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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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By tmouse on 3/25/2008 9:03:56 AM , Rating: 2
Well my research is in the field of micro RNAs roles in stem cell development so here is my 2 cents. I personally do not see the overwhelming drive my colleges have in pushing the human stem cell agenda except for patents or fame. Our knowledge of what is actually going on during commitment and differentiation is virtually nil. These questions simply cannot be answered in a genetically intractable system like humans. There is a growing amount of "cowboy" science driven by the funding crisis caused by the past few decades of unprecedented growth of the number of life scientists. Some papers are quite scary and while they show interesting observations’ often offer no real explanations’ and do not adequately explore additional problems caused by the treatments.

Scientifically speaking it is absurd to define human life as starting at any other point other than fertilization. There has never been an example of trans-speciation that I am aware of, you do not become more or less human throughout life, and this is the central dogma of genetics. The zygote is simply not like any other cell, such thinking is simply nonsense. No other cell can be placed into a deciduas environment and result in the formation of an organism. Humans have a unicellular, free floating stage of life followed by a parasitical stage, finally resulting in an independent stage. A fly zygote is no more or less a fly than a larva or adult. Now if you want to debate when legal protection is offered that is not my field so I would yield to the majority’s views.

I personally feel embryonic stem cells are a quick, messy attempt and will not be fruitful in the long run. They are simply easier to use and very pliable but the multipotency is a feature as well as a problem. There are several studies showing rejection problems and tumorgenesis that seem to be ignored by the majority. Not to mention the legal /ethical dilemmas they generate. I guess I am more cynical than I used to be but I feel if someone can abuse something for profit someone will. Endogenous “adult” stem cells are a better venue and it may be possible to trans- differentiate cell types but this will require greater understanding of the normal process first. The problem is this is not “sexy” enough and since it doesn’t lead to direct treatments; projects which propose more observational research vs experimental manipulation are often given “lip praise” but poor peer review scores in the current funding crisis.

As for the papers in question I think they are fine works but I will reserve my judgments on their “medical miracle” status until I can read the entire papers. It doesn’t surprise me let-7 suppresses tumor growth, although it did not seem to stop it just reduce tumor load. It is interesting to see nasal application having effects but it is most likely transitory at best which is great for Asuragen, not so great for the patient. The Parkinson’s paper is also interesting but no surprise. Somatic cloning overcomes the rejection problems but since we have poor understanding of the long term effects of cells produced from epigenetically modified nuclei the potential for tumorgenesis remains, but I will concede maybe relief from Parkinson’s now may be worth the risk of brain cancer later for some. I do worry about the “egg” market this type of treatment would require if treatments for other more wide spread types of ailments are founded from this venue of research.

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