Monthly Archives: November 2012

Cord blood stem cells help 3-year-old

A Little Rock child is the first in Arkansas to take part in an FDA trial using cord blood stem cells to treat his cerebral palsy. 

Before the injections, 3-year-old Drake Haynes was severely developmentally delayed. Now, Drake is running, jumping, playing and talking just like any other kid his age.

Drake’s mother, Nicole, says his transformation has been dramatic. “We never knew if he would smile and he does, a lot!”

Drake’s diagnosis of cerebral palsy came after suffering a stroke due to lack of oxygen to the brain during birth. “He couldn’t walk, he couldn’t talk, and he just sat there.”

Drake’s speech therapist, Barrett Feltus, saw little to no signs of improvement. “At first he wasn’t making any sounds or very few sounds. Now, he’s talking in words. He’s able to tell you what he wants and needs in a sentence.”

The Haynes say it’s all thanks to having Drake’s umbilical cord blood banked at birth. Now, Drake’s own stem cells are helping him heal. “The neurologist doing the assessment was amazed. She just kept saying, “Oh my gosh! I can’t believe he can do this.”

Feltus says she can see the light in Drake’s eyes. “He was unhappy for a while because he couldn’t communicate. Now he can, and he’s happier. He plays with the kids, and he can communicate his needs, so he’s overall a happy kid.”

The Haynes credit the cord blood stem cell injections for the difference in their happy, determined child. “It’s like a blind has been lifted on a window.”

They never thought Drake would be able to walk, talk, jump or ride a bike like the other kids his age. The Haynes say Drake’s personality transformed, and his progress gives them hope he’ll continue to get better and have a bright future.

The message the Haynes want to send other parents is to bank their babies cord blood. They say you never know when, or if, you’re going to need it. Hopefully you won’t, but just in case, they say it could be a success story like theirs.

Drake will continue with his intensive therapy. The Haynes and his therapist say they’re excited to continue seeing the improvements he’s making.




Pancreas stem cell discovery may lead to new diabetes treatments

The discovery was made by scientists from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute and provides further evidence that stem cells don’t only occur in the embryo. 

The ability to produce the hormone insulin is crucial for controlling blood sugar (glucose) levels. In people with type 1 diabetes the body’s immune system destroys the insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreas, leading to a potentially fatal elevation of blood glucose levels.

People with type 1 diabetes rely on multiple daily injections of insulin, or an insulin infusion pump, to control their blood glucose, but control is not perfect and they are at risk of serious long-term health complications.

Dr. Ilia Banakh and Professor Len Harrison from the institute’s Molecular Medicine division have not only identified and isolated stem cells from the adult pancreas, but developed a technique to drive these stem cells to become insulin-producing cells that can secrete insulin in response to glucose.

Professor Harrison said that insulin-producing cells had previously been generated from cells in the adult pancreas with stem cell-like’ properties. “But what Dr Banakh has done is pinpoint the cell of origin of the insulin-producing cells and shown that the number of these cells and their ability to turn into insulin-producing cells increases in response to pancreas injury. This is exciting, because it means that the potential to regenerate insulin-producing cells is there in all of us, even as adults,” Professor Harrison said.

“In the long-term, we hope that people with type 1 diabetes might be able to regenerate their own insulin-producing cells. This would mean that they could make their own insulin and regain control of their blood glucose levels, curing their diabetes. Of course, this strategy will only work if we can devise ways to overcome the immune attack on the insulin-producing cells, that causes diabetes in the first place,” Professor Harrison said.

Professor Harrison is a clinician scientist whose research led to current clinical trials that could prevent type 1 diabetes. In recognition of his achievements, Diabetes Australia will tonight award Professor Harrison the Outstanding Contribution to Diabetes Award at its awards dinner marking World Diabetes Day.

Source:, Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research

Stem cells could heal equine tendon injuries

Tendon injuries affect athletic horses at all levels. Researchers from the University of Connecticut are studying the use of stem cells  in treating equine tendon injuries. Their findings were published Oct. 16 in theJournal of Animal Science Papers in Press. 

Tendon injuries in horses tend to worsen over time as damage to the tendon creates lesions. Currently, horse owners treat tendon injuries by resting the horse and then carefully exercising the horse to control the growth of scar tissue in the tendon. Unfortunately, this treatment does not always work.

“These injuries result in lameness, which requires substantial recovery time and carry a high risk of re-injury,” write authors S.A. Reed and E.R. Leahy.

Stem cells injections are already common veterinary medicine, and scientists are curious how to make stem cell treatments more effective. In this paper, the authors looked at the use of three types of stem cells: bone marrow-derived mesenchymal stem cells, adipose-derived stem cells and umbilical cord blood-derived stem cells.

