WBEZ | stem cells http://www.wbez.org/tags/stem-cells Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Bionic eye comes to Illinois hospital http://www.wbez.org/bionic-eye-comes-illinois-hospital-107954 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/BIONIC EYE.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>The University of Illinois Hospital is screening patients to test a bionic eye.</p><p>The Argus II retinal prosthesis system, in a sense, restores vision to the blind.</p><p>The patient would wear glasses, not unlike <a href="http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/thumb/0/04/GeordiLaForge.jpg/250px-GeordiLaForge.jpg" target="_blank">the ones in Star Trek</a>, with a camera attached. The glasses are connected to a video processor, which is then connected to a chip implanted in the eye. The camera &ldquo;sees&rdquo; for the wearer, and the video processors converts the image to electrical signals which then go to the brain.</p><p>That treats advanced patients of retinitis pigmentosa (RP), a genetic eye disease where the light sensing cells in the retina are damaged, explains Stephen Tsang, an assistant professor of ophthalmology at Columbia&nbsp; University who studies RP.</p><p>&ldquo;So if you think of the eye like a TV, the ganglion cells are like the cable of a TV. If you think of the eye like a camera, you can think of the light sensing neurons are like the film,&rdquo; Tsang says. &ldquo;So when the film (the light sensing neurons) dies away in retinitis pigmentosa, the strategy for the Argus II is to bypass the light sensing neuron and stimulate the ganglion cells (the cable of the eye) directly.&rdquo;</p><p>Advanced RP patients can only see whether or not there&rsquo;s light, but with the implant, they&rsquo;d be able to make out shapes and edges in black and white. If normal color vision is a high definition TV, then this would be a black and white TV with only 60 pixels.</p><p>The implant on the retina has six electrodes across and ten down, says Jennifer Lim, the director of retinal services at the University of Illinois Hospital who will be leading the surgical team. Hence the 60 pixels.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s not going to be vision like you and I have, where we see colors and shapes and images,&rdquo; she says. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s more of a pixelated type vision that they see, but it&rsquo;s really a great scientific advancement, and almost something out of Star Trek.&rdquo;</p><p>The Food and Drug Administration approved the Argus II this February. The University of Illinois Hospital is one of 12 hospitals nationwide running a Phase Four clinical trial. That means the device has been approved for the market, and researchers will investigate possible long term side effects.</p><p>The implant does have side effects. Doctors need to cut open the eye to implant the chip on the retina, so the wound could split or become inflamed, for instance. Lim says such side effects are not uncommon in retinal surgeries and can be treated. She says what&rsquo;s more important to know is that patients will need to spend five to ten hours learning how to use the device, as well as receive training. After all, they&rsquo;re learning to see again.</p><p>Although the Argus II is limited to treating RP patients, the goal is to extend it to other eye disorders that damage the retina, says Rohit Varma, professor and head of ophthalmology at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine.</p><p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;re in a very exciting time in vision research,&rdquo; Varma says. &ldquo;We, for the first time, have the ability to give some vision back to people who ordinarily would be blind for the rest of their lives.&rdquo;</p><p>For instance, he says a similar device could treat <a href="http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/maculardegeneration.html" target="_blank">macular degeneration</a>, a far more common eye disease that is the leading cause of blindness in Americans over 60.</p><p>In RP, the patient loses peripheral vision slowly, developing a type of tunnel vision before becoming blind. In macular degeneration, the retina is damaged at its center, which is the most light sensitive. The Argus II has 60 electrodes, and Varma proposes an implant with 240 electrodes or more, placed at the center of the retina, to treat macular degeneration.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s a little way away from that,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;We&rsquo;re excited at this point that we even have this technology and that we can bring light to people whose lives are essentially dark.