November 2, 2004
for more than
one out of every 15 deaths in the
United States, according to a 2004 American Heart
Association report. For every death, there are many
more survivors who must cope with symptoms rang-
ing from paralysis to speechlessness. Rehabilitation
options are limited and often involve a process of
physical therapy that is grueling for both patient and
caregiver. Even then, results are modest and little
can be done to treat the damage done to the brain by
Neurology Prof. Jack Parent is trying to develop
a method to treat this stroke-related brain damage
directly by using stem cells - self-renewing cells that
can give rise to all other kinds of cells in the tissue in
which they are present.
Parent is studying the ability of brain cells to self-
repair after a stroke. After finding that the self-repair
scenario was less promising as expected, he realized
that another strategy was necessary and looked to
stem cells as an alternative. Theoretically, stem cells
could be implanted into the brain and grow into new
nerve cells to replace the ones damaged by a stroke,
Stem cells are "a potentially unlimited source of
new nerve cells for the brain," Parent said.
But before stem cells can have any therapeutic
value, more research is needed to understand why
they differentiate into different types of cells and
how to use them to produce desired cells in humans,
Making this research possible is a grant from the
University's year-old Human Embryonic Stem cell
center. In September of 2003, the University received
a three-year, $2.3 million grant from the National
Institutes of Health to establish a human embryonic
stem cell center-one of three in the nation. The center
awards three grants of $75,000 to scientists pursuing
embryonic stem cell research each year. The research-
ers also receive access to three federally approved
stem cell lines.
In its first year, the center has been focused on get-
ting stem cell lines to the University and establishing a
proper environment for research, said K. Sue O'Shea,
a professor of cellular and developmental biology and
head of the center.
"For the first year we were funded, we spent a lot
of time getting stem cells in-house and establishing
(research) protocols. We've got to be very careful so
that we don't change them in any way," O'Shea said.
Now that the center has received and produced cop-
ies of its cell lines, its researchers are producing valu-
able data, said O'Shea.
"(The researchers) are coming along. They all have
some good things that are happening and it's enough
info to see if it's worth it to pursue it as a line of
By providing funding and access to stem cells, the
center will serve as a stepping stone for scientists to
receive their own NIH grants, O'Shea said.
Beyond the science
Mentioned by both Democratic presidential
candidate John Kerry and his running mate John
Edwards on the campaign trail, embryonic stem
cell research has become a key polarizing issue in
an already heated political season. Candidates have
traded blows over stem cells while party loyalties
have been tested; While President Bush has come
out against embryonic stem cell research, Califor-
nia Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican,
came out in support of spending $3 billion of public
funds on research.
This initiative dwarfs the $25 million in fed-
eral funds President Bush has provided for stem cell
research and the $100 million a year proposed by
Kerry. But the major difference between Bush's and
Kerry's plans - the difference that has become politi-
cally important - is that President Bush restricted
embryonic stem cell research in 2001 to the 78 lines
then in existence, while Kerry supports unrestricted
research on unlimited lines.
Supporters of embryonic stem cell research argue
that more lines need to be developed and opened in
order to unlock the true potential of stem cells, while
others question the morality of destroying embryos to
obtain the cells.
Working on the front lines of embryonic stem
cell research, O'Shea is quick to weigh in on the
issue. The so-called "presidential stem cell lines"
are inadequate for research because they are not
pure enough to be used in humans, she said.
"All the cells President Bush restricted us to use
were derived in contact with mouse embryo fibroblasts
- that means they may have mouse viruses in them
It is very unlikely that the FDA will allow the early
presidential cell lines to be transplanted into other
humans," O'Shea said. The more recently derived
lines were not in contact with mouse embryos
and therefore are not contaminated.
More cell lines also means more genetic
variability. O'Shea said that by developing lines
from embryos of families with different genet-
ic diseases, scientists could develop a greater
understanding of the afflictions and come up
While its future remains
icertain, cutting-edge stem cell
earch makes headway at 'U'
By ADRIAN CHEN
DAILY STAFF REPORTER
with possible remedies, something that current restric-
tions are hindering.
O'Shea said the state of Michigan has not been as
supportive of stem cells as it could be and is being
overshadowed by states that recognize the importance
of stem cell research.
"(Legislators) haven't encouraged us in any way
while California has been throwing a lot at (stem
cell research) - they see the power of stem cells
and the ability to increase growth and economic
Rep. Jack Hoogendyk (R-Kalamazoo) is one
legislator trying to limit the scope of stem cell
research in Michigan. Last April, Hoogendyk
introduced a bill aimed at banning research on
embryonic stem cell lines not derived from the
presidential lines. Although the destruction of
embryos, and therefore the derivation of new stem
cell lines, is currently prohibited in Michigan,
Hoogendyk is concerned that researchers could
import lines made outside the state.
"(I believe) that all human life is guaranteed protec-
tion by the Constitution; the size of the human life has
no bearing on this protection," Hoogendyk said. "The
first question is, 'Is it a living human?' "
Embryonic stem cell research does not warrant the
destruction of an embryo, Hoogendyk said.
