stroke

06
Jan 2016
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A model approach to treating disease

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When most of us think about using stem cells to cure disease, we picture these building block cells being injected into damaged tissues or organs to help repair and rebuild them.…

When most of us think about using stem cells to cure disease, we picture these building block cells being injected into damaged tissues or organs to help repair and rebuild them.

According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, there are more than 300 clinical trials underway around the world to test stem cells’ ability to treat diseases such as heart attack (read about a Canadian study here), stroke and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis — among others. The general idea is to get the stem cells to where the disease is doing damage so they can affect healing.

But, as the WSJ article points out, there is another approach in which stem cells are used to create models of disease outside the human body, in a Petri dish. These models not only provide researchers with a closer look at the molecular makeup of a disease, they offer the opportunity to test drugs that might be effective against it. The article highlights research at the University of California, San Diego where stem cells are being used to make Alzheimer’s neurons to test the safety and effectiveness of potential drug therapies.

There are real benefits to this approach. For one, it’s a supplement to using animals as disease models. Sometimes animals aren’t susceptible to the same diseases as people. In Alzheimer’s, for example, researchers use mice that have been altered to carry different genes or combinations of genes associated with the dementia.

The stem cell model approach also can save time and money. If scientists can rule out a compound as ineffective before moving to clinical trials, it can prevent years of work being done and millions of dollars being spent to travel down a research road that ultimately is a dead end.

Also, advances in technology mean scientists can use high-throughput screening to test hundreds, even thousands, of compounds against model tissue or organs to find a good candidate to shut down the disease — the research equivalent to finding a therapeutic needle in a haystack.

 

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07
Apr 2015
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Dr. Molly Shoichet

Dr. Molly Shoichet and the future of regenerative medicine

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A few weeks ago, the University of Toronto’s Dr. Molly Shoichet was named as one of five recipients of the L’Oreal/UNESCO Women in Science Award.…

A few weeks ago, the University of Toronto’s Dr. Molly Shoichet was named as one of five recipients of the L’Oreal/UNESCO Women in Science Award.

Dr. Shoichet, the first Canadian to claim the prize since 2009, was recognized “for the development of new materials to regenerate damaged nerve tissue and for a new method that can deliver drugs directly to the spinal cord and brain.”

Dr. Shoichet, whose work is mainly focused on drug delivery and stem cell transplantation strategies, shares her excitement about stem cells and the field of regenerative medicine in a video interview with the Centre for Commercialization of Regenerative Medicine (CCRM).

“There is so much on the horizon of regenerative medicine that is exciting,” says Dr. Shoichet. “Our lab is really focused on the central nervous system, because there is really nothing apart from rehabilitation for these traumatic diseases like stroke, spinal cord injury and even blindness.”

You can view the other installments in the Regenerative Medicine Leadership Series here.

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30
Jan 2015
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Doubts about Howe’s treatment underscore need for Strategy

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The experimental stem cell treatment Gordie Howe underwent in Tijuana in December has raised further scientific concerns.

According to a report by Canadian Press health writer Sheryl Ubelacker that was carried online by the Globe and Mail, regenerative medicine experts question whether stem cells are actually responsible for what Howe’s son has called a “miraculous” recovery.…

The experimental stem cell treatment Gordie Howe underwent in Tijuana in December has raised further scientific concerns.

According to a report by Canadian Press health writer Sheryl Ubelacker that was carried online by the Globe and Mail, regenerative medicine experts question whether stem cells are actually responsible for what Howe’s son has called a “miraculous” recovery.

According to Dr. Mick Bhatia, Director of the Stem Cell and Cancer Research Institute at McMaster University, Howe’s apparent recovery has many unknown factors. “Is this a transient effect, or is it really a perceived or somewhat of a placebo effect and is there something really happening? Scientifically and biologically that is important,” he told CP.

In addition, Dr. Bhatia is concerned that immunosuppression drugs or any other drugs Howe might have taken before the treatment could be showing some of the improvement effects. “We really don’t know.”

Dr. Michael Rudnicki, CEO and Scientific Director of the Stem Cell Network and a member of the Foundation’s Board of Directors, told CP  that while he couldn’t speak specifically about Howe’s treatment in Mexico as it’s not clear how much the hockey legend has improved or whether the stem cell treatment he received was responsible, some patients have suffered adverse effects from therapies received at clinics abroad. “There’s real potential for doing harm,” said Dr. Rudnicki. “And a person claiming to get better doesn’t prove anything,” he added.

Although there is currently no stem cell treatment for stroke approved by Health Canada, the Canadian Stem Cell Strategy & Action Plan will lead the way to delivering five to 10 novel treatments for chronic diseases within 10 years.

If Canada makes stem cell research and development a national priority, the Strategy will ultimately ensure the access to stem cell treatments that are proven to be safe and effective.

