A new non-embryonic stem cell research center at the University of Kansas Medical Center, which stirred legislative controversy when it was authorized earlier this year, has already treated one patient, university officials said Saturday.
Doctors used the patient’s bone marrow cells as a last-ditch effort to treat a circulatory problem before amputation, said Dr. Buddhadeb Dawn, director of the Midwest Stem Cell Therapy Center. The patient was a man who splits his time between California and Missouri, officials said.
The treatment was part of a clinical study that Dawn said he hoped ultimately would have two dozen participants. He said he did not know the patient’s condition because of protocols to maintain the objectivity of the study.
The lab opened in July and started producing its own stem cells about a month ago, Dawn said.
Dawn was among about145 people who gathered at the Sheraton Crown Center Hotel here for the stem cell center’s inaugural scientific meeting. Others who attended included Dr. Douglas Girod, KU Med executive vice chancellor, and Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback.
“This is the beginning,” Brownback said, “and we are catching it right as the field is really starting to burgeon.”
Brownback signed the bill establishing the center in April.
Democrats and moderate Republicans in the Legislature criticized the center as an unfunded mandate for the the university which had not requested. the center. KU officials estimated the center would cost $10.7 million over 10 years.
Girod said university officials have always been excited about the scientific promise of the center, but that they were concerned about the expense while facing state funding cuts.
He said KU Med has received $1.2 million in state funding for the center, with about $700,000 of that going to refurbish existing space in its Cardiovascular Research Institute for the stem cell lab.
University officials said they were hoping the 2014 Legislature will approve an additional $700,000.
Proponents have said the center could attract research dollars from government and private sources.
One interesting aspect of stem cell research, Girod said, is that it cuts across medical disciplines, such as cardiology, cancer and neurosciences.
According to KU Med, doctors have long used adult stem cells to treat leukemia and related bone/blood cancers through bone marrow transplants. Scientists in the field are now focusing on organ repair and other applications, according to university officials.
Adult stem cells provide an alternative to embryonic stem cells, which typically come from embryos grown in a laboratory dish as part of in vitro fertilization for couples. The process sometimes produces “leftover” embryos that doctors do not implant into the womb.
Patients can donate the embryos for research under the informed consent of a physician, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Conservative and religious groups oppose embryonic stem-cell research as part of their anti-abortion views.
The Family Research Council, for instance, says it respects the “inherent dignity” of every human life, no matter if conception comes through natural or artificial means.
David Prentice, a senior fellow with the council, joined Brownback at the bill signing for the center.
Scientists say that embryonic stem cells are superior to others because they can become all cell types of the body, according to the NIH. Researchers believe adult stem cells are limited to regenerating cell types from their original tissue.
However, doctors believe adult stem cells might be more conducive to transplants. By using the patient’s own cells, scientists believe there’s less likelihood that the immune system would reject the tissue.
Asked about the potential of the center to help Kansas patients, Brownback motioned to Ken Woods, 41, a Manhattan banker who attended the conference on Saturday.
Woods said he went to California to participate in a clinical trial that used stem cells from his fat tissue to treat a knee condition. At his age, Woods said, he wanted to try everything before a knee replacement.
Five months later, Woods said he’s feeling great.
“California is fine,” Brownback said, “but I would rather you be here in Kansas.”
Dr. Larry Snyder, a Topeka veterinarian, also attended the conference. He said his office has conducted about 150 stem cell transplants on a variety of animals with great success.
One patient, he said, was Emerald, a kangaroo from the Rolling Hills Zoo near Salina. The kangaroo had damaged an ankle in an accident, and they performed the procedure on the animal about a year ago.
“She is much more comfortable, much more active,” Snyder said. “We are very impressed with her.”
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