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Thread: San Diego recruits well-known stem cell researcher

  1. #1

    San Diego recruits well-known stem cell researcher

    Harvard biologist lured to La Jolla

    By Bruce Lieberman
    STAFF WRITER (San Diego Union-Tribune)

    November 19, 2002

    Dr. Evan Snyder, one of the country's most prominent researchers in regenerative medicine, will join the Burnham Institute in La Jolla Dec. 1 to direct a kind of Manhattan Project in human stem-cell research.

    The Burnham's new Stem Cell and Regeneration program will seek answers to some of human biology's most fundamental questions, such as how cells and organs develop as well as finding new treatments for disease.

    "This is a hot topic," said Stuart Lipton, director of Burnham's Del E. Webb Center for Neurosciences and Aging and a vocal advocate for stem-cell research. "There's a lot of very basic science that we do and we want to move very quickly," he said.

    Snyder, who is leaving Harvard Medical School after 22 years, was enticed by the Burnham's ambitious program to bring together top minds to tackle stem-cell research, an emerging and controversial science.

    "They approached me mostly by saying this was a very serious, multidisciplinary effort that they were really committed to," he said.

    After working for years as one of a handful of stem-cell biologists at Harvard, Snyder said he had grown frustrated by the university's hesitation to embrace the science as an important, albeit fledgling, area of study.

    "It's an old institution, and it's very slow to change and put programs together," he said. "I think they were kind of sitting out to see whether this stem-cell thing was going to go anywhere, and I was just getting very, very impatient to try to really get the whole stem-cell biology into hyperdrive and really push the biology."

    Early in his career as a pediatrician in Boston, Snyder was astounded at how infants with brain injuries often recovered so well, and wondered why.

    That question and others inspired Snyder's career in regenerative medicine, specifically the study of specialized cells in the brain called neural stem cells.

    In 1998, Snyder was the first to announce he had isolated neural stem cells from a single sample of human fetal tissue, grown them in culture and then implanted them in the brains of mice.

    The procedure demonstrated that transplanted cells responded to normal cues in the animal's brain, replaced diseased brain cells and brought in new genes. Since then, he has successfully transplanted human neural stem cells into the brains of monkeys.

    Scientists hope to use neural and other stem cells to replace tissue in a variety of diseases, including heart, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and Lou Gehrig's, multiple sclerosis, diabetes and cancer, and in brain and spinal-cord injuries.

    Stem cells taken from embryos are believed to be master cells that can grow into any type of cell in the body. In fetuses and adults, stem cells are thought to be master cells for a particular organ.

    Snyder has studied the latter. Using neural stem cells derived from a single sample of fetal tissue, he hopes to show they can be transplanted into patients with a variety of brain disorders and diseases to replace abnormal or damaged cells. He has likened the procedure to re-seeding an old or damaged lawn.

    Standard fetal tissue treatments for people with brain disease, in which material from several aborted fetuses is transplanted into the patient, remains logistically difficult and ethically controversial, he said.

    Embryonic stem-cell research, meanwhile, also has been the subject of great debate because scientists must destroy an embryo to extract its stem cells.

    President Bush and other foes of abortion oppose embryonic stem-cell research, and this summer the U.S. Senate considered debating a bill to criminalize the work. The bill stalled in June after Democratic and Republican leaders could not agree on how to bring the measure to the floor for a vote.

    California Gov. Gray Davis, meanwhile, signed a new law Sept. 22 that affirms the state's support of embryonic stem-cell research. That is another reason Snyder was encouraged to move to San Diego.

    "I think the new law may go a long way toward making California a place that almost becomes a magnet for stem-cell biologists," he said.

    Larry Goldstein, a professor of pharmacology at the University of California San Diego Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine who lobbied for the state law, said the welcoming political climate could also bring research funding.

    "If you're trying to attract private investment, it's more likely to come to a state where (stem-cell research) is legal than in a state where there's uncertainty," Goldstein said.

    Snyder is the latest of several stem-cell biologists to join Burnham in recent years.

    Lipton, the director of Burnham's center for neurosciences and aging who studied at Harvard with Snyder and worked with him at Children's Hospital in Boston, made the move three years ago.

    Mark Mercola, who is heading research into how stem cells can be used to treat cardiac disease, came to Burnham from Harvard Aug. 1.

    And Alexey Terskikh, studying the genes responsible for stem-cell replication in blood and the brain, also joined Burnham last summer after postdoctoral training with Irving Weissman, a prominent stem-cell biologist at Stanford University.

