Cancer Stem Cell Research Leads to Clinical Trials


Dennis Slamon and Zev Wainberg from the UCLA Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research have been awarded a Disease Team Therapy Development award to begin clinical trials in human patients early in 2014.

In this clinical trial, Slamon and Wainberg will test a new drug that targets cancer stem cells. This drug was developed by research and development over the last decade on the cancer stem cell hypothesis. The cancer stem cell hypothesis predicts that proliferating stem cells are the main drivers of tumor growth and are also resistant to standard cancer treatments.  This new drug, CFI-400945, has prevented cancer growth in an extensive series of laboratory animal tests.

An important extension of the cancer stem cell hypothesis is that cancer stem cells inhabit a particular niche that prevents anticancer drugs from reaching them. Alternatively, tumors become resistant to cancer drugs by a process called “cell fate decision,” in which some cancer stem cells are killed by chemotherapy, but other cells replace them and repopulate the tumor. This tumor repopulation is the main reason for cancer recurrence.

The new anticancer drug to be tested in this clinical trial targets the “polo-like kinase 4.” Inhibition of this enzyme effectively blocks cell fate decisions that cause cancer stem cell renewal and tumor cell growth. Thus inhibition of this enzyme effectively stops tumor growth.

This clinical trial will test this novel chemotherapeutic agent in patients to establish the safety of the drug. After these initial safety tests, the trial will quickly proceed to further clinical tests. “We are excited to continue to test this drug in humans for the first time,” said Wainberg. Slamon, Wainberg and others will also look for biological markers to determine how well their drug is working in each patient.

The US Food and Drug Administration approved the Investigational New Drug (IND) for this drug trial. Also, Health Canada, the Canadian government’s therapeutic regulatory agency, also approved this trial. These approvals are part of an international effort to bring leading-edge stem cell science to patients.

Phase 2 Clinical Trial that Tests Stem Cell Treatment for Heart Attack Patients to be Funded by California Institute for Regenerative Medicine


A new stem cell therapy that treats heart attack patients with cells from a donor has been approved to begin a Phase 2 clinical trial.

Capricor Therapeutics Inc. a regenerative medicine company, has developed this treatment, which extracts donor stem cells from the heart called “cardiosphere-derived cells,” and then infuses them into the heart of the heart attack patient by means of a heart catheter procedure, which is quite safe. These stem cells are introduced into the heart to reduce scarring in the heart and potentially replace dead heart muscle cells. One clinical trial called the CADUCEUS trial has already shown that cardiosphere-derived cells can reduce the size of the heart scar.

In a previous phase I study (phase I studies typically only ascertain the safety of a treatment), cardiosphere-derived cells were infused into the hearts of 14 heart attack patients. No major safety issues were observed with these treatments, and therefore, phase 2 studies were warranted.

Alan Trounson, Ph.D., president of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), which is funding the trial, said this about the phase 2 trial approval: “This is really encouraging news and marks a potential milestone for the use of stem cells to treat heart disease. Funding this type of work is precisely what our Disease Team Awards were designed to do, to give promising treatments up to $20 million dollars to develop new treatments for some of the deadliest diseases in America.”

Capricor was given approval by the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) Gene and Cell Therapy (GST) to move into the next phase of clinical trials after these regulatory bodies had thoroughly reviewed the safety data from the phase 1 study. After NHLBI and GST determined that the phase 1 study met all the required goals, CIRM also independently reviewed the safety data from the Phase 1 and other aspects of the Phase 2 clinical trial design and operations. Upon successful completion of the independent review, Capricor was given approval to move forward into the CIRM-funded Phase 2 component of the study

Capricor CEO Linda Marbán, Ph.D., said, “Meeting the safety endpoints in the Phase 1 portion of the trial is a giant leap forward for the field and for Capricor Therapeutics. By moving into the Phase 2 portion of this trial, we can now attempt to replicate the results in a larger population.”

For the next phase, an estimated 300 patients who have had heart attacks will be evaluated in a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial. One group of heart-attack patients will include people 30 to 90 days following the heart attack, and a second group will follow patients 91 days to one year after the incident. Other patients will receive placebos and neither the patients nor the treating physicians know who will receive what.  This clinical trial should definitely determine if an “off-the-shelf” stem cell product can improve the function of a heart attack patient’s heart.

