Nanotubes Mediate Functional Switch in Mesenchymal Stem Cells to Cardiac Muscle-like Cells

Stem cell scientists from Dublin, Ireland have exploited the electrical properties of a material that is widely used in nanotechnology to grow cells that can more efficiently regenerate the heart.

In Ireland, heart disease is the leading cause of death. Heart attacks damage the heart muscle, and the adult heart has very little ability to heal itself. Presently, there are no approved methods for repairing damaged heart muscle.

New work from a research team at the Regenerative Medicine Institute (REMEDI) at the National University of Ireland, in collaboration with Trinity College Dublin brought together the skill of materials scientists, biologists and physicians.

Cell-based therapies for heart disease have been the subject of intense research over the last ten years, and there have certainly been some very hopeful clinical trials in the last few years. This new approach, led by Drs. Valerie Barron and Mary Murphy at the REMEDI, capitalized on an observation of carbon nanotubes. Carbon nanotubes are reactive to electrical stimulation. These nanotubes were then used to modify the activity of mesenchymal stem cells from bone marrow.
According to Dr. Barrow, “The electrical properties of the nanomaterial triggered a response in the mesenchymal (adult) stem cells, which we sourced from human bone marrow. In effect, they became electrified, which made them morph into more cardiac-like cells.” She continued: “This is a totally new approach and provides a ready-source of tailored cells, which have the potential to be used as a new therapy. Excitingly, this symbiotic strategy lays the foundation for other clinically challenging areas such as in the brain and the spinal cord.”

Mesenchymal stem cells have a deep history as a source of cells for treating heart attack patients. Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) have the capacity to improve the heart if implanted after a heart attack, but the mechanism by which they do this is multifaceted and somewhat mysterious. The therapeutic capacity of MSCs is improved if they are pre-conditioned or genetically modified to survive better in the hostile environment of the heart after a heart attack. However, MSCs have only a very limited ability to differentiate into heart muscle cells, and this is one of the largest limitations MSCs as therapeutic agents for heart attacks.

This new work suggests that MSCs can be shifted into a more heart muscle-like state by means of electrical stimulation. Nanotube-mediated stimulation seems to be even more effective for such a shift, and this work might be the beginning of a new strategy to augment the therapeutic capacities of MSCs for treating heart attacks.

BrainStorm Announces that There Are No Dangerous Side Effects Observed in NurOwn Trial

A developer of innovative stem cell technologies, BrainStorm Cell Therapeutics Inc. has developed a stem cell treatment called NurOwn for central nervous system-based disorders. NurOwn™ is a product derived from human bone marrow mesenchymal stem cells. After these cells are collected from a patient by means of a bone marrow aspiration (which not nearly as invasive as a bone marrow biopsy), they are differentiated into nerve-like cells that can release the neurotransmitter dopamine and a nervous system-specific growth factor called glial-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF). Dopamine cell damage and death is the hallmark of Parkinson’s Disease (PD), and GDNF-producing cells can protect healthy dopamine-producing cells and repair degenerated cells. This halts the progression of PD and other neurodegenerative diseases. BrainStorm’s NurOwn™ therapy for PD replaces degenerated dopamine-producing nerve cells and strengthens them with GDNF.

BrainStorm has just announced patient data from its ALS combined phase I & II human clinical trial. ALS patients who were treated with NurOwn, a stem cell-based product that BrainStorm had developed, did not show any significant side effects to the NurOwn treatment. Therefore, so far, NurOwn seems to be safe.

The leader of this clinical trial at Hadassah Medical Center, Prof. Dimitrios Karussis, stated, “There have been no significant side effects in the initial patients we have treated with BrainStorm’s NurOwn technology. In addition, even though we are conducting a safety trial, the early clinical follow-up of the patients treated with the stem cells shows indications of beneficial clinical effects, such as an improvement in breathing and swallowing ability as well as in muscular power. I am very excited about the safety results, as well as these indications of efficacy, we are seeing. This may represent the biggest hope in this field of degenerative diseases, like ALS.”

The Hadassah Medical Center ethics committee reviewed the safety data from the first four patients who were implanted with NurOwnTM, and concluded that the clinical trial should proceed with implanting the next group of ALS patients.

BrainStorm’s President, Chaim Lebovits, remarked: “We are happy to report that the first patients treated with our NurOwn technology did not present any significant side effects. This supports and strengthens our belief and trust in our technology. Based on the interim safety report, the hospital ethical and safety committee granted the company approval to proceed with treating the next patients. We are pleased with the progress we are making and look forward to continuing to demonstrate the safety of NurOwn in the future.”

This study is headed by Prof. Karussis, MD, PhD, head of Hadassah’s Multiple Sclerosis Center and a member of the International Steering Committees for Bone Marrow and Mesenchymal Stem Cells Transplantation in Multiple Sclerosis (MS), and a scientific team from BrainStorm headed by Prof. Eldad Melamed. This clinical trial is being conducted at Hadassah Medical Center in Israel in collaboration with BrainStorm and utilizes BrainStorm’s NurOwn technology for growing and modifying autologous adult human stem cells to treat ALS, which is often referred to as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. The initial phase of the study is designed to establish the safety of NurOwn, but will also be expanded later to assess efficacy of the treatment.