NeoStem’s technology may find a role in future nuclear emergencies Print E-mail
By Jason Chew, ProActiveInvestors.Com   
Friday, 08 April 2011 06:30
In the last few weeks, the word has watched a nuclear catastrophe unfold in Japan as a result of the largest recorded earthquake in Japanese history. The March 9 magnitude 9.0 quake lead to mammoth tsunamis that swept the northern Japan coastlines, and in the process, damaged three nuclear reactor facilities. The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, 240 km (150 miles) north of Tokyo suffered the greatest damage and presented risks of  radiation leaking into the surrounding areas.

As of April 6th, 170,000 people have been evacuated from around the area surrounding the plant- A special camp of operations several miles from the plant has been set up to near the plan in the “safe zone” where workers are then shuttled back and forth.

We know that two workers were hospitalized for radiation burns recently. The loyalty and bravery of these courageous Japanese is with-out words, The reality is that the families, friends and loved ones, not to mention the displaced residents and people living on the border of the safe zone, are worried. They are worried because they know that there are few treatments  available to help people with radiation poisoning.

Potassium Iodide may be used for the prevention of thyroid cancer from radioactive iodine, and antimicrobials may be used to prevent infection due to the degradation of the immune system. With increasing exposure, radiation poisoning leads to symptoms including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and CNS. These toxic doses lead to Acute Radiation Syndrome (ARS)- a combination of clinical symptoms arising from high radiation exposure over a short time span.

The US government has been keenly aware of its lack of radiation poisoning treatment options, in particular because this posed a national security threat. Well before Japan’s earthquake and accompanying disasters struck, the US was already seeking to find solutions to the perceived threats of nuclear weapons and dirty bombs.

The federal government has been spending large sums of money to assist in the development of anti-radiation treatments. The Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) invested $164 in the area just in the last three years. Add to that money from the NIH and Department of Defense (DoD), which in 2008 awarded a $224.7 million contract to a small biotech called Osiris to develop stem cell based therapies for the treatment of gastrointestinal injuries resulting from radiation exposure. The DoD agreed to purchase up to 20,000 doses, in 5,000-dose increments, at $10,000 per dose once the stem cell therapy reached FDA approval.

The DoD award highlights the importance of stem cells in treating radiation injury. Gastrointestinal tissue is highly sensitive to irradiation. Another highly sensitive tissue is the bone marrow, source of the body’s blood cells, including hard-to-replace white blood cells. With a compromised immune system, individuals are prone to infection, which if untreated may lead to death. Bone marrow failure is the primary cause of mortality due to ARS may occur within six weeks after exposure due to overwhelming infection or uncontrolled bleeding from a lack of blood-clotting platelets.

A possible treatment for the loss of white blood cell production is the use of the growth factor GCSF to boost their numbers. However, there is only one treatment that will save an individual with fatal radiation exposure, and that is a stem cell transplant. If the transplant is performed within 7-10 days of exposure, cure rates can be high for this procedure. Stem cell transplantation has been used successfully in Japan following the Tokaimura nuclear reactor accident in 1999 when a serious mistake allowed a nuclear reaction to occur outside the reactor core. In that case, three workers suffered severe ARS; one received a cord blood transplant and two received stem cell transplants.

Stem cell transplantation has improved since then with the advent of autologous engraftments. Prior therapies required donation of stem cells, typically from close relatives to assure a close match. But even then, grafts were frequently rejected. Autologous transplants take stem cells from the patient, ensuring a perfect match. This procedure only works if you have cells of your own to work with. In cases of severe ARS, patients may have much of their stem cells destroyed.

One solution is to prepare for individuals to prepare for the future by prophylactically storing their stem cells in a safe place until they need them. A company called NeoStem provides such a service. The company is founded around the idea of collecting and storing  your own stem cells as a type of  medical insurance . NeoStem has facilities across the US to collect the cells and its recent acquisition of Progenitor Cell Therapy bring in the house the capability to store the cells (cryo-preservation) at a cGMP approved facility.

NeoStem is conducting additional research on what are termed Very Small Embryonic Like (VSEL) stem cells that may have the potential to be used in bone marrow rescue through an autologous stem cell transplant. The company believes this technology has the ability to be an even more effective therapeutic than the typical stem cell transplantation procedure.

Through its research, NeoStem is developing the next generation of stem cell therapeutics, one that may play an important role in the event of a future nuclear emergency. Importantly, NeoStem has the resources in place now for individuals to proactively protect themselves by providing storage for their healthy stem cells until such time as they are needed- the idea is simple, but the potential benefits are enormous. Events of the last few weeks have put that in perspective.

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