The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) is funding this clinical trial, and for this CIRM should be lauded.  However, when CIRM was brought into existence through the passage of proposition 71, it sold itself as a state-funded entity that would deliver embryonic stem cell-based cures.  Now I know that director Alan Trounson has denied that, but Wesley Smith at the National Review “Human Exceptionalism” blog and the LA times blogger Michael Hiltzik have both documented that Trounson and others said exactly that.  Isn’t ironic that one of the promises intimated by means of embryo-destroying research is now being fulfilled by means of non-embryo-destroying procedures?  If taxpayer money is going to fund research like this, then I’m all for it, but CIRM has to first clean up its administrative act before they deserve a another penny of taxpayer money.

Using Human Stem Cells to Predict the Efficacy of Alzheimer’s Drugs


Scientists who work in the pharmaceutical industry have seen this time and time again: A candidate drug that works brilliantly in laboratory animals fails to work in human trials. So what’s up with this?

Now a research consortium from the University of Bonn and the biomedical company Life & Brain GmbH has shown that animal models of Alzheimer’s disease fail to recapitulate the results observed with cultured human nerve cells made from stem cells. Thus, they conclude that candidate Alzheimer’s disease drugs should be tested in human nerve cells rather than laboratory animals.

In the brains of patients with Alzheimer’s disease beta-amyloid protein deposits form that are deleterious to nerve cells. Scientists who work for drug companies are trying to find compounds that prevent the formation of these deposits. In laboratory mice that have a form of Alzheimer’s disease, over-the-counter drugs called NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), which include such population agents as aspirin, Tylenol, Advil, Nuprin and so on prevent the formation of beta-amyloid deposits. However in clinical trials, the NSAIDs royally flopped (see Jaturapatporn DIsaac MGMcCleery JTabet N. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012 Feb 15;2:CD006378).

Professor Oliver Brüstle, the director of the Institute for Reconstructive Neurobiology at the University of Bonn and Chief Executive Officer of Life and Brain GmbH, said, “The reasons for these negative results have remained unclear for a long time.”

Jerome Mertens, a former member of Professor Brüstle’s research, and the lead author on this work, said, “Remarkably, these compounds were never tested directly on the actual target cells – the human neuron.”

The reason for this disparity is not difficult to understand because purified human neurons were very difficult to acquire. However, advances in stem cell biology have largely solved this problem, since patient-specific induced pluripotent stem cells can be grow in large numbers and differentiated into neurons in large numbers.

Using this technology, Brüstle and his collaborators from the University of Leuven in Belgium have made nerve cells from human patients. These cells were then used to test the ability of NSAIDs to prevent the formation of beta-amyloid deposits.

According to Philipp Koch, who led this study, “To predict the efficacy of Alzheimer drugs, such tests have to be performed directly on the affected human nerve cells.”

Nerve cells made from human induced pluripotent stem cells were completely resistant to NSAIDs. These drugs showed no ability to alter the biochemical mechanisms in these cells that eventually lead to the production of beta-amyloid.

Why then did they work in laboratory animals? Koch and his colleagues think that biochemical differences between laboratory mice and human cells allow the drugs to work in one but not in the other. In Koch’s words, “The results are simply not transferable.”

In the future, scientists hope to screen potential Alzheimer’s disease drugs with human cells made from the patient’s own cells.

“The development of a single drug takes an average of ten years,” said Brüstle. “By using patient-specific nerve cells as a test system, investments by pharmaceutical companies and the tedious search for urgently needed Alzheimer’s medications could be greatly streamlined.”

Human Neural Stem Cells Heal Damaged Limbs


The term “ischemia” refers to conditions under which a part of your body, organ, or tissue is deprived of oxygen. Without life-giving cells begin to die. Therefore, ischemia is usually a very bad thing.

Critical limb ischemia or CLI results when blood vessels to the legs, feet or arms are severely obstructed. The results of CLI are never pretty, and CLI remains a medical condition that presents few treatment options.

