Tag Archives: embryonic stem cells

The Latest Thoughts on Why Ocata is Being Bought out by Astellas

A snippet from Part 4 of Light a Candle: (warning: narrative excellence not guaranteed):

How exactly had this happened? Where had everything gone wrong, and why? We were all groping the dark for answers. I knew better than most people that it had almost certainly not happened because of problems with the science. I still winced when remembering the endless odysseys to the OHSU library, wheedling my way in to do forbidden research—or at least research that it was forbidden to do in any more convenient way if you’re weren’t either a student or a professor. It also didn’t really explain anything to say that Astellas had been willing to do the JV and then leaped on the opportunity to take over the company outright. Who wouldn’t have done that? Why were they able to do it? That was the real question, and the key.

Pentecostal protestors weren’t marching with pickets around Pfizer. The top corporate officers at Janssen Pharmaceuticals weren’t raving evangelicals. Death threats weren’t being sent to the entire board of directors at GM. Nothing immediate was happening, and perhaps it would be better if it were. The obvious and immediate threat could be confronted and fought. But the sneaky sludge clogging the gears had been building up for many years. In brief? The long-term situation created by “religious” protests had led to the current reality, which was that Ocata’s perceived worth was a fraction of its real one. The market ran on fear, uncertainty, and doubt. Logic often had little to do with value that was perceived. Ocata did not have current cures that were commercially available. People couldn’t take their blind grandmas to the retinal specialist and bring them back crying, “I can see again!” Embryonic stem cell research was buried under layers and layers and layers of smothering superstition, fear, and a strange hatred. So direct experience was all that would convince the average person. And it was still years away from happening.

Except that in Japan, it wouldn’t be. That culture simply didn’t care; they were untroubled by the shibboleths. They knew that saving people’s lives, adults’ lives, children’s lives, was more important than hysterically clinging to some insane illusion about the value of a blastocyst that would otherwise have been thrown into a dumpster behind a fertility clinic.

Another rant was definitely shaping up. I rubbed my nose.

The Missing Word: Why we don’t have stem cell cures.

If you have been following stem cell research at all, and especially if you or a loved one has an incurable disease that could only be cured by a stem cell-based treatment, there’s one question that has burned in your mind and kept you up at 3 a.m. more than once. And it’s this.

After so many years of heavily funded ADULT stem cell research, why don’t we have stem cell cures?

The answer is both simple and heartbreaking. The wrong kind of research has been funded. If adult stem cell research was ever going to get much of anywhere, then the last stem cell treatment approved by the FDA would not have been in 1956. Yep, you read that right. NINETEEN FIFTY-SIX.As in fifty-nine years ago.

Funding for embryonic stem cells has been blocked not once, but FOUR SEPARATE TIMES. The federal funding block would still exist if Shirley vs. Sibelius hadn’t narrowly been struck down by the Supreme Court two years ago. The only type of stem cell therapy that holds any real hope of helping suffering human beings has been defunded, demonized, villified, and found guilty by association.That’s why Ocata’s revolutionary stem cell research is going to Japan, where they really don’t care about the supposed “morality” of using HESC’s. (The irony, of course, is that Ocata’s stem cell technology doesn’t destroy embryos at all. The research itself is guilty by association.) No, they care more about cures, which is apparently too much to ask in the U.S. (and apparently the entire Western world, seeing as how Nouse is a British source.) How can this be? This article pretty much sums it up. Business plus politics equals science: The underworld of regenerative medicine

But there is a GLARINGLY MISSING word in that headline. One word. How do we know? This.

“The company’s focus is regenerative medical treatments using human embryonic stem cells (ES). There is widespread controversy about their use, many of you will know and have a different opinion regarding how and when, if ever their use is justified. The very creation of therapeutic stem cells is central to the debate as it involves destruction of embryos. The debate is complex and multisided. Some argue that a life is created therefore termination is unjust. Whereas others feel that a life is formed at a later developmental stage and therapeutic value of these early pluripotent cells is too great not to utilize.”

Can we talk here? Can we be honest? There is ONLY ONE REASON why anyone would think there is “widespread controversy” about the use of hesc’s, whether their use is “justified”, etc etc etc. The debate is not “complex and multisided.” It exists for only one reason. And that’s the missing word.

RELIGION.

No, that word doesn’t sum up the problem by any means. But notice that I said religion, not God. Religious fundamentalists have made this argument since 1998 because they’ve convinced themselves that they’re speaking for what God wants, and they have blocked stem cell treatments that could have cured millions of incurable diseases ever since. That’s the only reason. Never mind that Ocata’s treatments don’t even destroy a single embryo but get lumped in with those who do.

So why can’t this stupid article just be honest? Don’t use weasel words like “some.” Say “people who claim they are speaking for God.” And say “religion.” Just be straight with us. But that this would be too honest, and we can’t have that.

