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Archive for March 11th, 2006

Researchers To Study Effectiveness Of Stem Cell Transplant In Human Brain

Posted by tumicrobiology on March 11, 2006

Source: Oregon Health & Science University

Researchers in Doernbecher Children’s Hospital at Oregon Health & Science University will begin a Phase I clinical trial using stem cells in infants and children with a rare neurodegenerative disorder that affects infants and children. The groundbreaking trial will test whether HuCNS-SC(TM), a proprietary human central nervous stem cell product developed by StemCells, Inc. is safe, and whether it can slow the progression of two forms of neuronal ceroid lipofuscinosis (NCL), a devastating disease that is always fatal. NCL is part of a group of disorders often referred to as Batten disease.

“NCL is a heartbreaking and devastating diagnosis for children and their families,” said Robert D. Steiner, M.D., F.A.A.P., F.A.C.M.G., vice chairman of pediatric research, head of the Division of Metabolism and the study’s principal investigator at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital, OHSU. Steiner also is an associate professor of pediatrics, and molecular and medical genetics in the OHSU School of Medicine. “While the preclinical research in the laboratory and in animals is promising, it is important to note that this is a safety trial and, to our knowledge, purified neural stem cell transplantation has never been done before. It is our hope that stem cells will provide an important therapeutic advance for these children who have no other viable options.”

NCL is caused by mutations or changes in the genes responsible for teaching the body how to make certain enzymes. Without these enzymes or proteins, material builds up inside brain neurons and other brain cells, causing a rapidly progressive decline in mental and motor function, blindness, seizures and early death. This study addresses two forms of NCL: infantile neuronal ceroid lipofuscinosis (INCL) and late-infantile neuronal ceroid lipofuscinosis (LINCL). Tragically, children with INCL typically die before age 5 and those with LINCL typically do not live past age 12.

“If delivering stem cells directly into the human brain is safe and effective, it will, in my opinion, be a major step forward in the efforts of scientists and clinicians around the country to find new treatments with the potential to help tens of thousands of patients with degenerative brain diseases,” said co-investigator Nathan Selden, M.D., Ph.D., F.A.C.S., F.A.A.P. “I am proud that Doernbecher Children’s Hospital will be part of this effort.” Selden is Campagna Associate Professor of Pediatric Neurological Surgery and head of the Division of Pediatric Neurological Surgery, Doernbecher and OHSU School of Medicine.

Up to six children from Oregon or around the country will undergo HuCNS-SC transplantation at Doernbecher. Previous studies of mice that are missing one of the enzymes that causes NCL have shown HuCNS-SC increases the amount of the missing enzyme, reduces the amount of abnormal material in the brain and prevents the death of some brain cells. No major side effects have been reported in animals.

StemCells, Inc. received clearance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to initiate a Phase 1 clinical trial of HuCNS-SC in October 2005. The company believes this will be the first trial using a purified composition of neural stem cells as a potential therapeutic agent in humans.

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Secret Sex Life Of Killer Fungus

Posted by tumicrobiology on March 11, 2006

Source: University of Manchester

A fungus that causes life-threatening infections in humans may be having sex, say scientists.

Aspergillus fumigatus, a fungus that has also been linked to asthma, had always been thought to reproduce asexually.

But a study by researchers at Nottingham and Manchester universities has revealed that the fungus has a series of genes required for sexual reproduction.

The discovery, published in the science journal Current Biology, has important implications for the way diseases caused by the fungus – estimated to affect some 5,000 people in the UK each year – are treated.

“The possible presence of sex in the species is highly significant as it affects the way we try and control disease,” said Dr David Denning, of The University of Manchester.

“If the fungus does reproduce sexually as part of its life cycle, then it might evolve more rapidly to become resistant to antifungal drugs – sex might create new strains with increased ability to cause disease and infect humans.”

The research team, headed by Dr Paul Dyer at the University of Nottingham, used a number of techniques to study the fungus’s genetic make-up or genome.

The analysis of 290 specimens worldwide revealed that the fungus was composed of nearly equal proportions of two different sexes or ‘mating types’, which in theory could have sex with each other.

Further investigations, in Europe and America, showed that genes had been, or were being, exchanged between individuals of the fungus and that some key genes involved with detecting a partner were active in the fungus.

“Taken as a whole, the results indicate that the fungus has a recent evolutionary history of sexual activity and might still be having sex so far ‘unseen’ by human eyes,” said Dr Dyer.

“The sexual cycle could be a useful genetic tool for scientists to study the way in which the fungus causes disease.”

Further work is now aimed at seeing if the fungus can truly reproduce by sexual means.

Dr Dyer added: “The fungus is very common in compost heaps so these might be a hotbed of fungal sex!”

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The team working on the research was headed by Paul Dyer (University of Nottingham) with lead researchers David Denning (The University of Manchester), Mathieu Paoletti (University of Nottingham) and Carla Rydholm (Duke University, USA)

The work was funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (UK), the Fungal Research Trust (UK) and Duke University (USA).

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