&rdquo;</p><p>Stephen Tsang of Columbia University believes that in the near future, advanced patients will be treated with prostheses, but earlier stage patients can receive gene and stem cell therapies. He says researchers are developing such treatments for retinal diseases, citing progress at the <a href="http://www.ghei.uci.edu/features/feature_klassen.asp" target="_blank">University of California, Irvine</a>, <a href="http://www.moorfields.nhs.uk/Aboutus/Mediaoffice/Mediareleases/Worldsfirstgenetherapyforinheritedblindness-2?portal_skin=text_only" target="_blank">University College London</a> and <a href="http://www.nature.com/news/2011/110406/full/news.2011.215.html" target="_blank">Japan</a>. He says this model of stage-based treatment will also likely be used in treating degenerative brain diseases, such as Alzheimer&rsquo;s and Parkinson&rsquo;s.</p><p>&ldquo;The progress is tremendous,&rdquo; Tsang says. &ldquo;For example, diagnosing RP patients before they&rsquo;re born in the earlier stage is not even practical just a few years ago, because it took $3 billion dollars and a few years to sequence one person&rsquo;s genome. But now it takes only one month and less than $5,000.&rdquo;</p><p><em>Alan Yu is a WBEZ metro desk intern. Follow him <a href="http://Alan_Yu039" target="_blank">@Alan_Yu039</a></em></p></p> Fri, 05 Jul 2013 07:59:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/bionic-eye-comes-illinois-hospital-107954 Clever Apes: Top 5 Chicago science stories of 2011 http://www.wbez.org/blog/clever-apes/2011-12-28/clever-apes-top-5-chicago-science-stories-2011-95182 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/photo/2011-December/2011-12-28/MDB logo 1.PNG" alt="" /><p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-December/2011-12-28/MDB logo 1.PNG" style="width: 500px; height: 333px;" title=""></p><p>Here at Clever Apes, we’re big proponents of giving the people what they want. First off, I have decided that they want a one-hour Clever Apes special, with our favorite segments from 2011 all gift-wrapped into one apey package. I have chosen to be overwhelmed by a groundswell of public pressure for such a special, and have therefore answered the call that (I would guess) has rung out loud and clear. Click the “listen” button above to hear.</p><p>Secondly, based on our web traffic, what the people want are Top 5 and year-end lists. So here are our nominations for the top 5 Chicago science stories of 2011:</p><p><strong>5. Lab-grown neurons advance Alzheimer’s research</strong></p><p>A team at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine has figured out <a href="http://www.wbez.org/story/chicago-scientists-grow-neurons-stem-cells">how to grow a type of neuron </a>affected by Alzhemier’s Disease. Basal forebrain cholinergic neurons are crucial to retrieving memories. Thanks largely to the determination of <a href="http://www.wbez.org/blog/clever-apes/2011-03-16/clever-apes-brain-dish-83827">a grad student named Christopher Bissonette</a>, scientists can now make these cells to order based on human embryonic stem cells, or even artificially made stem cells. This could greatly speed up the testing of drug candidates, and could someday open up the possibility of transplanting healthy neurons into the stricken brain of an Alzheimer’s patient.</p><p><strong>4. New artifacts rewrite the history of human settlement in North America</strong></p><p>A major find in central Texas has largely overturned the long-dominant theory of when humans arrived in North America. For years, archaeologists believed that the first North Americans were the Clovis people, who showed up around 13,000 years ago. Cracks had been appearing in that theory, and the latest excavation may spell its end. The newly dated artifacts appear to be 15,000 years old. That insight comes partly from <a href="http://www.wbez.org/story/anthropology/chicago-scientist-dates-artifacts-may-rewrite-ancient-history-84190">the lab of University of Illinois at Chicago professor Steven Forman</a>. He uses a technique called <a href="http://www.wbez.org/blog/clever-apes/2011-07-26/clever-apes-15-trick-light-89684">luminescence dating</a>, which calculates when the last time deeply buried object was exposed to sunlight.