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Stem Cell Therapy Causes Tumors 327

SpaceAdmiral writes, "Using human embryonic stem cells, researchers have cured a Parkinson's-like disease in rats. Unfortunately, the Parkinson's cure causes brain tumors." From the first article: "...10 weeks into the trial, [University of Rochester researchers] discovered brain tumours had begun to grow in every animal treated... By definition, human embryonic stem cells have the almost mythical, immortal power to grow and divide indefinitely as they become the various tissues that make up the body. As a result, scientists have always known that any stem cell therapy could result in an uncontrolled growth of cells that could give rise to cancer."
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Stem Cell Therapy Causes Tumors

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  • Tumors? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Jhon ( 241832 ) * on Monday October 23, 2006 @07:06PM (#16553462) Homepage Journal
    Why not use adult stem cells []? There also the cord blood [] research to add in, as well. So far, all the research I've been reading suggest these to be the best direction to take and such research is funded at the federal level. And as a bonus, has no real ethics baggage associated with it!
  • Re:Tumors? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Marxist Hacker 42 ( 638312 ) * <> on Monday October 23, 2006 @07:11PM (#16553510) Homepage Journal
    However, the same problem still exists- to use tissue from even adult stem cells, you have to accellerate their growth in an appropriate growth medium. Fail to stop that accellerated growth before implantation yeilds cancer. In fact, cancer is a good description of what you do to stem cells to begin with- encourage them to grow as different parts of the organism they came from, hopefully in a benign, controlled manner, but sometimes in a malignant uncontrolled manner.
  • It's tough... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by posterlogo ( 943853 ) on Monday October 23, 2006 @07:15PM (#16553546)
    ...working with stem cells. There at two major practical problems. The first one is maintaining them -- you look at em wrong and the differentiate (BAM, no more stem cells, just some muscle, nerve, epidermal, etc. cells). The second is that BECAUSE they are so good at proliferating, they are prone to turn into tumors when introduced into the body. That isn't a new concern, it's just interesting that the research described here has actually observed that concurrently with alleviation of the targeted disease state (neurodegeneration in this case). I suspect the "fix" to this is already being developed, since the tissue they are destined to replaced in the brain is usually non-dividing tissue, it may be possible to engineer an 'off-switch' into the cells, whereby cell division could be permenantly disrupted (the tissue created by the stem cells would function as normal). This shouldn't be to hard, but does add to the effort already necessary to even generate patient-specific stem cells. More research!
  • Re:Tumors? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Darlantan ( 130471 ) on Monday October 23, 2006 @07:16PM (#16553562)
    I'm inclined to agree.

    This experiment proves that stem cells can be used to cure disease, but it also demonstrates that we lack the control required to put them into use. The real trick here isn't convincing stem cells to become X other cell, it's convincing them to _stop_ doing their thing at the correct time. Otherwise cancer is the inevitable outcome.
  • by Goonie ( 8651 ) * <> on Monday October 23, 2006 @07:18PM (#16553586) Homepage
    That headline reads like something straight out of the religious fundies' playbook in their dogmatic (and I use that word advisedly) opposition to experimenting on clumps of cells.

    This is a partial success. The therapy did what it was supposed to do - it cured the Parkinson's Disease. It's just that the side effects are worse than the disease at this point. But that's a whole lot better news than it not working at all.

    Everybody with even a modest understanding of how scientific research goes knows that the road from interesting phenomena to practical application is usually a long and complex one, and that the claims of instant cures for everything from heart attack to spinal cord injuries were exaggerated for the purposes of winning political debate. But when a trial has a partial success, in my view that is further encouragement to continue research.

  • Re:Tumors? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Jhon ( 241832 ) * on Monday October 23, 2006 @07:18PM (#16553590) Homepage Journal
    to use tissue from even adult stem cells, you have to accelerate their growth in an appropriate growth medium
    Accelerate? Why? Whereas this "accelerated growth" natural for embryonic stem cells, and VERY much unwanted, in adult stem cells, are less likely to give rise to the uncontrolled growth seen with embryonic stem cells. At least, so I've read...
  • Re:Tumors? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Darkman, Walkin Dude ( 707389 ) on Monday October 23, 2006 @07:30PM (#16553728) Homepage

    such research is funded at the federal level.

    Speaking as a European, I can safely say, so what?

