NIH stem-cell programme closes

5

Director resigns as just one clinical-trial award is made.

Stem-cell researchers at the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) have been left frustrated and confused following the demise of the agency’s Center for Regenerative Medicine (CRM). The intramural programme’s director, stem-cell biologist Mahendra Rao, left the NIH, in Bethesda, Maryland, on 28 March, and the centre’s website was taken down on 4 April. Although no official announcement had been made at the time Nature went to press, NIH officials say that they are rethinking how they will conduct in-house stem-cell research.

Researchers affiliated with the centre say that they have been left in the dark. When contacted by Nature on 7 April, George Daley, a stem-cell biologist at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts, and a member of the centre’s external advisory board, said that he had not yet been told of Rao’s departure or the centre’s closure.

The CRM was established in 2010 to centralize the NIH’s stem-cell programme. Its goal was to develop useful therapies from induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells — adult cells that have been converted into embryonic-like stem cells — and shepherd them towards clinical trials and regulatory approval. Its budget was intended to be $52 million over seven years.

Rao took the helm in 2011. Relations seem to have soured last month owing to an NIH decision to award funding to only one project aiming to move iPS cells into a clinical trial. Rao says he resigned after this became clear. He says that he had hoped that five trials would be funded, especially because the centre had already sorted out complex issues relating to tissue sources, patents and informed consent.

James Anderson, director of the NIH’s Division of Program Coordination, Planning, and Strategic Initiatives, which administered the CRM, counters that only one application — that made by Kapil Bharti of the National Eye Institute in Bethesda and his colleagues — received a high enough score from an external review board to justify continued funding. The team aims to use iPS cells to treat age-related macular degeneration of the retina, and hopes to commence human trials within a few years. Several other proposals, which involved the treatment of cardiac disease, cancer and Parkinson’s disease, will not receive funding to ready them for clinical trials. Anderson stresses that Bharti’s trial will not be affected by the CRM’s closure.

Written By: Sara Reardon
continue to source article at nature.com

5 COMMENTS

  1. I’ve been watching Russian reports on how their stem cell research is going. The most impressive result so far has been the complete regeneration of a human heart in-situ. Their stock of stem cells, if I understood correctly, is from donated afterbirths. That seemed like a rather limited supply line to me, but I don’t pretend that I know anything very much.

    This is a science that offers enormous benefits and the US seems to be determined to not take part?

    • In reply to #1 by Stephen of Wimbledon:

      I’ve been watching Russian reports on how their stem cell research is going. The most impressive result so far has been the complete regeneration of a human heart in-situ.

      This is rather striking news. I could not find a link to it; can you provide one? Thanks!

      Steve

      • In reply to #2 by Agrajag:

        In reply to #1 by Stephen of Wimbledon:

        I’ve been watching Russian reports on how their stem cell research is going. The most impressive result so far has been the complete regeneration of a human heart in-situ.

        This is rather striking news. I could not find a link to it; can you provide one? Tha…

        I think Stephen is referring to this (please correct if I’m wrong)

        Regenerating heart tissue through stem cell therapy

        I think it’s over stating it to say “complete regeneration of a human heart in-situ” it makes it sound like they regrew a heart from scratch or at least that is what I thought when I read that sentence. The actual results are very impressive though.

        It’s insane that we let bronze age superstitions get in the way of this kind of research. In my experience there are a lot of politics that go on within the process of deciding who to award a grant to. I’m reading between the lines here and could be wrong but my interpretation of this article was that even though the official policy towards stem cell research has changed since Obama there is still so much FUD around stem cells, and the bureacrats who make the final decisions about what work to fund are so risk and bad publicity averse that very little of the research that could be getting funding actually is getting money.

        • In reply to #3 by Red Dog:

          Here’s a quote from your link-

          Enter Cardio3 Biosciences, a bioscience company in Mont-Saint-Guibert, Belgium. Dr. Behfar spent several months in Belgium working with Cardio3.

          “The interaction with Cardio3 was crucial to driving Mayo Clinic’s technology forward,” he says.

          Why European trials first? It’s faster to get many clinical studies approved in Europe compared with the United States. Trials will be held in the U.S. eventually, but Dr. Terzic had many previous collaborators at European medical centers ready to collaborate. And Cardio3 had a long history of coordinating trials in multiple countries.

          This is a catastrophe for the US, and probably a model for how stem cell related healthcare innovation will develop. The once leading market for the most advanced procedures must sit back and watch as others benefit. American citizens pay twice as much for their health care as Europeans. Only in one area does US medicine excel in its provision, at the very top with the best innovative procedures. This may be in part the result of the hugely profitable industry that US healthcare is and the guilt assuaging option for its leading practitioners, being part of a group inventing the future of healthcare, rather than the more mundane option of providing good enough basic universal healthcare. (The Mayo though is exemplary across the board, being innovative, maximally effective AND cost effective)

          The greater part of the Mayo Clinic’s research budget is funded by US tax payers and from the charitable balance the majority is from US benefactors.

          Heart-felt thanks, America.

Leave a Reply