</p><p><strong>3. Satellite discovers new worlds</strong></p><p>The <a href="http://kepler.nasa.gov/Mission/discoveries/">Kepler satellite mission </a>has had a huge year. To date it identified about 2,326 planets outside of our solar system, known as exoplanets. Recently it found the first known planet in the “habitable zone,” meaning it sits in a region where liquid water could exist. It also found the first known earth-sized planets, and earlier this year, a batch of multiple-planet solar systems, including <a href="http://www.wbez.org/story/astronomy/chicago-area-scientist-helps-discover-new-solar-system">one with six planets</a>. Batavia-based astrophysicist Jason Steffen is part of the Kepler team, and did much of the computational work behind the finds. It has also, coincidentally, been a big year for Steffen, who got much attention for experimental results supporting <a href="http://www.wbez.org/story/astrophysicist-shows-why-it-takes-so-long-board-plane-91161">his theory on the best way to board an airplane.</a></p><p><strong>2. Chicago River gets less icky</strong></p><p>The Chicago River, long relegated to glorified sewage ditch, is poised to get a lot less disgusting. The water reclamation district, under pressure from state and federal environmental regulators, has <a href="http://www.wbez.org/story/reversing-course-water-agency-backs-chicago-river-cleanup-87524">agreed to start disinfecting the effluent </a>that makes up most of the river system’s water. That represents a big about-face for the agency and a victory for environmentalists and river users (though the cost to homeowners, who will finance much of the project, remains a big question mark). The agency also recently <a href="http://www.wbez.org/story/water-distrct-curb-raw-sewage-discharges-94902">agreed to curb discharges of raw sewage </a>into the river by committing to a timetable for completing the deep tunnel and reservoir project and beefing up green infrastructure. It will still be years before you can swim in the river without a Purell bath afterwards, but this year clearly marked a basic shift in how the region thinks about its waterways.</p><p><strong>1. The passing of the Tevatron</strong></p><p>For decades, Fermilab’s big particle collider kept the Chicago area (and the United States) at the frontier of high-energy physics. Finally, this year, <a href="http://www.wbez.org/blog/clever-apes/2011-09-27/clever-apes-19-godspeed-tevatron-92526">scientists pulled the plug </a>on one of the most remarkable machines ever constructed. The Tevatron gave scientists a clear look at the top quark, a fundamental building block of matter that had long eluded detection. It yielded a trove of insights into how the tiniest particles behave, pushed forward the search for the mysterious Higgs Boson, advanced superconducting technology and seeded its eventual usurper, the Large Hadron Collider. There’s <a href="http://www.wbez.org/episode-segments/whats-ahead-fermilab-without-massive-particle-collider-tevatron">lots more cutting-edge research unfolding at Fermilab, </a>but its longtime crown jewel is now an artifact on the prairie.</p><p>There you have it, 2011. Clever Apes will be back next year with lots more from the fascinating, odd and deeply human world of Chicago-area science. As always, don’t forget to subscribe to our <a href="http://feeds.feedburner.com/CleverApesPodcast" target="_blank" title="http://feeds.feedburner.com/CleverApesPodcast">podcast</a>, follow us on&nbsp;<a href="http://twitter.com/#%21/cleverapes" target="_blank" title="http://twitter.com/#!/cleverapes">Twitter</a>, and find us on&nbsp;<a href="http://www.facebook.com/pages/Clever-Apes-on-WBEZ/118246851551412" target="_blank" title="http://www.facebook.com/pages/Clever-Apes-on-WBEZ/118246851551412">Facebook</a>.</p></p> Wed, 28 Dec 2011 20:21:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blog/clever-apes/2011-12-28/clever-apes-top-5-chicago-science-stories-2011-95182 All pumped up: Can stem cells fix human hearts? http://www.wbez.org/story/2011-06-12/all-pumped-can-stem-cells-fix-human-hearts-87823 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/npr_story/photo/2011-June/2011-06-14/51039822.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Installing a pump or an artificial heart is not likely to become mainstream treatment for heart disease. Scientists are more enthusiastic about an approach involving stem cells — cells that can, in theory, be coaxed into replacing heart cells damaged or destroyed by disease.</p><p>Regenerating functioning heart cells has been a goal of medicine for more than a century. To achieve that goal, "the heart has been stabbed, snipped, contused, cauterized, coagulated, frozen, injected with toxins, infected and infarcted, in species ranging from marine invertebrates to horses," write University of Washington scientists Michael Laflamme and Charles Murry in the May 19 issue of <em>Nature</em>.