Stem cell therapies launched at UCSF

September 30, 2009 7:31:58 PM PDT
On Thursday, scientists from around the world will meet at UCSF to discuss some of the latest developments in stem cell research. And against that backdrop, doctors at UCSF are about to launch two major new trials using stem cell therapies on human patients.

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Doctor Yerem Yeghiazarians is among the first to explore the promise of stem cell therapies in heart patients.

In a cardiac unit at UCSF, he's preparing a clinical trial, to see if adult stem cells can help patients recover.

"The idea here is that the stem cells will migrate to the heart, that they may or may not seed the heart, but they will hopefully decrease the scarring that forms after heart attacks," said Dr. Yeghiazarians.

Researchers will introduce stem cells through an I.V. drip, within a week after patients have suffered a heart attack.

In the lab, stem cells have already been shown to differentiate into beating heart cells -- sparking the hope of regenerating hearts with new healthy tissue.

In this phase two trial, though, Yeghiazarians' team is hoping to prove the technique helps prevent further damage to the heart.

"There is a small chance that these cells might differentiate in beating muscle cells, but that remains to be determined," said Dr. Yeghiazarians.

The trial comes as UCSF is nearing completion of its new stem cell research center. Director Dr. Arnold Kriegstein says the timing marks a turning point in moving the science from the lab to the patient.

"Things are moving much more quickly than any of us imagined. Not only in basic science, in clinical arenas where some of the stem cell breakthroughs that have already occurred are beginning to be applied to actual patients," said Dr. Kriegstein.

In another new, trial, this one involving neuro stem cells that derive from fetal tissue, Doctor David Rowitch is preparing to transplant neural stem cells into the brains of small children, suffering from a rare and deadly neurodegenerative disease.

If the technique is successful, he believes it could hold promise for other diseases that involve similar breakdowns in the brain's neural pathways.

"The types of diseases that are also affected include multiple sclerosis, and also cerebral palsy in some premature infants," said Dr. David Rowitch, PhD.

Both trials are among the first of their kind in the country, and researchers believe successful outcomes could accelerate the pace of stem cell therapies, as a science born in controversy, grows into practical treatments.

The symposium focuses on the use of neural stem cells and their promise in treating a variety of diseases.

One note on Dr. Rowitch's research, he's partnered with a Palo Alto company, Stem Cells Inc. which has developed a unique line of neural stem cells being used in the trial.

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