By using adult stem cells, researchers have been
able to accomplish major breakthroughs without the
destruction of embryos, Hoogendyk said.
"To date, there has been no progress with embry-
onic cells. The only breakthroughs thathave occurred
- and there have been some significant ones - have
been with adult stem cells, that is, stem cells taken
from humans who have already been born," Hoogen-
Though tabled, Hoogendyk's bill may be picked up
for consideration in the next legislative session.
To the future
Work continues at the center even as the fate
of human embryonic stem cell research in the
United States is being decided on the political
Parent continues trying to determine whether stem
cell transplantation is possible in the brain.
Getting stem cells to grow into nerve cells isn't
the main problem; their natural tendency is to devel-
op into the cells, Parent said. Rather, he is trying
to find out at what period in a stem cell's develop-
ment it is most receptive to transplantation. If stem
cells are too mature when implanted into the brain,
they will not migrate to the site of the stroke dam-
age. However, if they are too immature, they won't
become nerve cells.
To examine the behavior of stem cells after trans-
plantation, Parent and his colleagues are also devel-
oping a way to track stem cells noninvasively. This
involves radioactively tagging the stem cells and fol-
lowing them with a PET san, similar to the procedure
used when tracing a person's blood flow.
This fall, three more projects were selected to
receive funding from the center.
Mark Russell, a professor of pediatric cardiology,
heads one of these projects. He is interested in the
differentiation of embryonic stem cells into beating
"We would like to understand how cells make the
decision to become cardiac muscle cells: What cues
are they using from the surrounding tissue to drive
them to become cardiac muscle cells?" Russell said.
Russell hopes to gain insightintothe signaling process
that generates heart muscles in order to pave the way for a
way to repair muscle damaged by heart attacks.
Only about a month into his research, Russell is
nonetheless excited about the potential of the center.
"It's a very important effort and it's terrific that we
can attract this center to Michigan. I think this will
make Michigan a leader in the field for many years
With the support offered by the University, which
gave $500,000 to help with start-up costs, O'Shea
sees the center as a permanent part of the University
She hopes the center will expand its scope and use
embryonic stem cells to make models of diseases and,
depending on changes in embry-
onic stem cell policy, to study a
variety of genetic diseases
using newly derivedx
stem cell lines.:
Mission finds methane
on Mars that suggests life
By Kingson Man
Daily Staff Reporter
Prof. Sushil Atreya, a member of the
European Space Agency's Mars Express
mission, announced last week that trac-
es of the organic molecule methane
were found in Mars's atmosphere.
On Earth, methane is a common prod-
uct of living processes, meaning that
there could be life on Mars, Atreya said.
Atreya, professor in the department
of atmospheric, oceanic and space sci-
ences, said the methane is possibly bio-
genic, or derived from life processes.
Higher-than-normal concentrations of
water vapor - a necessary component
of life - have also been found near
pockets of methane in the atmosphere,
giving more evidence to support the
possibility of life on Mars.
But there are other explanations for
It may be the result of volcanic or
from other geologic activity that leaked
the gas into the atmosphere. Because
methane can last only a few hundred
years on Mars, its current detection
means that there is a continual source
but it is unclear whether it is a living
or a geological process. It is highly
unlikely that the methane arrived from
a one-time source like a comet strike.
The Planetary Fourier Spectrom-
eter, an instrument onboard the Mars
Express mission, identified 10.5 parts
per billion of methane in Mars's
atmosphere, compared to 17,00 parts
per billion on Earth. The spectrom-
eter takes readings of the unique
signatures given off by substances
in Mars's atmosphere. Recent obser-
vations by telescopes in Hawaii and
Chile have confirmed the presence of
the organic gas, Atreya said.
The results were published online at
ScienceExpress, in advance of Science
magazine's print version.
Brain scanning new tool in
By Genevieve Lampinen
At the turn of the last century, Dr. Alois
Alzheimer experimented on the brains of
dead patients who had experienced a myste-
rious decline in intellectual ability.
Alzheimer was the first to look deeply
into the absentmindedness that was known
to most people as a trait of the elderly and
part of the natural aging process.
He found that what these people were
experiencing was not a simple case of for-
getfulness. Alzheimer discovered abnormal
proteins in their brains, which he described
as the cause of a biological disease.
Since then, Alzheimer's disease,
named for the pioneering researcher,
has become increasingly diagnosed
among people primarily older than 60.
Because more people are living longer
in life, there are growing numbers of
patients living with Alzheimer's, said
Norman Foster, a neurologist at the
University Hospital. Foster is involved
in a groundbreaking national study
aimed at diagnosing the disease using
brain scanning techniques rather than
Alzheimer's is becoming a serious health
problem because most afflicted patients
cannot care for themselves. Although there
are many treatments that slow the progres-
sion of the disease, Alzheimer's is difficult
to diagnose and symptoms are irreversible,
Traditional methods used to diag-
nose Alzheimer's are based on assessing
a patient's behavioral symptoms. These
symptoms usually include memory loss and
absentmindedness. The diagnosis is often
ambiguous because these symptoms are
common in many brain diseases that cause
dementia, said Judy Heidebrink, a clinical
neurology professor who is also involved in
the brain scanning study.