    Many of Snyder's colleagues, including Lipton and Fred Gage at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, are deeply involved in stem-cell research. Others are active in the San Francisco Bay Area and at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

    "I was finding many, many more colleagues and collaborators here than I certainly was finding in Boston," Snyder said.

    At the Burnham Institute, Snyder said he hopes to advance stem-cell biology to better understand how cells in the body develop, and how they go wrong.

    "The stem cell is essentially the building block," Snyder said. "It's the most primordial cell of the body or of any one organ, and it's part of a mechanism that nature has used to put organs together."

    Certain degenerative diseases, he said, may actually be diseases of stem cells.

    "If we understand that, we can then try to rejump-start development where it has either gone wrong or needs to be invoked to fix something that has been damaged."

    Snyder's observations of newborn brain damage and recovery runs in opposition to classical biology, which views the brain's development as a rigid process that cannot adapt well to injury.

    Stem cells in the young, developing brain, however, may be fueling recovery in ways that scientists do not yet fully understand, he said.

    "There's some kind of plasticity in the human brain, and now it's time to figure out what's going on there," he said.

    Snyder, a 1980 graduate of the University of Pennsylvania's medical school, has spent his entire professional life at Harvard, where he works as a pediatrician with a specialty in neonatology, or intensive care for newborns.

    Snyder studied psychology as an undergraduate, and he soon became interested in brain physiology.

    "I kept on asking, 'How does this work, and how does that work, and how does that work,' and before you knew it I was looking at a single nerve cell in a dish," he said.

    Snyder and his, wife, Angela Vieira, recently bought a home in La Jolla. Vieira now works as the general counsel for Children's Hospital in San Diego.


    Copyright 2002 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.

    Find this article at:
    http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/u...m19snyder.html

    (KLD)

  2. #2
    Senior Member Leo's Avatar
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    Go Dr. Evan Snyder!!!

    Man you gotta like this attitude.

  3. #3
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    Good News

    Dr. Snyder is the type of person that is needed today. With his enthusiasm, vision and energy good science will be moved forward.


    God Bless

    Arnie Fonseca, Jr.
    Neuro Institute

  4. #4
    http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/articl...6/MN220287.DTL

    posted 9 hours ago
    ---------------------------------------------------------

    Harvard researcher mines stem cell riches in West Law makes California 'safe haven' for development, fund raising

    Carl T. Hall Monday, January 6, 2003
    ------------------------------------------------------------------------





    Many biologists view stem cells as perhaps the most promising new development since the advent of genetic engineering. New research centers are being established at Stanford University and UCSF, spurred in part by a California law encouraging the sometimes controversial research.

    Now, the Burnham Institute, an independent research center in La Jolla (San Diego County), is jumping into the mix, beginning a new stem cell initiative under the direction of Dr. Evan Snyder, a top stem cell expert at Harvard University.

    Snyder was interviewed by Chronicle Science Writer Carl T. Hall during his move to the West Coast:

    Q. Why leave Harvard?

    A. The Burnham Institute decided to make a major assault on understanding stem cell biology. They call it a Manhattan Project for stem cells. So that was very appealing. They are going to be doing this by putting a lot of intellectual, fund-raising and administrative firepower behind it.

    They also were interested in focusing on fundamental developmental biology behind stem cells. Not simply trying to put together, as one often sees in a trendy field, a place where you just play with stem cells, or put together a program purely for therapeutic reasons.

    Q. And they gave you a beachfront chalet?

    A. Well, I've always loved the San Diego area. And watching it from Boston, San Diego has really become a major stronghold of neuroscience research, genetic research and developmental biology, and also has become a real power in biotechnology as well.

    Q. Are you bringing your entire lab with you, postdocs and all?

    A. As many as I can pry loose from New England. It's still very much in the planning stages. The new state law has made California kind of a safe haven for stem cell research, so we are looking at whether we can take advantage of that to create a separate freestanding institute within the Burnham Institute.

    Q. Would the purpose of that be to make it easier to do the sort of stem cell work -- deriving new cells from embryos, for instance -- that can't be financed with federal grants?

    A. One wouldn't create an institute to circumvent federal law. The purpose would be to pursue the biology, beginning with mice stem cells, in an unfettered manner.

