The Niche

This week: diabetes deal, new building, seeing rats, young innovator

Stem cells for diabetes got a vote of confidence this week, with giant Novo Nordisk entering into a deal with Cellartis and Lund University to create insulin-producing cells for diabetes. Novo Nordisk has been selling insulin since 1923 and knows the diabetes market well. Additionally, Geron announced a publication on its progress coaxing embryonic stem cells into what it calls islet-like clusters. The cells secrete insulin, glucagon, and other factors, as well as responding to glucose levels. These technologies are still far from clinical trials, and the buzz is that southern California’s Novocell is in the lead for bringing ES-cell products to trial for diabetes.

Two stem cell stories this week come from Palo Alto. On Monday, Stanford University broke ground for their new stem cell building, reported to be the largest in the US. It is funded by private donors and funds from the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine.

On Thursday, company StemCells ( also known for its clinical trial in Batten’s disease ) reported that its purified preparation of neural stem cells preserved sight in a rat model of vision loss, and that grafted cells persisted for as long as 150 days. The results were presented in a seminar and have not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal. CIRM leader Bob Klein is also enthused about using stem cells for sight. When he signed a memorandum of understanding with the UK last week, he constantly referred to work by Peter Coffee from the British Institute of Opthamology that he felt was close to clinical trials.

Finally, Harvard’s Konrad Hochedlinger was named one of MIT’s Technology Reviews top young innovators. Along with Rudolf Jaenisch and Shinya Yamanaka, he created iPS cells that could contribute to germline, a stringent test of pluripotency. He recently reported how to make iPS cells without permanently changing the genome (see Integration-free iPS cells). Technology Review has links to his work and will tell you exactly how young he is.


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