Dementia is the deterioration of mental
capabilities such as memory, concentration,
Even mentally healthy people may exhib-
it these symptoms. Because of this problem
with diagnosing Alzheimer's, it is difficult
to treat affected patients with disease-spe-
cific drugs early enough to be effective,
To help develop better ways to diag-
nose Alzheimer's, which is deteriorating
the minds of an estimated four million
Americans, the University has become
part of the Alzheimer's Disease Neuro-
"We think we have some drugs that can
prevent the progression of Alzheimer's and
we have so many possibilities. We have to
test them," Foster said.
"The ultimate goal is to be able to do so
efficiently. This is kind of a first step toward
being able to do a better job."
ADNI, a $60 million initiative, will
develop and use brain-scanning techniques
to find biological, rather than only behav-
ioral, changes that occur with Alzheimer's
disease and other forms of dementia.
"There is good evidence that things
go wrong in the brains of people who
have Alzheimer's several years before
they have significant impairment," said
Foster, who is the team leader of the
campus ADNI site.
Biological and chemical changes will
be found in the study. These changes will
be designated as universal markers charac-
teristic of Alzheimer's and will be used to
diagnose the disease precisely on a case-by-
case basis, Foster added.
In 2002, the University released the first
conclusive study showing that a PET scan-
ner, a medical "camera" traditionally used
for diagnosing heart disease and cancer
patients, can help to distinguish Alzheim-
er's from other forms of brain disease.
Most types of neuroimaging that are
commonly used in research and diagnosis,
such as MRI scanning, produce images
of the anatomy of a tissue sample. They
show changes in tissue that have already
occurred, such as the formation of a tumor,
but provide no information about the activ-
ity of the tissue, said Bob Koeppe, a profes-
sor of radiology who is involved in ADNL
PET scans produce images that contain
critical information about the functioning
of live tissue. This kind of information is
critical in treating Alzheimer's because
it will allow doctors to treat tissue that is
being affectedbefore it is damaged,Koeppe
The University will be leading the
ADNI's PET Quality and Analysis Data
Coordinating Center, which will both
develop PET scanning methods to be
used at other ADNI sites and also analyze
PET scans that will be made in hospitals
In a PET scan image, the brain appears
as a pattern of colored spots. These spots
correspond to areas of high and low brain
activity and reveal information about which
parts of the brain are most affected by
Scans can be comparatively analyzed to
normal brain images and to images of brains
affected by different neurological diseases
to determine biological symptoms typical
of each disease and create better standards
for diagnosing dementia, Foster said.
The University will also contribute to the
project clinically by serving as a recruit-
ment site that, starting in April 2005, will
find people between the ages of 55 and 90
to participate in the study.
The research participants, either cogni-
tively normal or suffering different forms of
dementia, will be followed for up to three
years. Similar sites will be set up nationally
and in Canada.
ADNI is a $60 million collaboration
between government agencies, universities
and pharmaceutical companies.
Food containing olive oil can be labeled heart-healthy
WASHINGTON (AP) - Foodcontaining olive That means a change as simple as sauteing Oil Association, which sought the qualified The North American Olive Oil Association "I think FDA just took a more conservative
oil can carry labels saying it may reduce the risk of food in two tablespoons of olive oil instead of health claim last year. "Olive oil is a healthy included 88 publications to back its claim for the view," Bauer said.
coronary heart disease, the government says, cit- butter may be healthier for your heart. product to help them fight heart disease." heart-healthy benefits of olive oil. The group want- Manufacturers waited for the FDA's precise
ing limited evidence from a dozen scientific studies "Since CHD is the No. 1 killer of both men Recent research has underscored the heart ben- ed to make the claim for monounsaturated fats con- wording before revising labels. "I expect, over
about the benefits of monounsaturated fats. and women in the United States, it is a public efits from so-called Mediterranean diets high in tained in just one tablespoon of olive oil per day. time, most every container of olive oil will have
As long as people don't increase the number of health priority to make sure that consumers unsaturated fats from vegetable oil, nuts and such Olive oil and certain food containing olive oil this," he said.
calories they consume daily, the Food and Drug have accurate and useful information on reduc- fish as salmon and tuna. Mortality rates dropped can now indicate that "limited and not conclusive Already, American restaurants and con-
Administration confirmed a reduction in the risk ing their risk," Lester M. Crawford, acting FDA by more than 50 percent among elderly Europeans scientific evidence suggests that eating about two sumers buy $450 million in olive oil per year.
of coronary heart disease when people replace commissioner, said in a prepared statement. who stuck to such diets and led healthy lifestyles, tablespoons of olive oil daily may reduce the risk of Supermarket sales in 2003 accounted for 132
foods high in saturated fat with the monounsatu- "It's good news for consumers," said Bob according to research published in the Journal of coronary heart disease due to the monounsaturated million pounds of olive oil, up by nearly one-
rated fat in olive oil. Bauer, president of the North American Olive the American Medical Association in September. fat in olive oil," the FDA concluded. third over the past six years.