These types of cells have the potential to strengthen a tendon after injury. Implants of bone marrow-derived mesenchymal stem cells (BMSC) can increase collagen production and organized collagen fibers in the tendon. Adipose-derived stem cells can express certain proteins important in healing.

However, stem cells are not a miracle cure. Implantation can be tricky, and stem cells do not always decrease recovery time. Some BMSC transplantations have also led to the growth of unwanted bone in the tendon.

Umbilical cord blood-derived stem cells (UCB) may have the most potential for healing horse injuries in the future. These cells may be better able to grow into new types of cells and repair tendon damage. So far there have been no studies of UCB use in actual horse tendon injuries. But in vitro studies show that UCB could be capable of tendon regeneration.

The authors recommend future studies into implantation techniques and the role of stem cells in different parts of the tendon. With this knowledge, horse owners, veterinarians and animal scientists can help keep equine athletes healthy.


Source: Madeline McCurry-Schmidt / ASAS Communications

Chemo-induced infertility aided by stem cells

Scientists have long been searching for a way to preserve fertility in young boys left unable to father a child later in life after being treated for childhood cancer. That’s because chemotherapy and radiation can destroy the stem cells in the testes that give rise to sperm with the onset of puberty. 

Now researchers, using macaque monkeys, have shown that small samples of testicular tissue that have been frozen can be thawed and re-implanted following chemotherapy and begin producing sperm.

The success in monkeys raises hope that the technique might one day be safely used in human males left infertile by life-saving treatment for cancer, say researchers, whose work is described in the November issue of the journal Cell Stem Cell, published Thursday.

Not only were most of the animals able to produce sperm cells, but sperm from one macaque was able to fertilize the eggs from female macaques, said principal researcher Kyle Orwig, director of the fertility preservation program at the University of Pittsburgh.

“We could cryopreserve stem cells and thaw them and transplant them into the testes of animals that had been rendered infertile by chemotherapy treatment,” Orwig said from Pittsburgh. “And those transplanted stem cells produced sperm, which were competent to fertilize macaque eggs.”

The monkey eggs were fertilized in the lab and allowed to grow through cell division only to the point where they would have been able to implant in the female animal’s uterine wall. There were no live macaque offspring produced.

But Orwig hopes the procedure could eventually allow childhood cancer survivors who have been left infertile by treatment to father their own children.

Not all cancer therapy leads to permanent infertility — that depends on the type and dose of chemo drugs used as well as the areas targeted by radiation.

Still, uncertainty about one’s ability to have a family in the future is no trivial matter for childhood cancer patients, most of whom must contend with a range of adverse health effects arising from treatment, often for the rest of their lives.

“Cancer patients report that their fertility status has a major impact on their quality of life, both in terms of their psychological well-being, but also their ability to develop relationships,” Orwig said.

In fact, there are several clinics around the world that have preserved testicular tissue from pre-pubescent boys subsequently treated for cancer, “in anticipation that (their) stem cells can be used in the future to achieve a pregnancy,” he said.

“We’re all gambling that things that are in the research pipeline will be translatable to the clinic … I think we’ve demonstrated that it’s feasible and I think this is an important step towards translating it to the clinic.”

However, more research is needed before the experimental technique can be tried in humans, Orwig stressed.

For one thing, there is disagreement in the field as to when the stem cell-bearing tissue should be transplanted back into a testis.

“Some people think that you should put the cells in as soon as possible before the testis deteriorates to the point where it can’t support sperm production,” he said, referring to completion of treatment and a cancer-free status.

“Some people think you should wait all the way until these boys grow up and are ready to have children, which could be 20 years in the future.”

Orwig believes that patients whose testicular tissue has been biopsied for cryopreservation will ultimately make that decision themselves.

But before researchers even attempt the procedure in humans, there is a risk they must deal with: the potential they could re-seed cancer cells into a testicle along with the stem cell transplant.

Leukemia, for instance, is a cancer of the blood, and that blood circulates through the tissues of the body, including the testes. Testicular tissue removed before treatment could potentially contain cancer cells, Orwig explained.

“And so if you take that tissue out before treatment and then you plan to transplant it back in later, there’s a chance you could re-introduce a cancer,” he said.

“That is certainly a risk. This is why there is more work to do in pre-clinical studies before it’s time to translate to the clinic, because that would be the worst outcome, to re-introduce a cancer into a survivor. That would be terrible.”

Orwig noted the procedure would not be an option for post-pubescent teens or men who have been treated for cancer but did not store a semen sample prior to chemotherapy or radiation.

“Our study won’t help those men, because they probably don’t have stem cells,” he said.

“We know that chemotherapy and radiation for their cancer or other conditions can cause permanent infertility. And for that reason, a man who desires to have a family after their treatment, they should freeze a sperm sample.

“And there are a variety of ways those sperm can be used in the future to achieve a pregnancy,” including in-vitro fertilization.”

Source: Sheryl Ubelacker,