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Researchers announce possible treatments for two deadly and previously untreatable diseases

Researchers around the world are spending enormous amounts of time and money looking for treatments and cures to various diseases like cancer and neurological conditions. Scientists aren’t ruling out any type of treatment to combat these deadly diseases including genetic therapy and the use of stem cells.

Last week scientists from Yale working with researchers from Asuragen, Inc. announced they found a treatment that has performed well in lab mice for treating lung cancer using micro RNA (miRNA). The miRNA used in the study is called let-7.

Let-7 has been found to be present in reduced amounts in cancerous lung tumors. The low concentrations of this let-7 miRNA are thought to contribute to the development of lung tumors. The work of the researchers has demonstrated that the miRNA inhibits the growth of lung tumors and cancer cells in culture and lab mice.

Senior study author Frank Slack said in a statement, “We believe this is the first report of a miRNA being used to a beneficial effect on any cancer, let alone lung cancers, the deadliest of all cancers worldwide.” The researchers believe that let-7 miRNA applied as a intranasal drug could be a viable treatment for lung cancer.

This breakthrough follows just hours after another group announced a possible treatment for Parkinson’s disease, a fatal illness that currently has no treatment or cure. Researchers from the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Institute in New York have shown that cloned embryonic stem cells can be used to treat Parkinson’s like conditions in mice.

The researchers found that stem cells cloned from the mouse’s own body were less disruptive to its body that cloned cells taken from other mice. The researchers got the cloned embryonic stem cells by taking ordinary cells from the tail of the mouse and transferring the nuclei from the cells into hollowed out mouse egg cells, making clones of the mouse.

The embryonic stem cells were then harvested from the cloned embryos after a few days, coaxed into becoming the type of brain cells lost due to the chemicals used on the mouse to cause the Parkinson’s like state. Once the needed brain cells were grown they were implanted into the brain of the affected mouse.  The mouse got better.

Reuters quotes researcher Viviane Tabar as saying, “It demonstrated what we suspected all along -- that genetically matched tissue works better. It's incredibly hard [growing and implanting the cells] and it involves a series of inefficient steps," Tabar said.

While considerable debate rages over the use of cloned embryonic stem cells, there is little doubt as to the ability of the stem cell to help treat a myriad of conditions and disease states. DailyTech reported in February 2008 that researchers used stem cells to treat diabetes in mice.

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Word of caution
By geddarkstorm on 3/24/2008 3:15:38 PM , Rating: 2
Don't all go announcing "it's a cure" just yet. The mouse was in a Parkinson's "induced" state (secondary Parkinson's), not a natural or primary Parkinson's state. Since primary Parkinson's is genetic, any stem cell cloned from a real diseased individual will have to be genetically treated and modified. Then it would have to survive back in the host and out compete the current dopaminergic cells in the brain. This is quite a bit harder than it sounds. Nevermind the fact we don't understand all of the genetic basis underlying Parkinson's or most other mental diseases. The mouse on the other hand had brain damage incurred by the drug to induce Parkinson's, so the treatment was only a matter of tissue repair, not replacement.

Repairing damaged tissue with stem cells is rather easy, as that's what our bodies have them around to do. Replacing genetically defective whole tissue with new stem cells, which have to compete with the current genetically deficient host somatic/stem cells, is a totally different ball park from what they did with the mice. So, this is a cool and highly important breakthrough for brain tissue repair and treating secondary Parkinson's, but not a cure for the actual genetic disease. Still, it is a step forward, and that's very much a good thing.

RE: Word of caution
By masher2 on 3/24/2008 4:40:59 PM , Rating: 2
> " Since primary Parkinson's is genetic..."

So we think, at least. And don't forget there are many people who suffer from secondary Parkinson's, induced by drug use or other factors (Michael J. Fox for just one example).

RE: Word of caution
By geddarkstorm on 3/25/2008 12:50:52 PM , Rating: 2
There are dozens of genetic mutations associated with primary Parkinson's, though that is as far as it goes. Nevertheless, since Parkinson's is a loss of dopaminergic neuron function, there obviously can easily be genetic causes that disrupt the pathway at any point (from formation of dopamine, to release, to reception).

I did not forget such people who have secondary Parkinson's or their numbers (if you truly read what I posted), or how this could be a potential cure for that which is why it's so cool and important (among other reasons). But to call this a cure to all Parkinson's would be a fallacy and miss the complexity of the issue. This treatment repaired already damaged tissue which is amazing, yes, but it did not replace genetically defective tissue, which is what is needed to treat a wide variety of neural and degenerative diseases. That is a fundamental and very important difference.

Finally, just because it worked in a mouse model doesn't mean it will in humans, though I don't see why it wouldn't. For instance, this has been the case for many potential treatments for cancers like using vaccinia virus that works great in mouse models infected with human cancers, but doesn't work at all in humans.

Getting too far ahead of ourselves and missing the larger issue is a quick way to botch good science and lead to a disillusioned public. I'm just saying it is good to have restraint, even with such exciting news and prospects as all this.

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