Pioneering Director of California Brain Rehabilitation Clinic Says Umbilical Cord Stem Cells Should be Made Available Now

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Research physician David A. Steenblock, M.S., D.O., director of Brain Therapeutics Medical Clinic, speaks out in favor of funding for umbilical cord stem cell use in California and elsewhere

No doubt Proposition 71 (California stem cell funding bill) will pass, even though many of us have strong concerns about its long term costs and how the program will be implemented. California taxpayers are voting for this in hopes of reducing the anguish posed by various health challenges. Given the extraordinary price tag of $3-6 billion, the public will be sparing no expense to insure that they and their loved ones will benefit from an improved quality of life.

It appears very likely that Proposition 71 will pour large amounts of resources into embryonic stem cell and genetic research to help with disorders such as stroke, traumatic brain injury, Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease, Huntington’s Disease, diabetes and spinal cord injury. However, because of safety issues, actual clinical trials with embryonic stem cells may be at least five years away. There is an ethical, safe, and versatile alternative now for brain repair - pure stem cells isolated from a healthy baby’s umbilical cord blood.

It is my position that a major portion of the monies allocated for stem cell research should be devoted to clinical trials using umbilical cord stem cells. This would provide health benefits to the taxpayers as soon as possible. I am convinced that these cells are worthy of major funding because:

a)    Umbilical cord stem cells are ethical. There is no loss of potential life from their use.

b) Umbilical cord stem cells from certified American Association of Blood Banks (AABB) cord    blood are safe. There is little or no immune response in the recipient from pure umbilical cord stem cells (CD34+ cells), even when given without immune suppressants. (3) This is not the case with adult stem cells that can cause severe graft versus host disease. Embryonic stem cells have a tendency to form tumors when injected into laboratory animals as well as humans (1), whereas umbilical cord blood (which includes stem cells) has a 16 year track record in the United States of being used as a treatment for leukemia and other cancers. (2)

c) Umbilical cord stem cells can be used to treat neurological injuries and disorders. (4)     A neuron usually has thousands of connections with other neurons. Starting at the beginning again with creating a new neuron and new connections may not be as efficient as a stem cell attaching to an injured neuron and nursing it back to health. Stem Cells can also stimulate the production of growth factors to make new neurons. Whether the method is creating a new neuron or attaching to an injured neuron, the outcome is brain repair.

     I have been following the progress of a number of patients who have gone to other countries for umbilical cord stem cell treatments. (5)    Those with eye disorders and cerebral palsy have shown significant clinical improvements. One patient’s eyesight before treatment was 500/20 and six months after treatment it was 50/20. Children with cerebral palsy show improvements in some of the following over a six month period: thinking/reasoning, understanding, vocabulary, vision, hearing, balance and motor coordination, as well as muscle tone, strength and endurance. Patients with multiple sclerosis and stroke also get positive results, especially when the stem cell transplant is combined with pre- and post- treatments and nutrients that improve the chances of stem cell survival.

d) Umbilical cord stem cells are versatile. They go where ever they are needed (attracted by signals from areas of inflammation). Patients treated for brain disorders also report renewed hair growth and hair color, relief from arthritic pain, reduced infections, and greater wellness and contentment for several months after umbilical cord stem cell therapy.

These four factors - ethics, safety, brain repair and overall versatility in both laboratory animals and human case studies seem to me to be very compelling arguments for pure umbilical cord stem cells being one of the state’s first Clinical Trials for neurological disorders.

The people of California could also push for advanced medical treatments for our soldiers and veterans. 67% of our soldier’s injuries in Iraq last year were brain injuries. Pure umbilical cord stem cells could be administered to soldiers as soon as possible after their injury and possibly spare them a lifetime of profound disability.

In theory, Proposition 71’s California Institute for Regenerative Medicine will disburse funds for bone marrow, cord stem cells and embryonic stem cells. In practice, there is a risk of most of the money being spent on long range embryonic and genetic research for corporate marketing purposes while the public continues to wait for clinical trials. If Proposition 71 passes, we will need people on the Institute’s Board who are dedicated to the public’s best interests (on a long list of factors), meeting the immediate needs of the public (clinical trials) as well as long term goals of corporate interests (developing patents). Umbilical cord stem cells have the potential of helping millions of people for a variety of illnesses and doing so much sooner and safer than other options at this time.