  • Re:It's tough... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by posterlogo ( 943853 ) on Monday October 23, 2006 @07:30PM (#16553730)
    That's a good question -- I should have explained better. You can only use such an off-switch (or even kill-switch) if you FIRST had a purified sample of the cells to work with in culture. Then, through common cell culture/molecular biology techniques, it is possible to introduce genetic material that can behave how you want. Imagine a cell culture of stem cells, incorporating a DNA sequence to express a proliferation-halting protein in response to some chemical que. That is quite doable. Since a cancer originates in the person's body, it's not really possible to take it out, engineer it to incorporate the kill switch, and put it back. The stem cells are a defined cell culture that you CAN manipulate before introducing to the body. Only the so-called "gene therapy" can do that to cells already in the body, and that whole field is not having much luck lately.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 23, 2006 @07:57PM (#16554048)
    Whoops, we forgot to worship puree'd babies as a research god? WTF. An experiment failed, and you blame the religious nuts. Did you read TFA, by the way? It talks about using fetal brain tissue. That's a little more advanced then "a clump of cells."

    The funny part is that you're probably opposed to the death penalty.
  • Re:Tumors? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Jhon ( 241832 ) * on Monday October 23, 2006 @08:17PM (#16554242) Homepage Journal
    Are you aware of any current embryonic stem cell therapy currently used at all? Nevermind routinely?

    There are a number of ROUTINE ADULT stem cell therapies in use today. From treating multiple blood disorders (leukemia, for example).

    From everything I've read, adult stem cells are less likely to result in uncontrolled growth. Far less. Their effectiveness in neurological disorders is on par with embryonic stem cells, far less risk of rejection (once the cells differentiate) and far less chance of the uncontrolled growth of embryonic stem cells.
  • Cord Blood Hype (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Ucklak ( 755284 ) on Monday October 23, 2006 @08:38PM (#16554424)
    I really hope I'm wrong but the cord blood mentality seems like an extrememly high pressure sales pitch giving the feeling that the whole process is bogus.
    I was really shocked when the pitch was given to me and you literally have 30 minutes to decide if you want to store this once in a lifetime thing "for your childs health". "Don't you want what's best for your child?"
    By not paying the $2500 and $250 yearly fee, they make you feel like a bad parent and you've signed the death warrant for your kid that isn't even 24 hours old.

    You can be aware of cord blood before you're a parent but there is a switch inside of you that flips the moment you see a progeny that contains part of your code using it's own life support system. That vulnerability is preyed upon by the cord blood companies, hospital staffed photographers, and hospital doctors because "The hospital doctors are better equipped and knowledgable than your own pediatrician." My guess is that they use that pitch to prey on people who haven't picked out a pediatrician prior to delivery.

    I can understand people that have a genetic pre-disposition for bad health would want this but I question the validity of the methods of storage, insurance regarding it, possiblilty of `visits` to make sure they still have it, and that the cord blood stored is in fact yours.

    We know for a fact that there are cases where stored sperm did not belong to the donors but to the doctor or the technician responsible of storing it. Obvisouly, there have been cases where labeling was an issue. This would be disastrous in a cord blood case if it were a labeling issue.

    Another scam (not calling cord blood a scam, I just don't approve of their sales tactics and I question their validity) is Stride Rite shoes. They want to have your kids in shoes before they learn to walk because "you don't want to have your kids feets deformed, do you?" It's funny that they have their own `certification` for Fitting Specialists, like Microsoft has their own certification for System Engineers. I have seen parents with crawling babies wearing Stride-Rite shoes and I know a former 'Fit Specialist' so I know that their tactics work.

  • Re:Bad programming. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by AhtirTano ( 638534 ) on Monday October 23, 2006 @09:02PM (#16554586)

    God was a terrible programmer. But I guess that's what you get with a tight 7 day timeframe.

    If God were clever, he would have divided the night and day last. Then he would have had all the time in the world to finish.

  • Re:Bullshit. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by gewalker ( 57809 ) <Gary.Walker@Astr ... inus threevowels> on Monday October 23, 2006 @09:56PM (#16554998)
    Maybe you should actually read science instead of press releases from the pro-embryonic stell cell lobby. They keep saying there is much promise, but the actual effective treatments have been based on adult stem cells. This may not always be the case, but it certainly is today

    The only proven effective Type-1 diabetes cure, in mice was based on adult-stems cells -- just like what several other posters have been saying. This article [] refers to lab results where they reversed Type in mice, using ADULT not EMBRYONIC stems cells. This is not Christian pro-life lobby rantings.

    You are right in saying it is not a Type I cure for humans (yet), but it is certainly promising.

    BTW, No Type II cures based on stem cells have published to my knowledge.

