01 September 2007

Stem Cell Lines For Sale--The Market Steps Up

The US President Bush has held firm in his opposition to federal financing of creation of most new embryonic stem cell lines. Without US government financing of new stem cell lines, the task has fallen upon other governments, private foundations, US state governments such as California, and now--private companies are offering new stem cell lines from discarded IVF embryos, for US $10,000.

You would expect this type of company to arise in the US, and particularly in California--where trends tend to begin.
A company in California called StemLifeLine has announced that it will offer a service to generate stem cells from excess frozen embryos stored after in vitro fertilization (IVF). The company promises a huge potential payoff: the cells could one day be used to treat disease in the buyers or in their families. But the service is already garnering criticism from some scientists and ethicists who say that without current medical uses for those cells, there's no point in people paying for them.

...The new service is meant to take advantage of a growing interest in the field of regenerative medicine. Stem cells from adult blood or umbilical-cord blood are already used to treat some diseases, including sickle-cell anemia and several forms of leukemia. But these cells are largely limited to treating blood-related disorders and can't be grown in large numbers. Embryonic stem cells, on the other hand, can be coaxed to form virtually any type of cell in the body and can theoretically be replicated indefinitely. Scientists are developing ways to use them to replenish cells lost or damaged in ailments such as diabetes, Parkinson's disease, and heart disease.

...Couples who have had children via IVF are often left with extra embryos--and the rather difficult decision of what to do with them. As of 2003, an estimated 400,000 embryos remained in cryopreservation in the United States. Embryos can be donated to research or to other couples, destroyed, or left languishing in frozen storage.

...The technology to derive these cells is not new. Scientists at StemLifeLine use a similar procedure to that employed by research scientists for almost a decade, although the StemLifeLine scientists have refined it so that the resulting cells are fit for human use. For less than $10,000 (actual price depends on the collaborating IVF clinic), clients can send in their excess embryos and, in return, receive a line of stem cells that have been "quality assured," meaning they have been checked for the molecular markers that signify that the cells can be differentiated into multiple cell types. The company received certification as a tissue bank from the state of California last month, and it's in the process of generating cell lines for its first group of clients.
Technology Review

It is good to see some entrepreneurial spirit emerging in stem cell/regenerative medicine. Since regenerative medicine will be one of the most important branches of medical science in the near future, it is refreshing to see that it will not fall completely under the thumb of the US federal government.

In a market economy, the government is not expected to finance every possible need or desire for the public. Most Americans have been rather slow to realize this, but it seems that some of them are slowly waking up. Financing of large new scientific ventures and exploratory areas of science has--since the days of FDR and the Manhattan Project--been ceded to the federal government, in the US. But the US government is operating in a budget deficit, which will only get worse as entitlement spending kicks in for the aging populace.

The US public has been lulled into expecting the federal government to do more and more for them over the decades. This expectation is killing their own self-reliance and enterprise. While the US has not sunk as deeply into this "total government reliance" as most European countries, and some other Anglospheric countries, the trend is clear and almost irrevocable.

The more thoroughly the government attempts to control financing and access to regenerative medicine, the more the grey and black markets will step in to provide the service that governments--with their conflicting goals and crumbling infrastructures--cannot or will not provide.

More background on stem cells here and here.

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Blogger Will Brown said...

I remember when I was first studying electricity in A school in the Navy having some little difficulty comprehending the ramifications of potential. I can't make even that much of a claim when it comes to more advanced fields of physics, but I think the concept provides a good metaphor for stem cells generally, and in particular their embryonic condition.

Unless and until they are "applied" in some fashion they remain in a state of potential. The California company StemLifeLine is in the business of developing derivative applications of that potential.

I expext to see more and further refined entrys into this untapped market quite quickly as this conceptual viewpoint becomes more widely recognised by investors.

Saturday, 01 September, 2007  
Blogger AntiCitizenOne said...

ESCs are only useful for research because if used in medicine they would not be a genetic match for the patient.

The real money will be made in extracting and creating pluripotent stem cells from hosts for multiplication and reintroduction.

I'd reckon that in the future a modified ink-jet printer will print cells that have been extracted multiplied, telomerised then specified into pots (muscle, nerve, connective, arterial, skin) and new organs will be printed to order.

I hope this can happen soon for some of those people caught up in IEDs from the terrorists in Iraq.

Sunday, 02 September, 2007  
Blogger al fin said...

Will: Yes, there is big money to be made in regenerative medicine.

ACO: In general I agree. Using stem cells derived from the patient herself reduces chances of adverse reaction and rejection.

There are experiments suggesting that ESCs can be modified (or for some uses encapsulated) to make them much less immunologically reactive. There may eventually be valid regenerative uses for ESCs beyond research.

Sunday, 02 September, 2007  
Blogger AntiCitizenOne said...


Wednesday, 05 September, 2007  
Blogger al fin said...

ACO: Interesting.

One good thing about Bush's restrictions on new ESC line federal funding, is the increased research on the growing number of uses of adult stem cells.

Heart valves are an excellent replacement tissue, given all the problems we see with artificial valves over their lifetime. Using biodegradable plastic as a tissue scaffold is creative. Good scaffolding should encourage the proper cell-->tissue growth, and be replaced by normal tissue.

Thursday, 06 September, 2007  

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