Wednesday, September 11, 2013

ASH, scientific society that fostered early stem cell transplants, publishes white paper on how to accelerate regenerative medicine

The American Society for Hematology (ASH) was founded in 1958, just a year before the first bone marrow transplants (BMT), which were really the first stem cell transplants. Those five transplants, performed by a French oncologist on Yugoslavian nuclear workers exposed to an overdose of radiation, failed. But shortly after that hematologists started the long grueling process of perfecting the BMT procedure for leukemia patients.

Over the next two decades BMT became standard therapy for leukemia and some other blood cancers and the leading pioneer in the field, Fred Hutchison’s Donnall Thomas became president of ASH in 1988 and won the Nobel Prize two years later.

However despite this success with this early form of stem cell transplant, ASH has been slow to fully embrace the many theoretical uses of the stem cell found in bone marrow. These cells include the blood forming hematopoietic stem cells needed by leukemia patients as well as the mesenchymal stem cells that can form bone, cartilage, blood vessels and other connective tissues and are being investigated as potential therapies for many diseases.

In order to bring the group more fully into the broader regenerative medicine space the society created a working group a few months ago and that group has just issued a white paper with suggestions for ASH as well as for the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Two CIRM grantees were on the working group, Catriona Jamieson of the University of California, San Diego, and Hanna Mikkola of the University of California, Los Angeles.

The guidelines appear in the current issue of the society’s journal Blood. In many ways their recommendations mirror the tactics of CIRM. They include:
  • Encourage cooperation across institutions, in this case across the various NIH institutes;
  • Make sure funding works for the entire pipeline of discovery from basic research to the manufacturing processes needed to take cells into the clinic;
  • Encourage grants that combine academic and industry scientists;
  • Creation of database registries to track the outcomes of early clinical trials.
The latter resonates with CIRM’s latest concept approved by the board in July to develop “Alpha Stem Cell” clinics around the sate (here's more about the alpha clinics).

Don Gibbons

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