A study from a research team and the University of Bristol’s School of Clinical Sciences has used stem cells in a trial that uses laboratory mice to treat CLI. The success of this study provides a new direction and new hope for procedures that relieve symptoms and prolong the life of the limb.

Autologous stem cells treatments, or those stem treatments that utilize a patient’s own stem cells care subject to clear limitations. After collection from bone marrow, fat, or other source, the stem cells must be expanded in culture after stimulation with chemicals called cytokines. After growth in culture, the cells typically contain a collection of different types of stem cells of variable quality and potency. Also, if the patients has had a heart attack or has diabetes, then the quality and potency of their own stem cells are seriously compromised.

To circumvent this problem, Paulo Madeddu and his team at the Bristol Heart Institute have used an immortalized human neural stem cell line called CTX to treat animals who suffered from diabetes mellitus and CLI.

The CTX cell line comes from a biotechnology company called ReNeuron. This company is using this cell line in a clinical trial for stoke patients, and wants to use the CTX cell line in a clinical trial for CLI patients in the future.

When CTX cells are injected into the muscle of diabetic mice with CLI, the cells promote recovery from CLI. The CTX cells do so by promoting the growth of new blood vessels.

Madeddu said, “There are not effective drug interventions to treat CLI. The consequences are a very poor quality of life, possible major amputation and a life expectancy of less than one year from diagnosis in 50 percent of all CLI patients.”

Dr. Madeddu continued: “Our findings have shown a remarkable advancement towards more effective treatments for CLI and we have also demonstrated the importance of collaborations between universities and industry that can have a social and medical impact.”

New Clinical Trial to Examine Stem Cell Treatment for Cerebral Palsy in Children


A new clinical trial that is probably one of the first of its kind will study two types of stem cell treatments for children who have cerebral palsy. The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) Medical School will host this trial.

This trial will be conducted in a blinded fashion and will test the efficacy of stem cells against a placebo. The types of stem cells investigated in this clinical trial include banked cord blood stem cells and bone marrow stem cells. Charles S. Cox Jr., M.D., professor of pediatric surgery at the UTHealth Medical School and director of the Pediatric Trauma Program at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital will lead this clinical trial, and Sean I. Savitz, M.D., chair of the UTHealth Department of Neurology will serve as the co-principal investigator.

This FDA-approved study builds on Dr. Cox’s previous work on traumatic brain injury and the use of stem cell therapy to treat it in children and adults. In particular, Cox has focuses on those patients who have been admitted to Children’s Memorial Hermann and Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center after having suffered a traumatic brain injury. Prior research by Cox and others have shown that stem cells derived from a patient’s own bone marrow can be used safely used in pediatric patients with traumatic brain injury. In this clinical trial, Cox is also studying cord blood stem cell treatment for these injuries in a separate clinical trial.

Cox’s trials will enroll a total of 30 children between the ages of 2 and 10 who have cerebral palsy. 15 of these subjects have will have their own cord blood banked at Cord Blood Registry (CBR), and 15 will not have banked any cord blood. In each of these groups, five subjects will be randomized to a placebo control group.

After treatment the children will be neurologically assessed at six, 12 and 24 months. None of the parents will be told if their child received stem cells or a placebo until the 12-month follow-up exam, and at this time, those parents whose children received the placebo may elect to have their child receive a stem cell treatment either by means of stem cells isolated from bone marrow harvest or with stem cells from cord blood banked with CBR.

Collaborators in the study include CBR, Let’s Cure CP, TIRR Foundation and Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital.

Stem Cell Treatments to Improve Blood Flow in Angina Patients


Angina pectoris is defined as chest pain or discomfort that results from poor blood flow through the blood vessels in the heart and is usually activated by activity or stress.

In Los Angeles, California, physicians have initiated a double-blind, multicenter Phase III clinical trial that uses a patient’s own blood-derived stem cells to restore circulation to the heart of angina patients.

This procedure utilizes state-of-the-art imaging technology to map the heart and generate a three-dimensional image of the heart. These sophisticated images will guide the physicians as they inject stem cells into targeted sites in the heart.

This is a double-blinded study, which means that neither the patients nor the researcher will know who is receiving stem-cell injections and who is receiving the placebo.

