It becomes more evident as time goes by that if a stem-cell development isn’t based on embryonic research, it probably won’t get the attention of the Formerly Mainstream Media.
The announcement early last week by Cellerant Therapeutics appears to involve a company more interested in advancing human health than in generating unsupported hype. Because it represents real progress, Cellerant’s announcement (of course) involves adult stem cells (link to dictionary definition of “hematopoietic” added by me):
April 23, 2007 10:13 AM Eastern Daylight Time
Cellerant Therapeutics Reversed Autoimmune Disease in Lupus Mice with Transplant of Purified Donor Blood Stem Cells
SAN CARLOS, Calif.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Cellerant Therapeutics today announced the publication of data suggesting that established autoimmune disease can be reversed or stabilized by the transplantation of purified allogeneic (donated) hematopoietic (blood forming) stem cells (HSC) in a mouse study of Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE). Subjects that underwent this procedure exhibited improved overall survival and decreased lupus symptoms. The research, led by Dr. Julie Christensen with colleagues from Cellerant and Stanford University, was published on April 13, 2007 as a First Edition Paper in the online version of the American Society of Hematologyâ€™s journal, BLOOD (Smith-Berdan et. al., DOI 10.1182/BLOOD-2007-03-081497).
â€œThe demonstration of successful reversal of the disease using purified stem cells with non-myeloablative conditioning offers a novel strategy to treat autoimmune diseases such as lupus with decreased morbidity,â€ said Ramkumar Mandalam, Ph.D., Vice President of Pharmaceutical Operations. â€œThis study also provides further support for our belief that purified stem cells may make it possible to use un-matched donors, such as a parent or non-identical sibling, for a variety of HSC treatment procedures.â€
â€œThe publication of this preclinical data further validate Cellerantâ€™s unique use of pure hematopoietic stem cells for a wide range of therapeutic applications, including lupus and other autoimmune disorders, as well as for cancer and blood disorders,â€ commented Bruce Cohen, Cellerantâ€™s President and CEO. â€œThis finding is consistent with recent reports on successful use of hematopoietic stem cell transplantation for the treatment of autoimmune diseases and merits evaluation of pure stem cells in treating such diseases.â€
Cellerant researchers worked with specialized mice that are prone to an autoimmune condition that closely resembles human SLE. The study evaluated both non-ablative conditioning, which leaves the subjectâ€™s immune system intact, and fully myeloablative conditioning, which eradicates the subjectâ€™s immune system, prior to purified HSC treatment. Traditionally, full, and potentially lethal, myeloablative treatment was considered critical for engraftment success. The researchers found that non-ablative conditioning prior to HSC treatment was not only sufficient to ensure engraftment, but the procedure resulted in improved overall survival. The recipient subjects developed durable mixed chimerism, where the resulting immune system was a mixture of donor and recipient cells. Subjects with established autoimmune disease experienced a reversal of symptoms, including decreased appearance of proteinuria, of circulating immune complexes and of auto-antibodies to nuclear antigens.
The donors and recipients in this study were haplo-mismatched, yet successful engraftment was achieved and graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) was avoided. These results suggest that using a HCT treatment that has been purified of all or most host T cells and NK cells may eliminate the need for complete donor/patient stem cell matching. T-cells were not found to be necessary for engraftment in the procedures performed.
Cellerant’s highly purified hematopoietic (blood-forming) adult stem cells are isolated from donors or patients undergoing stem cell transplants. This process is designed to provide an improved outcome when used for stem cell transplant indications where a high level of purity is desired or required. After purification, this material contains only stem and progenitor cells, with no detectable contaminating cells such as tumor cells or the T-cells which cause graft-versus-host disease in donor-to-patient transplants. Cellerant is developing hematopoietic stem cells for cancer, genetic blood disorders and autoimmune disease.
In August of last year, Advanced Cell Technology’s alleged embryonic stem-cell research breakthrough (that wasn’t one) that supposedly “did not harm embryos” received blanket Old Media coverage. Yet, despite real news to report, Old Media is paying no attention to Cellerant’s announcement. A few different placements of Cellerant’s press release from five days ago will be the only things you’ll see in a Google News search.
All of this could be viewed as just a PR war, but for one thing: Companies that get favorable press coverage will tend to be more successful in obtaining funding to continue their efforts. Advanced Cell, for example, was able to get over $13.5 million in additional private financing that was directly related to its “breakthrough” announcement. Post-hype objections usually don’t achieve the visibility of the original hype. Though the complaints about Advanced Cell’s claims got wider coverage than usual, that coverage was dwarfed by the saturation reporting on the company’s original announcement.
Since Cellerant is a private, venture-backed company, it’s not possible to quickly determine what kind of financial shape the company is in. But in general, to the extent that companies like Cellerant don’t get the funding that they need to continue their progress at the rate they would like because overhyped, no-results-to-date embryonic research companies and organizations are getting the attention and the capital, progress in fighting disease and advancing human health may be held back.
We know this much about embryonic stem cell research â€” besides the ethical concerns, not one human has received a successful treatment with them. People are being cured and treated every day with adult stem cells. It seems pretty obvious where the funding should go.
But it largely ISN’T where the funding, especially the public funding, is going.
Five or ten years from now, will we be asking ourselves how many lives that could have been saved or improved by adult and other non-embryonic stem cell research efforts were instead sacrificed because of money diverted to the black hole of embryonic stem cell research?
Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.
UPDATE, Apr. 28: The VentureBeat blog is reporting that Cellerant got $4.4 mil in second-round financing. That is good news, but note that it’s only 1/3 of what the hypesters at Advanced Cell received for accomplishing nothing of note.