X-Message-Number: 16220
Date: Mon, 7 May 2001 04:14:57 EDT
Subject: Time Magazine "Medicine" Section

I am aware that some overseas Cryonet participants may be unable to get some 
US publications.  TIME Magazine recently did a piece regarding new Stem Cell 
findings. The 4/23/01 issue of TIME contained the following article in its 
"Medicine" Section:

Who Will Live Longest?

The fatter man is at high risk of lots of diseases, but stem cells in his 
flab may have lifesaving potential

Here's a medical pop quiz:  Frick and Frack are friends who sport matching 
spare tires around their waists.  Frick goes to Weight Watchers and loses 30 
lbs.; Frack goes to the ice-cream parlor and downs a triple banana split 
every day for a month.  So who will live longer?  Anybody with a clue about 
obesity knows that conscientious Frick has lowered his risk of heart disease, 
high blood pressure, diabetes and stroke.  Frack has done exactly the 

But anyone who read last week's issue of the journal Tissue Engineering knows 
that Frack could someday have a big advantage if a new piece of research can 
be turned into a practical treatment.  According to scientist at UCLA and the 
University of Pittsburgh, the unsightly flab many of us lug around is a 
previously unsuspected source of stem cells, a remarkably versatile class of 
cells that can in principle be transformed into a variety of body tissues.  
Researchers already suspect that stem cells found in fetuses and in the bone 
marrow and brains of adults might one day be used to repair hearts, livers 
and other organs.

Each of theses sources, however is problematic. Bone marrow and the brain are 
difficult or painful to get to surgically.  And cells from in-vitro embryos 
and aborted fetuses pose ethical and political problems.  Indeed, President 
Bush is soon likely to make right-to-lifers happy by reimposing a ban on 
using federal funds for research on such tissues.  (Another possible source 
of stem cells announced last week--the placentas of pregnant women--avoids 
these problems but hasn't been confirmed.)

Fat cells, by contrast, are plentiful and easy to harvest--just ask anyone 
who has had liposuction.  They are also rich in stem cells--not so 
surprising, in retrospect, since bone marrow and fat develop from the same 
embryonic tissue.  Not only did the researchers get stem cells from 
liposuctioned human fat, the also made them grow into bone, muscle and 
cartilage cells--a sign that more ambitious tissue engineering is not out of 
the question.

Unfortunately, these particular stem cells are already partly specialized, so 
they might not help Frank's hardened arteries or the insulin-producing cells 
in his pancreas (though other types of stem cells might).  But in principle, 
he could mine his love handles for cells to repair his damaged liver, to 
replenish blood cells lost to disease, to fix a damaged heart or to repair 
missing or deteriorating cartilage.  And because the cells would be drawn 
from his own body, Frack wouldn't have to worry about having his immune 
system reject them.

None of this means that Frack should be considered a role model, though.  
Stem cell tissues replacement is half a decade off at least, and nobody knows 
what unexpected glitches might arise to make the whole idea impossible.  
Besides, the hazards of true obesity are enormous.  But if the research pans 
out, it may someday be as prudent to carry a modest spare tire around your 
waist as it is to carry one in the trunk of your car.--By Michael D. Lemonick

The 4/23/01 issue of TIME Magazine ALSO contained the following article in 
its "Medicine" Section:

Brain Games

Alzheimer's gene therapy

Brain Surgery under any circumstances is a delicate matter.  Combine it with 
an experimental treatment like gene therapy, and the complexity becomes 
staggering.  Yet that's what a group of researchers at the University of 
California at San Diego is doing in an effort to find new treatments for 
Alzheimer's disease.  At a press conference last week, Dr. Mark Tuszynski and 
his colleagues announced they had inserted clusters of genetically modified 
tissue deep within the brain of a 60-year-old woman suffering from the early 
stages of the disease.

The operation was the first attempt to do gene therapy for Alzheimer's, and 
it took 11 hours to perform.  It was designed primarily to determine whether 
the procedure is safe enough to test further.  The goal is to bolster a group 
of neurons call cholinergic cells located at the base of the forebrain.  
These brain cells play a critical role in our ability to reason and process 
information but they are just one of several kinds of cells that degenerate 
during the course of the disease.

Animal studies have already shown that a protein called Nerve Growth Factor 
is vital in keeping cholinergic cells healthy.  Using gene-therapy 
techniques, the San Diego team transformed samples of their patient's skin 
cells into NGF minifactories.  They then implanted the modified cells into 
their patient's, brain.  In all goes well, the deterioration of the 
cholinergic cells could slow or even stop.

That's a mighty big if.  No one knows why cholinergic cells die in 
Alzheimer's disease, Tuszynski notes.  Boosting NGF levels might not be 
enough to keep the cells alive.  And having healthy cholinergic cells around 
might not matter when so many other cells in the brain are dying.  
Researchers are only just beginning to understand the complexities of 
Alzheimer's disease.  A single operation can't provide all the answers.--By 
Christine Gorman

Thanks, TIME.

David C. Johnson, Raleigh, NC

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