Nobody knows what God wants. I don’t know, and the fundies certainly don’t know. But one thing I do know is that millions of people are suffering and dying from diseases that have no treatment and no cure. Embryonic stem cells could provide that cure. If you’re reading this and you’re an atheist, this one is a pretty easy sell. But if you’re a person of faith– as I am, which may surprise you if you’d read this far– then think about this. Does your God want millions of people to suffer and die unnecessarily? Because if you can say “yes” to that… then that doesn’t sound like a loving God to me. It sounds more like a god that people create from the worst parts of themselves. And think, really think, about whether or not this would be a god worth worshipping– or if people are just trying to find a way to justify their own prejudices and fears by stuffing them into the missing word.

My fun trip to Casey Eye Institute this week, and the results…

So on Wednesday, I sat in the waiting room of Casey Eye Institute again, heart pounding, hands numb with terror where my fingers clutched at the wooden arms of the chair. (And if you think *that* sounds bad, then you should have seen me every time I had to go there four years ago!) I was surrounded by little old ladies in wheelchairs and inching along on walkers, their faces full of stubbornness and determination, with the flashing eyes and set lips of survivors. As usual, there were a couple of children, too. I tried to never look at the children, sitting quietly by their mothers, their faces hidden behind thick glasses, their faces filled with the weary patience of eight or nine year olds who have spent too much of their young lives in doctor’s offices and waiting rooms. There’s a lot more of this type of description in my memoir, but you know, I think we’ll stop there for the purposes of a blog post.

The point is, I went to Casey again, which I have to do twice a year. As usual, I would rather have been chased off a cliff by rabid wolves. But I sat in the chair while the retinal scanner went up and down my eyes; I sat in another chair while the cute and chirpy assistant stuck a dubious-looking metal thing meant to measure glaucoma right up against my eyeball, and I sat in the really fancy chair as I waited for Dr. Lauer to come in and interpret it all. (Hint: meditation mp3’s don’t really help in this situation.) And the news was…

(drumroll)

IT’S ALL GOOD!

Okay, maybe it’s not exactly *good*, but my vision is stable. There’s nothing new going on (which would mean new and bad; definitely not new and good.) The first doctor who looked at my retinas through that horrible bright slit lamp thingy was amazed that I hadn’t needed a new Lucentis injection since 2011. This really isn’t normal, and nobody seems to know why the first injections have held up so long. Of course, nobody ever exactly identified the original disease, either. 😛 So I was set free that day to skip out into the sunshine of the wide world outside OHSU, as people looked at me and wondered if I’d escaped from the psych ward.

But it did make me think about a few things.

Yes, this is good news. But there’s never any guarantee. I really do live one day at a time. And I know how lucky I am compared to a lot of people. Most younger patients are not helped by anti-VEGF drugs at all. It makes me a very impatient patient when I think about all the glowing news in the past few days,. Very little of the gushing is supported by fact. The much-ballyhooed treatment at Moorfields isn’t just in the first experimental stages. It’s also dangerous, invasive, scarring, risky to the survival of the retina, and extremely expensive. Why is there so much over-the-top excitement about it?? It’s exactly like the wet AMD treatment in Japan earlier this year, the one based on IPSC’s rushed to the clinic dangerously fast. The study was abruptly stopped, and nobody ever got a straight answer as to why. Other scientists have skirted the issue, showing a lot of professional courtesy in not confronting Dr. Takahashi, I’m sure, but not much regard for the rights of patients.

It’s hard to wait. But it’s good to know that we are waiting for something that works. That doesn’t set aside the issue of what may or may not happen in Phase II. But it does acknowledge the fact that we know that for the people in the Ocata study, the treatment to date has worked. I, for one, am over the excited gushing surrounding experimental treatments that haven’t even begun to do that much. Because we, the patients, deserve better than this. Everyone going through their own personal hell at Casey on Wednesday deserves better. I believe that we will get it. I have learned to wait, God only knows how. I haven’t been to any mountaintop, but I have seen a glimpse of it. We will get there, and we will do it together. So I say to everyone,… have faith, and hold on!

Ocata gets a SECOND NIH grant!!

I’m on the last day of vacation, so there won’t be a long post about this one, but basically… Ocata now has not one but TWO extremely recent NIH grants. This one is for Retinitis Pigmentosa. Now, I’m going to make a shameful admission… I’m an America’s Next Top Model addict. ;)ANTM doesn’t make it onto science blogs too often (or even science-y layperson blogs), but there’s a good reason here. Back in the fourth season, there was a contestant named Amanda. She was slowly going blind from Retinitis Pigmentosa, which is why I think the judges didn’t allow her to win. It was a very sad story and actually makes it hard to watch reruns of that season. By this time, I think she’s gone completely blind. But this grant shows that there is hope for her and everyone else who has the same terrible condition.

Anyway, check out the story:

Ocata Therapeutics Receives SBIR Grant from the NIH’s National Eye Institute to Develop Proprietary Photoreceptor Progenitor Cell Therapy for Retinitis Pigmentosa

My Amazing Powers of Predicting Disaster: Failure of the Takahashi Trials

!!!!!!
Ahem.