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13
Jan 2015
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Howe treatment points to need for Strategy

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The”miraculous” recovery of the Canadian hockey legend Gordie Howe, who suffered a severe stroke in October, made news across the country — and raised many questions.…

The”miraculous” recovery of the Canadian hockey legend Gordie Howe, who suffered a severe stroke in October, made news across the country — and raised many questions.

gordie howe

In mid-December, the star of Detroit Red Wings, received an experimental stem cell treatment in Mexico.

Howe’s son Mark told the Detroit Free Press that his father’s health has significantly improved since then. “His mobility was limited to shuffling his feet forward while sitting in a wheelchair. Within the past few days dad was pushing a cart at a grocery store, and he’s gone to the mall.” he said.

But what is the other side of Howe’s fast resurgence? Was the procedure safe? Does it send out the wrong message?

The scientific validity of the procedure Howe underwent is unclear. According to the newspaper U-T  San Diego Howe received the treatment from Novastem, a Mexican stem cell company, at a clinic in Tijuana. San Diego’s Stemedica, which provided the stem cells, says it follows U.S. law and requires those licensing its stem cells in foreign countries to obey the laws of those countries.

Regardless, over the last years the much publicized potential of stem cells has raised hope among patients suffering from chronic diseases. This, in turn, has led some less than scrupulous companies across the globe to  capitalize on that hope by marketing costly stem cell therapies — often for a wide variety of diseases — without the support of proven clinical evidence.

Canadian scientists and medical ethics experts have warned that this phenomenon of stem cell tourism is on the rise and so are its risks.

As reported in Ottawa Citizen this morning, Howe is one of many Canadians who put themselves in danger by seeking experimental stem cell therapies in countries with softer regulations than in Canada.

“Patients go to places that offer stem cell therapies because they are looking for hope. And stem cells can offer that hope. Unfortunately, very often there is no proven benefit.” Dr. Duncan Stewart, chief executive and financial director of the regenerative medicine program at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute told the Ottawa Citizen.

In past posts, Prof. Timothy Caulfield, Canada Research Chair in Health Law and Policy at the University of Alberta and a member of the Foundation’s Science Leadership Council, has said that unproven treatments create health risks for patients and undermine the credibility of stem cell research.

On this note, James Price, President and CEO of the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation, told the Citizen  that “stem cell tourism should be a wake-up call that Canada needs to prioritize funding for stem cell therapies.” He says it illustrates the need for the Stem Cell Strategy & Action Plan, which has a goal of leading the way to developing five to 10 new treatments to the clinic within 10 years.

As reported in the Citizen story, “A major emphasis of the stem cell Action Plan, which includes public and private funding, is giving Canadians confidence that new therapies are a priority and ultimately, Canadians will have first access to these therapies.”

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11
Sep 2014
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UK researchers post ‘encouraging’ results in stroke study

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The sample size is far too small to prove much yet, but doctors in Britain have seen “very encouraging” results from a new therapy that delivers stem cells extracted from patients’ bone marrow to their brains within days of having suffered a stroke.…

The sample size is far too small to prove much yet, but doctors in Britain have seen “very encouraging” results from a new therapy that delivers stem cells extracted from patients’ bone marrow to their brains within days of having suffered a stroke.

According to a report published in August in Stem Cells Translational Medicine,  all five patients who took part in the pilot study showed improvements over a six-month follow-up period.

This is significant because all but one of the five had the most severe type of stroke from which only four per cent of patients usually recover and regain independence. A story carried in the Daily Mail reported that  all four of these severe-stroke patients were alive and three were independent after half a year.

In the trial, believed to be the of its kind, the patients received purified CD34+ cells,  which are stem cells found in the bone marrow.  The patients got the these cells within a week of their attacks (in previous studies stem cells were infused months afterwards) to release  chemicals to spur  growth of new tissue and blood vessels in the parts of the brain damaged by stroke.

Dr Soma Banerjee, a lead author and Consultant in Stroke Medicine at London’s Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, urged caution:  “This study showed that the treatment appears to be safe and that it’s feasible to treat patients early when they might be more likely to benefit. The improvements we saw in these patients are very encouraging, but it’s too early to draw definitive conclusions … We need to do more tests to work out the best dose and timescale for treatment before starting larger trials.”

Should the therapy prove effective in larger scale clinical trials, the implications are enormous. Stroke is a major killer and disabler.  According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation, there are 50,000 strokes in Canada each year — a rate of one every 10 minutes.

The University of Toronto’s Dr. Cindi Morshead, whose research explores using stem cell s in regenerative medicine, called the study “quite comprehensive.”  She pointed out that the researchers screened more than 80 potential candidates for the study before selecting the five who got the treatment. “It was a safety trial so they really had to be careful in their selection.  But five out of 80 people able to benefit from this, that’s still pretty good. ”

As someone who works in the field, she’s optimist about the results. “My takeaway is that it’s exciting. Two of the people in the study were quite young: 45 and 47. It’s hugely significant — they’ve only lived half their lives.”

For a comprehensive look at using stem cells to treat stroke, click here.

 

 

 

 

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