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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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  • Bah humbug (Score:5, Funny)

    by Xtense ( 1075847 ) <{xtense} {at} {}> on Monday May 31, 2010 @12:49PM (#32408242) Homepage

    Pah! Finally, those uncultured stem cells will learn the finer arts of high society!

  • Advances (Score:4, Insightful)

    by sonicmerlin ( 1505111 ) on Monday May 31, 2010 @12:52PM (#32408270)
    Along with the recent news of the creation of an artificial cell, it seems like biotechnology is the truly "hot" field these days.
  • by Barrinmw ( 1791848 ) on Monday May 31, 2010 @12:59PM (#32408318)
    They can find the cure for alzheimer's before I really have to worry about it.
    • by Zeros ( 1016135 ) on Monday May 31, 2010 @01:08PM (#32408392)
      Dont worry you will forget all your problems soon enogh.
      • by wizardforce ( 1005805 ) on Monday May 31, 2010 @01:29PM (#32408522) Journal

        It's funny until you've seen it happen. The person with Alzheimer's will certainyl forget but those around them certainly won't. Eventually Alzheimer's gets to the point where they forget *everyone* and everything. They often have depression from the times that they realize what is going on and not knowing who anyone is around them. Alzheimer's fractures the mind to the point where it has effectively combined aspects from their childhood, teenage years, adulthood and older years all wrapped up in the same person. They lose the ability to speak, walk and in the end even move. As bad as it is for them, it is fucking terrible for their family to watch that unfold when you know that there is absolutely nothing you can do to stop it. Stem cell research has the potential to significantly curb the effects of Alzheimer's but alas it will not be in time for my own grandmother who is in the final stages of Alzheimer's.

        • by grasshoppa ( 657393 ) <skennedy@tpn o - c o .org> on Monday May 31, 2010 @02:00PM (#32408830) Homepage

          Situations like those you specified always made me curious; at what point is life no longer worth living? I live and die by my mind. The thought of a disease stealing it away from me, a little at a time, is my version of hell. I know I would prefer to be put out of my misery long before the disease takes me. I can't be alone in this.

          Not only would I be spared months/years of hell, but so would my family. That last point alone would be worth it to me.

          • I live and die by my mind. The thought of a disease stealing it away from me, a little at a time, is my version of hell. I know I would prefer to be put out of my misery long before the disease takes me. I can't be alone in this.

            Nope. You're not. The closest I ever come to praying is hoping I have enough of my wits about me to know when it's time to end it. I'm not at all suicidal, but given my family history, there is probably going to come a point, a line I do not wish to cross, a fate far worse than death.

          • sounds like a business opportunity... Alzheimer's Insurance. Pay now, painless exit after diagnosis.

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by Barrinmw ( 1791848 )
          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.
        • Yes, indeed. I saw it happen to my mother in the year before she passed. She was an M.D. in life and it was tragic to witness her decline. I certainly hope that scientists will be aggressive in coming up with treatments if such treatments are possible.
    • It is improbable that stem cell research will in any way contribute to a cure for Alzheimer's.
  • This is good (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Khyber ( 864651 ) <> on Monday May 31, 2010 @01:29PM (#32408526) Homepage Journal

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

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by hedwards ( 940851 )
      Don't worry, the religious right will invent knew reasons why this research is an abomination. I mean they were the ones that were opposed to stem cell research because it kills embryos, but totally fine with IVF which purposely creates more embryos than are needed and kills the extras.
      • You speak of the religious right as though it is some unified group, when it is in fact not. Why don't you wait to see what happens before throwing insults?
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by williamhb ( 758070 )

      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.)

  • Patents (Score:3, Insightful)

    by blackfrancis75 ( 911664 ) on Monday May 31, 2010 @01:34PM (#32408570)
    Best of all; it happened in Europe, so we don't have to worry about some self-serving corporate trying to patent 'Chemically Controlled Stem Cell Culturing' to make $$$ for themselves at the cost of all humanities medical advancement.
    • 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.
  • by NotSoHeavyD3 ( 1400425 ) on Monday May 31, 2010 @01:38PM (#32408612)
    With stems cells down the road. Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer, aka therapeutic cloning. (If you thought people had moral problems with using embryonic stem cells man they're going to flip out over that one.)
    • Mentally ill people flip out about things that their leader tells them to flip out about, because it treathens their illness... News at 11.