    In many ways, I could care less about adult vs. embryonic cell research in the U.S. (there are other countries you know). But as a U.S. Taxpayer, I would prefer not to have my tax dollars wasted on research that has to date proved useless when there is similar alternative that has been proved quite fruitful to date. Gov. Arnie bought the b.s. re: embryonic stem cells -- I would bet that California taxpayers see nothing useful coming out of it when the money is all spent.
  • Re:Bullshit. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Lex2965 ( 1017306 ) on Monday October 23, 2006 @11:10PM (#16555450)
    Amen! (sorry). I expected more from posters to this site - my bad. This is blatant election-time propaganda. Fortunately, the only ones likely to fall for it are already of "that persuasion", if you know what I mean.
  • Re:Tumors? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Afrosheen ( 42464 ) on Monday October 23, 2006 @11:15PM (#16555486)
    "perhaps Terry Schaivo WAS killed too soon"

      HAHAHAHAH...oh man...wait....HAHAHAHAHHA...I gotta climb back into my chair.

      This isn't Star Trek, guys. You don't wave a magic piece of plastic over someone's head that has sustained massive head trauma and they wake up. I'm all for the future and wonderful medical science, but even if Terry had been somewhat repaired, she wouldn't wake up as Terry, so ultimately it's pointless.

      Very few computers run well with smashed CPUs.
  • by Moraelin ( 679338 ) on Tuesday October 24, 2006 @02:35AM (#16556424) Journal
    Think of it this way: look at how many bits the human DNA has. Each nucleotid pair is one of 4 possible values, so 2 bits. A human has about 3 billion pairs. So on the whole about 750 megabytes or so.

    I dunno about you, but I'm thoroughly impressed. _You_ try programming a human in 750 MB, and then you can criticize. I'm talking not only the brain (which is a feat by itself), but also the whole organism there, including immune system, self-healing, metabolism, etc.

    I don't even know if it's unstructured. What we have here is some people trying to use that stuff without knowing what it really does or how it was supposed to be used. It's sorta like watching the client PHB trying to just drag and drop a button on a form himself, and then wondering why it doesn't work like he just assumed it would. ("Hey, I dropped a "Save" button there and it doesn't actually save when I click it!") You can't really blame it on the original programmer if it doesn't work that way.

    So if I were mean, I'd up the ante and also say "and program it so it also works when some clueless guy later tries to use a human cell in a mouse, in a way that was never in the specs." But let's be generous and skip that. Just program a human in 750 MB, no matter how.

    What _our_ engineers (and I'm one, so I'm allowed to criticize) manage today in 750 MB is a stupid text editor or a spreadsheet. We're past even just structured programming. Now we pack everything in layers upon layers of frameworks, EJBs, factories, decorators, managers (the pattern, not the PHB), events, SOAP, JMS, etc, just because it's _fashionable_ to have one more buzzword on the resume. And, oh, if it's Java, let's add add a layer of introspection too, because it's become soooo unfashionable to just write "myObject.getID()" instead of cracking the class open the class at runtime and reaching in its internals.

    Let me stress again: this crap doesn't even have to do with OOP or with structured programming any more, and in fact sometimes _prevents_ proper OOP. Project after project I run into crap designs where you _can't_ use OOP, e.g. define a simple subclass of something, because for example there's an EJB layer in the way and the other end wouldn't know how to deserialize your modified objects. Or because all the data objects are generated from some XML definitions -- and I don't just mean the stuff that'll get persisted in the database, but really internal data objects -- just because someone thought it's _cooler_ to write an XML and run a third-party generator than to just write the fucking member definitions and ask Eclipse to make getters and setters for them. And as a result you can't even attach the relevant methods to them, like you learned in the OOP classes, like attaching a "findChild()" method where it belongs in the tree node, because it would get overwritten in the next build when those objects are generated from XML.

    Engineering used to be about having a problem and designing the best solution to it. E.g., you have a river to cross, and you consider whether it's best to build a bridge, or a tunnel, or a ferry, and pick the simplest and cheapest solution that solves the problem. Now we're at the stage where we want to have a "suspension bridge" buzzword on the resume, and we'll cheerfully dig a canal just to have something to build that bridge over. Or detour the road through 3 states to the side so we can find a gorge to build the bridge over. Must have that precious buzzword even if it kills the project. That's not engineering, that's marketting and playing.

    Anyway, at this rate we'll soon need a 750 MB framework just to pass the parameters around.
  • Re:misleading (Score:3, Interesting)

    by oohshiny ( 998054 ) on Tuesday October 24, 2006 @03:23AM (#16556546)
    So they are "benign," which while a term of art, is very misleading to layfolks.

    A benign growth in the brain can be a serious problem. But benign growths in most other places are, for the most part, benign given modern surgical techniques.

    A tumor just plain sucks.

    This is early research. A therapy that causes benign tumors is much more easily fixable than one that causes cancer. In particular, there is probably no DNA damage involved here.

    In fact, this effect actually may turn out to be very useful for making stem cells work.
  • by Fantastic Lad ( 198284 ) on Tuesday October 24, 2006 @09:28AM (#16558694)
    Okay. So what exactly are Stem Cells?