    We are still at the level where we need the fundamental molecular understanding. Then we may get to the point where we are starting to understand certain processes, and we want to study human cells. So one would go to the present stem cell lines that exist, and they may turn out to be poor quality, or hard to work with, or don't support the hypothesis we know should be working. Any scientist would say, 'OK, let's go make a new line of stem cells.' The only problem is that in this field, unlike any other field in science, there's a government prohibition against science pursuing its natural course.

    In a freestanding institute, scientists would be able to follow what the normal scientific reasoning process dictates: If we need to make new human embryonic cell lines, with various modifications, we'd be able to do that.

    Q. How big a factor is the California legislation supporting stem cell research?

    A. It carries an enormous amount of symbolism. It's a very important symbolic message that says the citizens of this state want good scientists to pursue this important biology, and figure out in an unfettered manner whether this is going to be important in medical science or not.

    Q. Won't this continued discussion of a ban on therapeutic cloning at the federal level intrude on all this?

    A. I guess theoretically it could, although in California, assuming you go out of your way not to commingle federal and private funds, then it shouldn't matter too much. I think it's very unlikely that it will be criminalized.

    Q. There's a proposal for a five-year moratorium. Would you accept that as a suitable compromise?

    A. That is so shortsighted and so silly. It would limit us only to the existing stem cell lines. It's like saying to George Bush: "You can attack Iraq, but only use the weapons your father had. Or even worse, why not just use stuff left over from the Vietnam War?" To penalize the American public like that would be criminal.

    Q. Well, people feel very strongly about the creation of human embryos for the purpose of destroying them to make stem cell colonies.

    A. That's really not what happens. It's a ball of cells that never have the potential to become a human being. Possibly, if implanted, it might be viable. But even in in vitro fertilization clinics, many embryos that are implanted do not take.

    It would have to be within a reproductive system to be viable, which is not the intent and could never happen. These are simply stem cell preparations, really.

    Q. England has made a big push into the stem cell field. Is it shaping up as England versus California?

    A. That would make an interesting soccer match. . . . If you surveyed many different places around this country, or around the world in fact, you will find a lot of places saying, 'We are doing stem cells.' But the goals are really not well-defined. That is a prescription for failure, and it absolutely will fail.

    Q. Why is it so important to work out all the fundamental biology before you can get to testing something in the clinic?

    A. It's the most productive way to do it.

    It's complicated. Even the dumbest stem cell is smarter than the smartest biologist.

    In the nervous system, we are starting to find that stem cells have a way of homing in on areas that seem to be damaged, and once they are there, certain cues seem to direct some of the cells to become cells that have been lost.

    Now, very new insights suggest other members of the stem cell group become support cells. We are learning these cells are just as important as the cells we thought we wanted, and in some ways even more important. They seem to exert an effect on the animal's own cells that may be threatened or degenerating or dysfunctional.

    The repair is a matter of recapitulating development. It's a whole fabric of many different cells interacting with one another. We may be naive to think we can just replace one little aspect of that. We probably need to re-create the fabric.

    The timing is the aspect that frustrates the public, and sometimes the press, and definitely investors. The time frame is very frustrating for somebody who's a capital investor and has a short attention span. You come out with a finding in January, and everybody wants to know why their uncle isn't walking by December.

    Q. Does the Bush administration's policy, and the governmental financing restrictions, allow the field to move forward?

    A. It's not so dire at this particular point because so much fundamental work needs to be done. Any scientists who say they have been paralyzed in their research because of the Bush administration is really being disingenuous.

    There is so much fundamental work we still need to do before we even know if these edicts are restrictive or not.

    I and many other people have been standing up for many years, saying stem cells are really a very promising new biology, a paradigm shift in approaching medical problems. Now it's our job to say, 'Here's the data. Here's the proof. Here's how we are delivering on our promise.' And we really haven't done that yet.

  5. #5
    Senior Member bill1938's Avatar
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    Good News, this is the kind of winners we need

    Snyder, who is leaving Harvard Medical School after 22 years, was enticed by the Burnham's ambitious program to bring together top minds to tackle stem-cell research, an emerging and controversial science.

    "They approached me mostly by saying this was a very serious, multidisciplinary effort that they were really committed to," he said.

    After working for years as one of a handful of stem-cell biologists at Harvard, Snyder said he had grown frustrated by the university's hesitation to embrace the science as an important, albeit fledgling, area of study.

    "It's an old institution, and it's very slow to change and put programs together," he said. "I think they were kind of sitting out to see whether this stem-cell thing was going to go anywhere, and I was just getting very, very impatient to try to really get the whole stem-cell biology into hyperdrive and really push the biology."

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