Grant money could speed stem cell cures

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Dr. Karen Aboody estimates that she has cured several hundred mice of a cancer of the central nervous system called neuroblastoma.
First she injected them with specialized neural stem cells that naturally zero in on the tumors and surround them. Then she administered an anti-cancer agent that the cells converted into a highly toxic drug (…)

For 3 1/2 years, the agency focused on the basic groundwork needed to someday use human embryonic stem cells to replace body parts damaged by injury or disease. Such cures are still far in the future.
Now the institute has a more immediate goal: boosting therapies that are much further along in development and more often rely on less glamorous adult stem cells. It is concentrating its vast financial resources on projects that could cure conditions such as age-related macular degeneration, AIDS, sickle cell disease and various types of cancer (…)

A new emphasis

It is a significant change in direction for an effort originally designed to bolster research on human embryonic stem cells.
Proposition 71 was set in motion in August 2001, when Bush announced that federal funds could be used to study stem cell lines derived from human embryos. It marked the first time money from the National Institutes of Health and other government agencies was made available to the growing cadre of biologists who believed the cells could be transformed into replacement tissues that would cure a range of diseases (…)

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The first grants went out in April 2006, after fighting off legal challenges. Hundreds of millions of additional dollars followed.
USC, for example, used a grant to build its Center for Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research essentially from scratch.
The university hired Martin Pera, a colleague of Trounson’s, to lead the effort. It was quite a coup: In Australia, Trounson and Pera’s team was the first to show that human embryonic stem cells could grow into mature cells in laboratory dishes (…)

It all hinges on her discovery that neural stem cells flock to a chemical that cells make when they need new blood vessels. Tumors, which need blood to grow, release that chemical in abundance. And so stem cells flock to tumors (…)

Some scientists who study basic stem cell biology say the new emphasis on clinical trials is premature. They say many fundamental questions about stem cells still need to be answered, and diverting money from basic science means that revolutionary therapies — still many years away — will take even longer to materialize (…)

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