Monday, January 15, 2007
Study might help with cancer
UK researcher's work relates to stem cells
By Laura Ungar
A University of Kentucky researcher has found and mapped a gene that helps determine the number of adult stem cells in bone marrow — a discovery that promises to help cancer patients in the future.
The research, which has been done only in mice, was published in an online version of the journal Nature Genetics yesterday afternoon. It showed that the more of a gene called latexin a mouse has in its bone marrow, the fewer beneficial stem cells there are in the marrow.
Lead researcher Gary Van Zant figures that if doctors can find ways to reduce latexin, they could prevent its effects, giving cancer patients more stem cells. Doctors also might be able to look at latexin levels to determine who is a good bone marrow donor and who is not.
"This is the culmination of many years' work," said Van Zant, a professor of medicine in the division of hematology/oncology at UK, who collaborated with researchers in Cincinnati on the study.
Van Zant said his research was funded with three grants from the National Institutes of Health totaling $700,000 a year for four years. He expects clinical trials in humans to begin about a year from now, and said the public could benefit in five or more years.
Lee Ann Collins of Adair County, a 42-year-old leukemia survivor, said she's glad to hear about such research. In 2003, she said, she received a transplant of "peripheral stem cells" from a donor's blood that helped her bone marrow recover.
"It's very encouraging," said Collins, a married mother of two who works at a bank. "The more research they're doing, the more people can be helped."
Dr. Stan Gerson, director of the National Center for Regenerative Medicine, said Van Zant has been doing significant work in the world of adult stem cells and that his current research is the latest example.
"I would say it's an important breakthrough," said Gerson, whose center is a partnership of Case Western Reserve University, the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, and University Hospitals of Cleveland.
It's also one of a few recent advances in adult stem cell research in Kentucky. In December 2005, University of Louisville researcher Dr. Mariusz Ratajczak announced that he had coaxed stem cells from adult mice to change into brain, heart, nerve and pancreatic cells — mimicking embryonic stem cells. That work could alter the national debate about the use of embryonic stem cells and provide treatments for conditions such as heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
And early last year, another research team at UofL's James Graham Brown Cancer Center published research on nasal stem cells in adults. The research involved using certain chemicals to direct the cells to become neurons, which send and receive messages between the nervous system and other parts of the body. It promises to lead to treatments for spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease and other nerve disorders.
"Emphasis has been shifted" from embryonic stem cell research to adult stem cell research, Van Zant said. "The concentration on adult stem cells has been forced by the limitations placed on the use of embryonic stem cells."
Embryonic stem cell research has been controversial because it involves the destruction of embryos, which opponents say amounts to destroying human life. In 2001, President Bush restricted federal funding of research to existing lines of cells developed from embryos, citing concerns about the destruction of embryos.
Van Zant said he is continuing his research into adult stem cells. One area of inquiry is whether latexin plays a role in the development of cancer.
Collins, who last year met the Missouri Catholic priest who donated stem cells to her, said more research into cancer will hopefully help others avoid going through what she did.
In the future, she said, "I hope that (cancer) is less of a problem."