</p><p>Now those efforts are beginning to pay off. In mice it's possible to find stem cells that will turn into functioning, beating heart cells, and those cells do go where they are needed, replacing cells that have been damaged. But the repairs are mostly modest, and, of course, mice aren't human. Their hearts are much smaller, and beat much faster. What works in mice might be a total flop in humans.</p><p>There are creatures that can regenerate heart tissue without any help from human scientists. The zebra fish is one example: You can cut out about 20 percent of a zebra fish's heart, and the heart will grow back to normal.</p><p>Obviously human hearts can't do that. But scientists now believe there are stem cells in all of us that regenerate human hearts; they just do it a glacial pace, not nearly fast enough to make repairs in the event of injury. Scientists are trying to identify these cardiac stem cells, and then figure out how to juice them up so they can repair damage caused by a heart attack.</p><p>Scientists are also trying to use a cocktail of chemicals to trick other kinds of stem cells that don't normally make heart cells to take on that role.</p><p>But like mechanical pumps and artificial hearts, stem cell therapy is a high-tech, high-expense solution for dealing with heart diseases. The painful truth is that heart health is largely in your hands: Rather than wait for the day when medicine can replace or repair your damaged ticker, you can eat sensibly, quit smoking, get some exercise — all that boring stuff — now. That's not nearly as newsworthy as the latest medical breakthrough, but it's probably more relevant to your health. <div class="fullattribution">Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. </p> Sun, 12 Jun 2011 23:01:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/2011-06-12/all-pumped-can-stem-cells-fix-human-hearts-87823 How an uncommonly driven researcher made an Alzheimer's breakthrough http://www.wbez.org/story/alzheimers-disease/how-uncommonly-driven-researcher-made-alzheimers-breakthrough <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/story/photo/2011-March/2011-03-16/Bissonette microscope.JPG" alt="" /><p><p>Researchers at Chicago&rsquo;s Northwestern Medicine announced a breakthrough this month in confronting Alzheimer&rsquo;s Disease.</p><p>Like many scientific advances, it took years of grinding work.</p><p>But the young man behind this discovery had some deeply personal reasons to keep going in the face of long hours, long odds and even broken bones.</p><p>Chris Bissonette was just a kid when his grandfather succumbed to Alzheimer&rsquo;s.</p><p>All he really understood was that his grandfather was losing memories, and then he moved into the hospital.</p><p>The picture got clearer years later, when Bissonette was working a summer job at a lab.</p><p>BISSONNETTE: And the lab housed the British Columbia brain bank, with hundreds of brains of people with Alzheimer&rsquo;s Disease.</p><p>Bissonnette would see their medical records.</p><p>And he came to learn the disease is even more grisly than he&rsquo;d thought.</p><p>BISSONNETTE: Descriptions by doctors of someone screamed all night because they couldn&rsquo;t sleep and they didn&rsquo;t know what was happening and they no longer had a personality. There is a horrible end to people with Alzheimer&rsquo;s Disease that most people don&rsquo;t really know about. I wanted to make it so that these people had some hope.</p><p>So he threw himself into brain science.</p><p>He learned the culprit in early Alzheimer&rsquo;s seems to be one particular kind of brain cell crucial for accessing memories.</p><p>BISSONNETTE: They&rsquo;re kind of like librarians in a library, and now suddenly with them all dead, people don&rsquo;t really know where everything&rsquo;s stored. It&rsquo;s not that the memories in peoples brains are being destroyed, it&rsquo;s just that the brains are unable to retrieve them.</p><p>Save or replace those cells, and maybe you could outsmart the disease.</p><p>As a grad student he joined the lab of Dr. John Kessler at Northwestern.</p><p>Bissonnette wanted to use human embryonic stem cells to figure out how to grow the affected brain cells from scratch.</p><p>Kessler says he tried to talk him out of it.</p><p>KESSLER: To be perfectly honest, I said you know, Chris, this may be too tough a project for you to be doing as a student. Perhaps we should do this with mouse cells. Chris&rsquo;s response to me was, no &hellip;</p><p>BISSONNETTE: I don&rsquo;t really care if mice have Alzheimer&rsquo;s, and I don&rsquo;t care if mice are able to remember stuff. So I want to be able to have an impact in the actual human disease.