September 17th, 2010
10:05 AM ET

TEDMED: Growing kidneys, windpipes

[cnn-video url="http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/health/2010/09/15/tedmed.anthony.atala.tedmed"%5D

The first time an organ was ever transplanted to a human was a kidney transplant in 1954. There have been many advances, but there is a major shortage of organs, Dr. Anthony Atala said in his TEDMED talk.

Every 30 seconds, a patient dies from diseases that could be treated with tissue replacement, he said. FULL POST

September 16th, 2010
07:34 PM ET

Stem cell debate returns to Capitol Hill

Thirteen years after Congress held its first hearing on human embryonic stem cell research, Dr. Francis Collins testified on Capitol Hill Thursday, explaining the importance of continuing the research and how the court order to stop funding this research has dramatically affected scientists.

"Many researchers across the country have considered modifying their research plans to turn away from an area of research that, while promising, is now fraught with uncertainty," said Collins, a geneticist renowned for mapping the human genome, and now Director of the National Institutes of Health.


July 30th, 2010
02:13 PM ET

Landmark embryonic stem cell study to proceed

The first human clinical trial of a therapy involving embryonic stems cells has been approved to proceed, Geron Corporation announced Friday.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration had originally approved the study in January 2009 and was scheduled to have begun last summer.


July 29th, 2010
04:53 PM ET

Growing joint with stem cells possible, study says

Scientists have successfully regenerated the limb joints of animals with stem cells, giving hope to arthritis patients who need joints replaced.

In a new study in the Lancet, researchers from Columbia University Medical Center, the University of Missouri and Clemson University showed that they had regenerated limb joints of rabbits using the animals' own stem cells.

Here's how it works: Researchers took out the end of the rabbit’s forelimb joint. Using laser scanning, they were able to reconstruct, using a computer, a 3-D image of what the joint looked like. Based on that image, they "printed" a scaffold that is the same shape of the joint, using a machine somewhat akin to a computer printer. The scaffold is made of polymers that have tiny tunnels in them.


July 5th, 2010
01:24 PM ET

Single gene may set human brains apart from other species

Only one gene controls brain development in humans, according to new research from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Scientists used embryonic stems cells to identify one gene – called Pax6 -that leads to the development of brain and spinal cord cells.  Dr. Su-Chun Zhang, a neuroscientist and professor of anatomy at the university, says his team used a stem cell model because it couldn't possibly study this on fetal brains.


July 2nd, 2010
05:54 PM ET

Blood cells can generate stem cells, studies show

Researchers have successfully reprogrammed human blood cells into embryonic-like stem cells according to three news studies. Experts say this has the potential for changing the course of stem cell research.

Three years ago, researchers in Japan and the United States announced they had taken a simple skin cell – inserted four viruses, which reprogrammed the blood cells to an embryonic stem-cell like state and a source of embryonic-like stems cells. These cells are called induced pluripotent stem cells (IPS cells) and are believed to have the ability to turn into any cell in the body, just like embryonic stem cells, but without the controversy of destroying an embryo, which happens when embryonic stem cells are removed from the embryo.


June 8th, 2010
01:13 PM ET

New tool to evaluate stem cell clinic claims

By Miriam Falco
CNN Medical Managing Editor

Concern over the aggressive marketing of stem cell treatments without solid evidence that the procedures actually work and are safe has led the International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR) to launch a website called “A Closer Look at Stem Cell Treatments”.

According to ISSCR, the website is meant to “arm patients, their families, and doctors with information they need to make decisions about stem cell treatments.”

ISSCR President and stem cell expert Dr. Irving Weissman began developing the idea for this website more than a year ago because of a growing concern that many clinics and websites offer stem cell treatments, without providing evidence that the treatments work and/or are safe.

“We want to clarify what would and would not be a safe stem cell therapy,” says Weissman.

Dr. Lawrence Goldstein, another prominent stem cell researcher and ISSCR board member says this is the first organized attempt by an international body to help patients with questions about what these clinics are offering.

For the past decade, the promise and controversy over stem cells has fueled a passionate debate among politicians, researchers and patients.

