embryo, which our process never does, and 2) the problem of immune rejection by the patient. We hope you enjoy the attached article." 
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