    Stem Cells are "un-programmed" cells which can become any kind of cell in an organism. They are full of possibility! --As the organism grows, cells branch away (from the stem) to differentiate into eyeball cells, fingernail cells, knee cap or elbow cells. The medical community is excited about them, because you can use stem cells with their vast potential to regrow damaged organs. How wonderful!

    The 'Big Problem', as it has been sold by the media and medical P.R. firms works like this. . .

    You can only get stem cells from babies or fetuses, where they still exist and have not yet differentiated. Why? Because, we are told, a cell once it has branched off to become an eyeball or an elbow, once it has differentiated, cannot de-differentiate. It's stuck as an eyeball or an elbow cell. Thus doctors and researchers must go to the source. Babies.

    Horrors! What an effective way to keep people divided and in a constant state of uproar.

    The only trouble is that it's a lie. Eyeball and elbow cells can de-differentiate. You can recreate stem cells.

    --Observe the humble salamander which can regrow whole limbs if they are cut off. New cells split from existing ones and are able to grow into new elbows, arms and fingers. How do they do this? There isn't a storehouse of stem cells hiding somewhere in the salamander waiting to be used in an emergency. Nope. What happens is that when the salamander is injured, at the site of the injury the cells regress into a fibroblastic state, and then emerge as stem cells which then proceed to form the new parts required to re-grow the entire limb. Elbow cells, arm and finger cells. No dead babies required. Cool.

    Interestingly, it is also observed in salamanders that when you attach electrodes to the creature's nose and tail, a charge can be measured. Apparently the nose is negative and the tail positive. Okay. And when you injure the creature by cutting off one of its legs, that charge reverses for a period of time until the healing process is well underway.

    Um. Okay. That's kind of weird.

    At the site of the injury itself, the DC electric potentials also do other strange things, and the cells exhibit behaviors directly related to those changes. Curiouser and curiouser.

    And guess what? Humans exhibit similar DC electric traits. The currents are extremely small, but they are there. They are not the same as those in salamanders, but then human cells also behave differently. We can't re-grow limbs, for one thing. But at the site of an injury, our cells also go into a fibroblastic state. Cells stop being elblo and toenail cells and become fibroblastic cells which form into scar tissue.

    But what happens when you apply DC currents from an external source? Well, it's odd, but the cells react. Human cancer cells, for instance, start to grow much, much faster. Hm. What else can happen? Well, lots of things, apparently. The human body, and in fact, all living tissues in all creatures, react in a variety of ways to micro-electric currents.

    Chinese accupuncture, for instance, is almost certainly based on this. --A metal needle is inserted into a key point on the body, it is set to rotating, (cutting through the Earth's magnetic field, thus creating a small current), and the body reacts in some manner. Place the needles correctly and a variety of different healing effects can be obtained by accupuncture doctors.

    Cool. What else can be achieved?

    Well, human cells in a fibroblast state can be made to de-differentiate. They can be turned into stem cells. Hold on. Say what? That's not supposed to be able to happen! We're supposed to be in an uproar over dead babies. We're supposed to be distracted through a permanent state of in-fighting amongst ourselves so that we don't have the energy to ever be free of the control systems holding us fixed into place.

    Has anybody mentioned this to the medical
  • Re:Tumors? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by orcrist ( 16312 ) on Tuesday October 24, 2006 @10:05AM (#16559156)
    Brain drain and funding disparities are REAL.

    I don't dispute this.

    By all means, try and prove me wrong (with facts, not anecdotes nor opinion).

    I already said I'd leave it to the Europeans to provide counter-examples.

    I wasn't objecting to a statement which claimed the U.S. produces *more* results (as it should, with the world's leading economy), I object to the implication that the Europeans *never* produce any scientific results (your quote: "...for a change"), and especially the way you have to confirm everyone's view that Americans are arrogant assholes with your tone. It makes all Americans look bad; in fact, I'll allow myself a little hyperbole and take a line from Cheney: "It emboldens the terrorists!" (tongue firmly in cheek).
  • Re:Tumors? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by xant ( 99438 ) on Tuesday October 24, 2006 @10:45AM (#16559748) Homepage
    I'm not an expert in the subject, but if what you say is true doesn't that mean adult stem cells can only be used in applications where linear, rather than geometric tissue growth is an acceptable speed? Which means only very, very small structures. If I wanted to repair, say, a million damaged spinal cord cells I'd need to wait for a a million stem cell divisions, no? That would take a very long time.

    I am honestly speaking from ignorance here so please correct me if I'm wrong. I always thought geometric growth rates were part of the solution.

"To take a significant step forward, you must make a series of finite improvements." -- Donald J. Atwood, General Motors