</p><p>And so he began what would become a six-year project in a windowless lab.</p><p>BISSONNETTE: So this is the stem cell lab here. And so, all of the air inside this room has been filtered twice.</p><p>SPITZER: How much time would you say you&rsquo;ve spent in this room?</p><p>BISSONNETTE: Thousands of hours.</p><p>The narrow, yellowish room is lined with fridges, incubators, a canister of liquid nitrogen.</p><p>Stem cells can develop into any type of cell in the body.</p><p>Bissonnette painstakingly manipulated them with different solutions.</p><p>Getting the right formula took many educated guesses, and lots of wrong turns.</p><p>BISSONNETTE: You&rsquo;d think you were on the road to getting the right kind of cells, and then at the end you&rsquo;d check to see what you&rsquo;ve made, and they&rsquo;re entirely wrong. So you know that a month of your work was completely wasted, and for the next month you&rsquo;re not going to get anything better.</p><p>The cells need constant attention &ndash; missing work was not an option.</p><p>Twice, Bissonette broke bones in bike accidents and was right back in the lab &ndash; once even before the bones were set.</p><p>Again, his mentor John Kessler pleaded with him to take it easy.</p><p>KESSLER: He came in, he was obviously in a lot of pain, his arm was in a sling, it just didn&rsquo;t stop him.</p><p>Eventually Bissonnette cracked the code.</p><p>The lab can now grow virtually unlimited numbers of the brain cells.</p><p>That means scientists will be able to test thousands of drugs and maybe, someday, even transplant the cells into a sick person&rsquo;s brain.</p><p>Kessler attributes the breakthrough to Bissonette&rsquo;s determination.</p><p>KESSLER: Chris is as good as any student I&rsquo;ve had in my laboratory in 30 years. He is really that good, and that smart. You know I sometimes feel that if I had a half a dozen people like Chris, there&rsquo;s no disease we couldn&rsquo;t deal with.</p><p>So what do you do when you pulled off a scientific coup at age 29?</p><p>If you&rsquo;re Chris Bissonette, you apply to business school.</p><p>BISSONNETTE: I don&rsquo;t have the energy to work 18 hours a day, 7 days a week any more. I&rsquo;m never going to find another discovery that&rsquo;s going to be as large as the first stem cell therapy for Alzheimer&rsquo;s Disease. So I think I could have a much bigger impact in science by leaving academic science.</p><p>Bissonette wants to help biotechnology firms bring discoveries to market.</p><p>After all, the real breakthrough will come when the advances he&rsquo;s made move beyond that windowless lab, and to a patient&rsquo;s bedside.</p><p>(Hear an extended interview with Bissonnette <a href="http://www.wbez.org/blog/clever-apes/2011-03-16/clever-apes-brain-dish-83827">here</a>)</p></p> Thu, 17 Mar 2011 10:28:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/alzheimers-disease/how-uncommonly-driven-researcher-made-alzheimers-breakthrough Chicago scientists grow neurons from stem cells http://www.wbez.org/story/chicago-scientists-grow-neurons-stem-cells <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/Neuron.JPG" alt="" /><p><p>Scientists at Northwestern University say they&rsquo;ve figured out how to grow a kind of brain cell that&rsquo;s lost in Alzheimer&rsquo;s Disease. The cells make circuits critical for forming new memories, and they&rsquo;re among the first to die in Alzheimer&rsquo;s.&nbsp;Researchers at Northwestern Medicine coaxed human embryonic stem cells to grow into those neurons. They also developed an alternate strategy, where they got skin cells to mimic stem cells, which they were then able to grow into the neurons.&nbsp;</p><p>John Kessler, Chairman of Neurology at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, said the breakthrough could accelerate research into therapies.</p><p>&ldquo;Because we have the human neurons right in front of us in a tissue culture dish, we can screen literally thousands &ndash; actually, tens of thousands -- of drugs at a time, to find one that may work in the disease,&rdquo; Kessler said.</p><p>Down the line, scientists hope to be able to transplant the new cells into Alzheimer&rsquo;s patients whose own neurons have died.&nbsp;The findings are published in the journal Stem Cells.</p><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Fri, 04 Mar 2011 12:00:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/story/chicago-scientists-grow-neurons-stem-cells