References:

(1) Embryonic stem cells are unstable and can lead to teratomas (solid tumors).

Sathananthan H, et al. Critical evaluation of human blastocysts for assisted reproduction techniques and embryonic stem cell biotechnology. Reprod Biomed Online 2003, 7(2): 219-27.

Lawrenz B, et al. Highly sensitive biosafety model for stem-cell-derived grafts. Cytotherapy 2004, 6(3): 212-22.

Humpherys D, et al. Epigenetic instability in ES cells and cloned mice. Science 2001, 293: 95-97.

(2)     Umbilical cord blood (which contains about 300,000 stem cells per cord/placenta unit) has a 16 year record of safe use in cancer patients (adults and children) in the United States.

Meagher R, et al. Human umbilical cord blood cells: How useful are they for the clinician? J Hemat Stem Cell Res 2002, 1: 445-448.

(3)     Purified CD34+ stem/progenitor cells do not have antigens and do not require immuno-suppressants (which can detrimentally affect learning and memory).

Cool, VA. Long-term neuropsychological risks in pediatric bone marrow transplant: what do we know? Bone Marrow Transplant 1996, 18 Suppl 3: S45-9.

Handgretinger PR, et a. Megadose transplantation of purified peripheral blood CD34(+) progenitor cells from HLA-mismatched parental donors in children. Bone Marrow Transplant 2001, 27(8): 77-83.

Benesch M, et al. Transplantation of highly purified CD34+ progenitor cells from alternative donors in children with refractory severe aplastic anaemia. Br J Haematol 2004, 125(1): 58-63.

Over 100 neurological patients receiving purified stem cells from umbilical cord blood (without immunosuppressants) from offshore clinics reported no graft versus host symptoms when interviewed about their experience.

(4)    Purified stem cells from umbilical cord blood can be used for central nervous system repair (starting Clinical Trials with the easier challenges first, i.e. eye diseases, cerebral palsy, and perhaps Multiple Sclerosis).

    Piechaczek C. CD133. J Biol Regul Homeost Agents 2001, 15(1): 101-2.

Hao HN, et al. Fetal human hematopoietic stem cells can differentiate sequentially into neural stem cells and then astrocytes in vitro. J Hematother Stem Cell Res, 2003, 12(1):23-32.

Ha Y, et al. Intermediate filament nestin _expressions in human cord blood monocytes (HCMNCs). Acta Neurochir (Wien) 2003, 145(6): 483-7.

Handgretinger R, et al. Biology and plasticity of CD133+ hematopoietic stem cells. Ann NY Acad Sci 2003, 996: 141-51.

Jang YK, et al. Retinoic acid-mediated induction of neurons and glial cells from human umbilical cord-derived hematopoietic stem cells. J Neurosci Res 2004, 75(4): 573-84.

McGuckin CP, et al. Umbilical cord blood stem cells can expand hematopoietic and neuroglial progenitors in vitro. Exp Cell Res 2004, 295(2): 350-9.

Neurological Repair

Newman MB, et al. Human umbilical cord blood (HUCB) cells for central nervous system repair. Neurotox Res 2003, 5(5): 355-68.

Spinal Cord Injury

Saporta S, et al. Human umbilical cord blood stem cells infusion in spinal cord injury: Engraftment and beneficial influence on behavior. J Hematother Stem Cell Res 2003, 12(3): 271-8.

Stroke

Taguchi A, et al. Administration of CD34+ cells after stroke enhances neurogenesis and angiogenesis in a mouse model. J Clin Invest 2004, 114(3): 330-8.

(5)     Purified stem/progenitor cells from umbilical cord blood have been used successfully in children with cerebral palsy, in offshore clinics. No graft versus host symptoms (immuno-suppressants were not used). Slight to significant improvements reported for all eight children (aged 3-12 years of age). Report submitted for publication by David A. Steenblock. For further information on umbilical cord derived stem cells: http://www.stemcelltherapies.org; http://www.cordbloodforum.org; http://www.cordblood.org.

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