The Niche

$1.4 billion stem-cell deal; stem-cell measure in Michigan; cloning resurrection; heart scaffolds

Besides electing a new president, voters in Michigan are standing in line this morning to decide on whether state scientists can try to derive embryonic stem cells from embryos left over after fertility treatments. (See Nature news coverage ). There are plenty of non-election stem cell stories out there, too.

Big stem-cell therapy deal

In a stock-boosting deal, Osiris has teamed up with established company Genzyme, to develop and commercialize two stem-cell products. Osiris gets $130 million by July 2009, and up to another $1.25 billion in other payments if and when the two products, Prochymal (for graft-vs-host disease and other indications) and Chondrogen (for osteoarthritis), start making serious money. Neither has yet been approved by the FDA. The products come from preparations of mesenchymal stem cells taken from healthy volunteers. (We’ve covered Osiris several times. See Stem cells for the heart, a new wave of clinical trials , Questioning the self cell, and In search of a viable business model)

Long-frozen mice cloned

Researchers in Kobe, Japan have derived mice from cells that had been frozen for sixteen years. Nuclei from long-dead brain and blood cells revived when placed into enucleated egg cells to generate embryos. In most animal cloning experiments, these embryos would be transferred to a surrogate mother; instead, the researchers first made embryonic stem cells from the embryos, then transferred nuclei from those living cells into enucleated eggs to make clones. Year-long frozen mice had been cloned before, and frozen tissue from a dead pet pit bull has also been used, but cells frozen for sixteen years are in much worse shape, and so naturally talk turns to woolly mammoths; the lead researcher, Teruhiko Wakayama, responsibly says that finding clonable cells in a mouse stored in a consistently cold freezer for a fraction of a century is considerably easier than accomplishing the same for cells going through varying levels of freezing for thousands of years. (Oh, yeah, and no one has made elephant embryonic stem cells or cloned a pachyderm, plus those animals are just a bit bigger with longer gestation times) (See the Great Beyond )

Stem-cell seeded scaffold beats

MIT scientists have made a biodegradable scaffold to grow heart muscle from stem cells, just published in Nature Methods and written up with a video in Technology Review. The idea is that the scaffold helps the cardiomyocytes ‘line up’ properly, then naturally degrades leaving only healthy tissue in its place. Right now, the patch is too thin to be of much use, but it’s a promising first step to repairing hearts in situ. Similar technologies have seeded stem cells into a naturally formed rat heart (See Ghost heart has a tiny beat ); there are lots of other approaches too. (See Christine Mummery: Regenerating the heart)


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