Questions over funding and the type of research has made a lot of headlines over the years. What the various types of stem cells can do now or in the future often is up for debate. But actual stem cell treatment advances that have reached patients (with the exception of bone marrow transplants, which have been done for 40 years now), are still few. Yet if you Google ‘stem cell treatments,’ you’ll get nearly half a million hits.

Clinics are often located in Asia or the Caribbean. Patients are often asked to pay tens of thousands of dollars to have stem cells injected into their bodies. Many clinics claim the injections of their stem cells have cured many different illnesses from autism to cancer to multiple sclerosis and spinal cord injuries. Testimonials on the web seem to confirm some of the claims of recovery. However, research that can be reproduced by others (the gold standard for confirming medical discoveries) is often lacking. Companies will claim their techniques are patented and they can’t reveal specifics due for proprietary reasons.

For a Canadian study published in 2008 in the peer-reviewed journal “Cell Stem Cell” researchers took a snapshot of the many websites by specifically looking at 19 sites advertising stem cell treatments to consumers. The study concluded “the portrayal of stem cell medicine on provider websites is optimistic and unsubstantiated by peer-reviewed literature.”

This newly launched website offers a variety of tools for patients and patients’ families, including the top 10 things to know about stem cell research and what questions to ask the clinics. The ISSCR also is asking people to submit names of clinics for the ISSCR to review. ISSCR plans to investigate the claims of these clinics and whether there’s a medical ethics committee involved to protect the rights of patients and if the clinics are under the supervision of a regulatory body like the U.S. Food and Drug Administration or the European Medicines Agency.

The ISSCR website will list whether the stem cell clinics do or do not provide the requested information. Weissman says "we're trying to let people know what's unapproved in those treatment clinics."

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.

May 4th, 2010
11:05 PM ET

Scientists use pig embryo to create stem cells

By Miriam Falco
CNN Medical Managing Editor

Scientists appear to have broken another barrier in stem cell research by creating a better research model to study human illnesses – a pig – actually 34 pigs.

It’s an important advance for research because pigs are much more like humans than other lab animals are.

The scientists did not clone the pigs – instead they adapted a procedure used in mice and human stem cell research and were able to grow a specific kind of cell, induced pluripotent stem cells, or IPS cells.

Pluripotent stem cells have the ability to turn into any cell in the body. IPS cells were first developed about five years ago by Shinya Yamanaka, who used four genes to coax a regular mouse cell into acting like an embryo. Creating stem cells with this method is less controversial than harvesting them from an embryo, which destroys the fertilized egg in the process.

According to Dr. Steve Stice, director of the University of Georgia Regenerative Bioscience Center, his team took a bone marrow cell from a pig and injected six new genes, which caused it turn into an embryo-like cell.  Pluripotent stem cells were harvested from this embryo-like cell and injected in another pig embryo. 

The first piglets carrying these new stem cells were born September 3, 2009. 

So far human embryonic stem cell research has not actually found its way into the human body.  Most of the research is still in mice.  But mice aren't the best animal models to get more accurate data on how a treatment may affect a person.  For example, mice hearts beat four times faster than a human heart and mice don't get atherosclerosis (clogged arteries) – but pigs do.  That's why pigs are much better animal models says Stice. "Physiologically, pigs are much closer to a human," he says.

The researchers also found that unlike mouse embryonic stem cells, which can turn into cancer cells, none of the pigs developed any signs of tumors.

But it has been very difficult to harvest embryonic pluripotent stem cells from pigs. Stice credits his research assistant Franklin West with finding a way to make the existing IPS technology work in pigs.  

Now researchers hope to find many different applications for these new pig stem cells and the pigs they can produce.  They are already working with scientists at Emory University to develop insulin-producing pancreatic islet cells, which might be transplanted into people with diabetes.

Stice thinks this new method can also be used to genetically engineer healthier livestock for other tissue transplants and food consumption. He suggests these stem cells may someday be used to make "artificial bacon," which would eliminate the need to slaughter pigs.

The research will be published in the online journal "Stem Cell and Development."

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.

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About this blog

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.