The institution at which this study is being conducted, University of Los Angeles (UCLA), is attempting to establish evidence for a stem cell treatment that might be approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for patients with refractory angina. The subjects in this study had received the standard types of care but did not receive relief. Therefore by enrolling in this trial, these patients had nothing to lose.

Dr. Ali Nasir, assistant professor of cardiology at the David Geffen School of Medicine and co-principal investigator of this study, said: “We’re hoping to offer patients who have no other options a treatment that will alleviate their severe chest pain and improve their quality of life.”

Before injecting the stem cells or the placebo, the team examined the three-dimensional image of the heart and ascertained the health of the heart muscle and voltage it generated. Damaged areas of the heart fail to produce adequate quantities of voltage and show low levels of energy.

Jonathan Tobis, clinical professor of cardiology and director of interventional cardiology research at Geffen School of Medicine, said: “We are able to tell by the voltage levels and motion which area of the [heart] muscle is scarred or abnormal and not getting enough blood and oxygen. We then targeted the injections to the areas just adjacent to the scarred and abnormal heart muscle to try to restore some of the blood flow.”

What did they inject? The UCLA team extracted bone marrow from the pelvic bones and isolated CD34+ cells. CD34 refers to a cell surface protein that is found on bone marrow stem cells and mediates the adhesion of bone marrow stem cells to the bone marrow matrix. It is found on the surfaces of hematopoietic stem cells, placental cells, a subset of mesenchymal stem cells, endothelial progenitor cells, and endothelial cells of blood vessels. These are not the only cells that express this cell surface protein, but it does list the important cells for our purposes. Once the CD34+ cells were isolated, the were injected into the heart through a catheter that was inserted into a vein in the groin.

CD34

The team hopes that these cells (a mixture of mesenchymal stem cells, hematopoietic stem cells, and endothelial progenitor cells) will stimulate the growth of new blood vessels (angiogenesis) in the heart, and improve blood flow and oxygen delivery to the heart muscle.

“We will be tracking patients to see how they’re doing,” said William Suh MD, assistant clinical professor of medicine in the division of cardiology at Geffen School of Medicine.

The goal of this study is to enroll 444 patients nation-wide, of which 222 will receive the stem cell treatment, 111 will receive the placebo, and 111 who will be given standard heart care.

Tendon Stem Cells to Repair Torn Tendons


The Australian regenerative medicine company Orthocell Limited has announced the results of their recent clinical trial in which a patented Orthocell stem cell technology was used to repair torn tendons.

Tendon injuries are one of the most common causes of occupational- and sports-related disabilities. Current clinical treatments are not terribly effective. Orthocell’s new technique, autologous tenocyte implantation (Ortho-ATIT) uses biopsies of healthy tendons, isolation and cultivation of tendon stem cells (tenocytes), and re-injection of those cells into the injured tendon. The injection process takes about 20 minutes and is less invasive than surgery.

Tenocytes
Tenocytes

The data from this clinical trial confirm that Ortho-ATIT is safe and effective at relieving pain and repairing tendon injuries. The patients in this study had failed at least one previous therapy, including physiotherapy and corticosteroid injections. However as a result of being treated with Ortho-ATIT, patients achieved significant improvement in tendon function and structural integrity.

Orthocell Managing Director Paul Anderson said that the clinical study indicates great potential for the Ortho-ATIT stem cell-based tendon repair technology.

Anderson said, “We are now focusing our efforts on offering this world class treatment more widely to patients throughout Australasia, and we are also investigating new potential markets overseas.”

Ortho-ATIT is the result of over 10 years of research and development by Professor Ming Hao Zheng‘s research group at the Centre for Translational Orthopaedic Research at the University of Western Australia.

Amanda Redwood, a 45-year old mother of two children who participated in this clinical trial said that Ortho-ATIT relieved her severe elbow pain within six months. Redwood said, “I experienced debilitating symptoms of tennis elbow for more than 16 months before I had the procedure. Within six weeks of the injection the pain started to subside and within 6 months it was gone.”

Ortho-ATIT has been approved by the Therapeutics Good Administration (TGA) in Australia. The technology is available to patients in Australasia who have failed conservative treatment.