Stem Cell Therapy

To Be Tried in Humans

A clinical trial to test the safety of treating heart attack damage with stem cells is about to get underway, after a study showed the therapy helped in pigs.

Two patients have been enrolled so far at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, and a total of 48 are expected to take part across the country, said Joshua M. Hare, who is leading the study.

The process uses adult stem cells taken from bone marrow. These mesenchymal cells have been shown to give rise to a variety of cell types. Although they do not have the potential to develop into as many cell types as embryonic stem cells, using them avoids the controversy over taking cells from a human embryo.

In tests in pigs, stem cells taken from one pig's bone marrow were injected into another animal's damaged heart. After just two months, the stem cells had helped restore heart function and repaired damaged heart muscle by 50 to 75 percent.

Those results are reported in today's issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The planned tests in humans are a Phase I trial, meaning that the goal is merely to make sure the procedure is safe in humans.

Mars Explorers Could

Contaminate Planet

With NASA planning to return to the moon and eventually send manned spacecraft to Mars, a report by a branch of the National Academies yesterday called for new research efforts aimed at preventing contamination of Mars with microbes from Earth.

The report by the National Research Council warned that if life-forms from Earth survived the trip, they could contaminate the Red Planet, interfering with investigations to detect any life that might be native to Mars.

The report said current methods of cleaning spacecraft eliminate only a fraction of microorganisms, and it urged research on new ways to detect biological molecules and methods of sterilization.

Recent studies have indicated water could be present on Mars, so there may be locations on the planet that could support life, the report said.

Deadly 1918 Flu May

Have Hit N.Y. Early

New York City may have had a preliminary bout with a deadly flu virus months before it swept the world in 1918, killing millions.

An estimated 3,000 children and young adults died in an influenza outbreak in New York prior to the worldwide spread of the illness that claimed 40 million lives, including 600,000 in the United States, researchers report.

Donald R. Olson of Columbia University and colleagues analyzed city public health records from 1911 to 1921 and found a sharp increase in influenza deaths among children and young adults in February through April of 1918.

In a typical year the majority of deaths from flu occur in older people, but in worldwide pandemics the fatalities occur disproportionately among younger people, Olson reports in today's issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Thus, the excessive influenza deaths among young people in early 1918 in New York City may indicate a preliminary encounter with the flu that was to sweep the world the following fall and winter, the researchers suggest. They cannot be sure without recovering samples of the virus itself.

-- From News Services