      The problems start, if you give a rat’s ass about it.

  • 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.

  • Not a breakthrough (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    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 xe

  • There goes one of my excuses for running away from fights now :-(
  • Obama lifted Bush's 2001 ban in 2009. If embryonic stem cell research hadn't been banned by Republicans pandering to theocrats and drug corps for so long, this technique that finally unleashes stem cells for therapies might have been developed 8 years earlier.

    Maybe my paraplegic college buddy who starved himself a year ago instead of continuing life in a wheelchair with chronic pain and steadily failing organs might have at least had real evidence for hope. Bush killed him, and who knows how many other peop

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by urusan ( 1755332 )

      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

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Doc Ruby ( 173196 )

        US Federal funds were cut off from embryonic stem cell research by Bush in 2001. That was a big change, since US Federal funding is a giant part of global medical research. The US and its Federal funding that's no risk to the private corps that benefit from its results is indeed the center of the medical research universe. In 2001, embryonic stem cells were the most likely kind to produce results. That was slowed a very great deal until the funding was allowed again last year. And now just a year later is t

    • by interkin3tic ( 1469267 ) on Tuesday June 01, 2010 @04:12AM (#32415752)

      If embryonic stem cell research hadn't been banned by Republicans pandering to theocrats and drug corps for so long, this technique that finally unleashes stem cells for therapies might have been developed 8 years earlier.

      I'm a cell biologist, a staunch democrat, and was astounded at how stupid Bush's actions were, but that's not exactly fair.

      First and foremost, this is not a startling new discovery, the same group published a paper in 2008 showing that -mouse- embryonic stem cells grew fine on this one protein. The basic discovery didn't take place until just prior to 2008, the federal funding rules didn't affect mouse embryonic stem cell research obviously. It could have been discovered in mouse embryonic stem cells even with the funding rules under Bush, by chance it was not. Had we discovered it in mouse in, say, 2003, and then been unable to show it went for human cells too, that would be another case.

      Second, embryonic stem cells being cultured without feeder layers would not have been much cause for hope, major barriers to treatment still existed and continue to exist outside of how to grow the cells. Research into overcoming those barriers would not have been directly impacted by the ban.

      One barrier was that mbryonic stem cells were never very promising for therapeutic purposes, since you can't get ESC from a non-embryo patient. ESC from anything other than a clone could face tissue rejection issues. Within the last 3 years though, induced pluripotent stem cells were discovered/made, which would overcome those problems. I don't believe the research that went into that was significantly impacted by the ban, since again the mechanism was first identified in mouse. If your friend died last year, that would have already been discovered and is in my mind is the biggest breakthrough on spinal cord injuries we've ever seen. Recently, they've even done it without viral transfection.

      Another barrier, and possibly the biggest one remaining, is that with this method or without, we still aren't 100% capable of taking a plate of stem cells or pluripotent cells and turning them all into neurons to repair the spinal cord. Last I heard, we could get most of them to mature, but not 100% to turn from stem cell to neuron. That's unacceptable for therapy. Any undifferentiated cells injected into your spinal cord would produce tumors, and in one of the worst places to get them. Once we get there, there's still likely to be the barrier of organization, how to get these cells to make a functional cord instead of just disorganized neurons all over the place. This may have been affected somewhat by the ban, but again, mouse studies continued and we're still not there.

      Bush hindered our understanding of stem cell biology with his ignorant hypocritical meddling, but putting the blame on him is misplaced. I'm sorry about your friend, but it wasn't Bush that destroyed his hopes, we biologists failed him on our own.

Don't tell me how hard you work. Tell me how much you get done. -- James J. Ling