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Biotech Medicine

Breakthrough In Stem Cell Culturing 57

Science Daily reports that for the first time, human embryonic stem cells have been cultured under chemically controlled conditions without the use of animal substances, which is essential for future clinical uses. "Now, for the first time, we can produce large quantities of human embryonic stem cells in an environment that is completely chemically defined," says professor Karl Tryggvason, who led the study at Sweden's Karolinska Institutet. "This opens up new opportunities for developing different types of cells which can then be tested for the treatment of disease."
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Breakthrough In Stem Cell Culturing

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  • by Barrinmw ( 1791848 ) on Monday May 31, 2010 @02:05PM (#32408882)
    Yeah, my grandpa has it and it is pretty awful. The crazy thing is, he has that body of an ox and he is 94 now? If it wasn't for Alzheimer's he would prolly be doing fine and live for another 10 years easily. At least the medicine he is on now has significantly slowed the progress and he sort of still remembers who his kids and wife is, but barely that.
  • by interkin3tic ( 1469267 ) on Monday May 31, 2010 @02:10PM (#32408926)

    Some important background that this article doesn't specifically mention (another one I read did), in 2008, that same lab had shown this was possible with mouse stem cells []. That's not to knock them, just it's important to point out that these things don't just come from out of the blue, nor does biology move as quick as we would like. This group has been working on showing this goes on in human stem cells for at least 2 years, who knows how long it took them to find this out in mice, or narrow down this one specific protein. Those years between when they discovered it in mice and showing it in humans probably also represents a lot of work. Science is hard.

    I would guess that the next step, maybe one they're already working on, is to show that induced pluripotent stem cells can be cultured on this same protein. IPsC are when they take cells from your own body and make them revert back to a similar state to embryonic stem cells, to where they can then be turned into any cell type you want (the advantage there being they're your cells so you wouldn't get tissue rejection like you would with embryonic stem cells.)

    Three big barriers to using IPsC for therapy were/are 1. that they were made using viral transfection of cancer-causing genes, 2. culturing them required feeder cells which the article describes why that's bad, and 3. it's hard to completely differentiate a population of pluripotent cells into one cell type you're trying to get. There have been some breakthroughs on 1, last I heard a group had shown you can just culture with modified proteins to induce pluripotency. This is a breakthrough on 2. Unfortunately 3 might be harder. You want to be sure you've differentiated all the stem cells before you put them into a patient. If you inject stem cells into a patient, they're going to get one of the worst types of tumors: teratomas, so you want to be absolutely sure you've gotten them all. And each different cell type seems to differentiate in different ways. We might figure out how to turn stem cells completely into skin cells, but that may not help us learn how to turn a culture of stem cells into brain cells.

    Nonetheless, this was an important 2 part solution to a barrier to using stem cells to their full potential. Double kudos to them, they've made a real contribution here.

  • Bubble bursting. (Score:5, Informative)

    by Bowling Moses ( 591924 ) on Monday May 31, 2010 @02:59PM (#32409336) Journal
    Authors: Karl Tryggvason, Anna Domogatskaya, Sergey Rodin, a subset of the authors of the paper referenced at the end of TFA. I don't know enough about stem cells to say that the patent application is identical to TFA, but it's on at least highly similar subject matter. Prof. Tryggvason has over 30 patents as per his bio on the Biolamina corporate website [], a company he co-founded. As a scientist currently trying to bring some academic research out of the lab and into deployment, I can tell you that this is just how things are done. It isn't perfect, but without the protection of a patent it's hard to see any company willingly expose itself to the massive risk and cost of developing, producing, testing, and marketing Prof. Tryggvason's work without the profit motive that patents protect.
  • Not a breakthrough (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 31, 2010 @04:29PM (#32410396)

    Sorry, but this is not a significant breakthrough. Not going xeno-free has been an issue if convenience, not capability. Invitrogen has been selling a xeno-free matrix for hESC growth for 1-2 years now. I've used it and it works just fine. Replacing all of the animal components in hESC media is costly but conceptually pretty easy. Furthermore, I'd imagine that all of the stem-cell companies (Geron, Advanced Cell, and Novocell) w/ therapies moving towards the clinic already have their own proprietary xeno-free conditions.

  • Re:This is good (Score:3, Informative)

    by williamhb ( 758070 ) on Monday May 31, 2010 @09:55PM (#32413392) Journal

    We remove some of the ethical concerns that go with stem cell research. This should go a long way in advancing medical science.

    I'm pretty sure it's not the vegetarian vote that has been most concerned about stem cell research! (This is still about embryonic stem cells, so it still involves a pre-natal death, which has been the much more vociferous ethical debate.)

  • Re:8 Years Too Late (Score:3, Informative)

    by urusan ( 1755332 ) on Monday May 31, 2010 @10:03PM (#32413474)

    I'm sorry to hear about your loss, but you can't really know if this really is the case or not. Would it have really led to this advance significantly earlier? or would it have just been slightly earlier? or perhaps there would have been little to no change?

    Anyway, the Bush "ban" was actually initiated by Clinton administration and it only prevented embryonic stem cell research from receiving US federal funding if it involved the destruction of embryos. Adult stem cell research and privately funded research has been perfectly legal the whole time.

    Research isn't like engineering where you can throw tons of money at a problem and make it go much faster. You can cultivate a good environment for research, and in this way the ban may have caused some harm, but throwing more resources at such research doesn't scale in the same way as say going to the moon or developing the atomic bomb, where all the fundamental research was done and all that was needed was a lot of engineering and elbow grease. In other words, 8 years more US federal funding does not translate into advances occurring 8 years earlier.

    Plus, this discovery was made in Europe and not in the US. The US isn't the center of the universe.

    There is a great temptation to blame our woes on the malice or incompetence of others, but one should not give in to this temptation unless there is very good proof for it.

To be is to program.