Well, the Japanese Takahashi trials with the induced pluripotent stem cells are turning out to be a dangerous failure. Read all about it here. Just as SOMEBODY predicted. Hmm… I can’t imagine who…

Anyway. The trials were stopped because, in the words of New Scientist: “ genetic mutations were discovered in the cells of the second trial participant. One of the mutations may carry a remote risk of cancer.” (Remote… oh really? This is the same publication that has carried gushing fan news about the IPSC trials since Day One. Of course, so have all the rest… but still, I wouldn’t trust a disclaimer like that as far as I could throw it.)

Hmm… .WHO predicted this failure last year? WHO posted these predictions multiple times all over the web, including Paul Knoepfler’s blog and investorstemcell.com? WHO said it was way too soon to rush into the clinical setting when there hadn’t been even a tenth of the number of animal studies that should have happened first? WHO held fast to this prediction, even when nobody agreed with her and nobody wanted to hear about it?

Could it be… ME??

Hint: the answer is yes.

I’m NOT posting the link to Randy Travis singing “I Told You So” again. This is actually beyond even what I dared to predict last fall for the IPSC trials. That’s it. There HAS to be a way to turn this amazing psychic power to predict disaster into something valuable… (hmmm)

Anise: (poring over a crystal ball while clients wait impatiently) I can tell you all the Powerball combinations that aren’t going to win.

Clients: Isn’t there a faster way?

Anise: No. But I can give you all 174 million losing number combinations, and you just have to go through them– wait– where are you going??

The point is that I knew the IPSC trials wouldn’t work. They were rushed to the clinic crazy fast because it was a chance for Japan and Riken to get the first clinical trial of IPSC’s underway. This represented a chance to save face after the STAP cell disaster last year. To tell you the truth, it’s not rocket science and is very easy to piece together. However, this kind of outcome is what I hoped wouldn’t happen. But it was always a possibility. I posted long, long threads about it in the past, and we really don’t need to go into all of it again here… suffice it to say that there are good reasons to have a lot more animal trials before jumping immediately and dangerously fast into clinical trials.

You know… this sounds horrible, but the failure of these trials will ultimately help Ocata a lot. One by one, the inferior and not-ready-for-prime time stem cell treatments are falling. Ocata’s treatment for AMD is the only one that continues to advance through all trials with flying colors. And since this is treatment I would need… well, I think I have the cred to say it!!

Also, it would have been good for that article to get Ocata’s name right. 😛 But you know… there’s good and bad in everything.

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Amazing news from Ocata!!

This is REALLY exciting… I had a few thoughts about it to share on Facebook, and I’m reposting them here:

Cures for autoimmune diseases ARE possible!! They’re on their way, and they could be almost here! Well, there’s just ONE problem… they originally came from a stem cell line where at SOME point, LONG long ago, a three day old blastocyst was destroyed. One that would otherwise have been thrown out at a fertility clinic. One that never had a chance of being an embryo. Fifty million people have autoimmune diseases in America alone. Are they more important than one blastocyst that was sacrificed years ago? There are people who say yes. We are headed for a showdown. Share if you are on the side of the fifty million!!

New Ocata Press Release About Autoimmune Treatments in the Pipeline!!

The Latest Info About Stem Cells and Alzheimer’s

A reviewer on Amazon asked me if I knew anything about new Alzheimer’s treatments in development, which led to this! I don’t think Amazon is letting through links in reviews or comments anymore, so this is definitely the best way to get it.

Here’s a great, brand-new scholarly article about the current state of stem cell therapies being developed for Alzheimer’s (personally, as y’all probably know by now, I think that’s where the cure will come from.)

“Stem cell therapy for Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders: current status and future perspectives.”

The best part is that the full article is available free on Pubmed Central. Here’s the link for that:

Absolutely free full text PDF!

Another thing I know of is some new work with identifying more information about a gene that carries risk for developing Alzheimer’s. The stem cell link is that induced pluripotent stem cells are being used in the process (which is the best use for them at the present time, I think. IMHO, they’re so not ready for clinical application.)

Elucidating Molecular Phenotypes Caused by the SORL1 Alzheimer’s Disease Genetic Risk Factor Using Human Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells.

So take a look at those (especially the first one), and I’ll have Day Six of the UC-Davis conference coming up very soon. 🙂

UC-Davis Stem Cell Ethics Conference: Part Five

Hey all,

So… we’re done with the raw notes for now, and we’re back to the writing! Believe me, you do NOT want to miss the info in today’s installment. If you’ve ever wondered whether or not you should keep your investments in a certain biotech company, for instance… the answer’s here. Enjoy!
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PART FIVE.
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An important new study on stem cells and vision replacement.

If you haven’t seen this one already, you do NOT want to miss it!!
Stem cell treatment of degenerative eye disease.

A really great, broad overview of what’s going on with the usefulness of different types of stem cells and vision right now. It’s even BETTER if you have institutional access and can read the entire article… but either way, don’t miss this one.

The UC-Davis Stem Cell Ethics Conference, The Whole Story: Part Two

At the end of part one, Tim Caulfield, keynote speaker at the conference, was addressing the problem of illegal stem cell clinics worldwide…

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Tim Caulfield looked up. “So what’s the harm?” he asked.

I wasn’t sure if anyone in the audience was supposed to answer the question, but I did not have a good feeling about whatever was coming next.
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