Thursday, January 29, 2009

Geron's "Floating Yellow Spheres"

One of the most dramatic achievements of modern medical science is the increase of human life expectancy. Two hundred years ago, a newborn could expect to live around 35-40 years. That number has now doubled for developed countries like the United States. That increase is thanks in large part to three major medical advancements: vaccination, antibiotics, and anasthesia/sterile technique in surgery.

In my opinion, we're on the cusp of another major advancement in human longevity: stem cells. The vision is that stem cells will create an unlimited supply of tissues, which can be regenerated to combat injury, disease, or aging.

That future may be here faster than you might think. Geron, a bay area biotech, has attained FDA approval to start a phase-I clinical trial. Each of the "floating yellow spheres" pictured at left (from Figure 1 of Kierstad et al.) consists of a few thousand neuronal stem cells, derived from embryonic stem cells. Injecting a bunch of these yellow spheres into the spinal cords of injured mice has restored some mobility, and the company is betting big bucks that they will do something similar in humans.

There are many things that can go wrong in this clinical trial, but Geron also has one big thing going for it: its cells look fantastic. These neuronal precursors are > 95% pure, and they're far more likely to work than the bone-marrow derived stem cells other folks have tried. I'm not a gambling man - science is full of surprises - but I think the experiment will work, or at least tell Geron what to try next.

Geron deserves mad props for leading the way with this crucial technology. Thanks to their initiative, and the scientists and doctors who paved the way, stem cell therapies may one day help all of us live longer and healthier. Of course, you can also do that by exercising regularly and eating right... but who wants to go through all that trouble?



Margo said...

So - still the same take on banking cord blood?

Samurai Scientist said...

So - still the same take on banking cord blood?

Cord blood stem cells are probably bone marrow stem cells. We can now derive personalized embryonic stem cells from any cell in the body, and those are much more likely to be useful than cord blood. Cord blood might be useful in the relatively rare event of childhood leukemia, but even then I suspect doctors would prefer to use a different (undiseased) donor to replace the immune system.

Anonymous said...

Who wants to stick around this place any longer than they have to anyway?

I say drink the cord blood and be merry with the time we have!