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KU stem cell research center moving toward ‘homegrown’ clinical trials

Legislators briefed on stem cell center’s progress two years after passing bill that created it

By Ashley Booker | April 30, 2015

KU stem cell research center moving toward ‘homegrown’ clinical trials
Photo by Ashley Booker Buddhadeb Dawn, a doctor at the University of Kansas Medical Center who is director of the Midwest Stem Cell Therapy Center, updated legislators on the center Thursday.

Officials from the University of Kansas Midwest Stem Cell Therapy Center told legislators Thursday that the center formed when Gov. Sam Brownback signed a bill into law in 2013 already is on its way to finding new cures for disease.  

But one senator questioned when the investment in the center, which is projected to cost $10 million over 10 years, will pay off financially.

The non-embryonic research center focuses on therapies from adult stem cells derived from bone marrow and umbilical cord blood for patient treatment.

In a joint meeting of the Senate Ways and Means Committee and Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee, senators heard Dr. Buddhadeb Dawn, the center’s director, say the facility has accomplished many items stipulated in the 2013 bill and plans to grow.

“If we can harvest and harness the promises of adult stem cell therapy, I think many diseases that are incurable at this time, we will be able to cure in the future,” he said.

Dawn said he and the center’s employees are excited to treat patients with a therapy that eventually will benefit a larger-scale community.

The center has completed a clinical trial manufacturing bone marrow stem cell batches for evaluating critical limb ischemia, a disease that obstructs the arteries and reduces blood flow to extremities, and initiated an umbilical cord stem cell project with KU’s cancer center, among other things.

Photo by Ashley Booker Dawn said the stem cell center is already helping patients two years after it was signed into existence.

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Dawn said the center recently started an ALLSTAR clinical study, which is sponsored by a company called Capricor. As part of the trial, an intracoronary injection of cardiac stem cells will be given to patients with heart attacks.

The center plans to continue research and evaluate independent ways to apply adult stem cells to improve human health.

“In the future, we are going to start trials that are going to be homegrown, and that’s our real goal,” Dawn said, emphasizing that’s not the case for the ALLSTAR clinical study.

Future preclinical projects include stem cell therapies for graft-versus-host disease (GVHD), in which a patient’s body is attacked by donor tissue; amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease; and aplastic anemia, in which a patient's body stops producing new blood cells, Dawn said.

There are more than 50 programs nationwide doing this type of research, said David Prentice, vice president and research director at Charlotte Lozier Institute in Washington, D.C.

“Nobody frankly compares to the Kansas adult stem cell center,” Prentice said, adding that many may do bone marrow transplants, but none educate the public or physicians.

In 2013, Prentice testified for the center’s creation on behalf of the Family Research Council, a Washington, D.C., think tank that opposes embryonic stem cell research.

Photo by Ashley Booker David Prentice, who joined the Charlotte Lozier Institute in January, promoted the stem cell center while working for the Family Research Council.

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Dr. Dana Winegarner, a neurologist at Rowe Neurology Institute in Lenexa, said Thursday that the center is developing an interactive database that will be accessible from its current website.

Patients and doctors can search the database to see if stem cell treatment can help treat certain diseases.

Some such databases provide resources for embryonic stem cell research only, although many physicians and patients are opposed to that, Winegarner said. Or the websites only advertise the work of their organizations or universities.

“One of the things that needs to be done is to have a website that is acceptable to most people by having a broad range and is data-balanced, saying what’s really out there,” he said.

Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, a Republican from Shawnee, was the primary sponsor of the bill creating the center. She said Thursday she’s interested in stem cell research because it’s cutting edge and a form of therapy.

She told the joint committee that the center has a patent on a process of retrieving the cells from umbilical cords that is unique to Kansas. 

Sen. Steve Fitzgerald, a Republican from Leavenworth, said while he appreciates the center’s efforts to create and publish valuable researched data, he assumes it's expensive work.

“On behalf of the citizens of Kansas who are going to benefit from this but who are also paying for it, when does the benefit begin in terms of financial return?” Fitzgerald asked.

Dawn said Kansans will see a financial return, but not in the near future.

Executive Vice Chancellor Dr. Doug Girod echoed that statement and added the return will come from future patents and lab utilization by other partners and companies on a contractual basis.

“Contacts are in fact coming now that they know we have one (a center) that’s up and it’s been FDA-endorsed,” Girod said. “That’s another common resource, and that’s a resource that will help us in the more immediate future.”

Although the center is FDA-endorsed, it does not have funding from the National Institutes of Health.

Dawn said the center plans to apply for NIH support once it has the required faculty base.