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Synthetic Blood Via Artificial Cells And Platelets From Stem Cells

There’s hema­tology news, times two (at least):

1. Progress in devel­oping syn­thetic red blood cells

A University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill research group has created hydrogel par­ticles that mimic the size, shape and flex­i­bility of red blood cells (RBCs). The researchers used PRINT® (Particle Replication in Non-wetting Templates) tech­nology to gen­erate the fake RBCs, which are said to have a rel­a­tively long half-life. The findings were reported on-line yes­terday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) (abstract available, sub­scription required for full text). According to a PR-ish but inter­esting post on Futurity, a website put forth by a con­sortium of major research uni­ver­sities, tests of the par­ticles’ ability to perform func­tions such as trans­porting oxygen or car­rying ther­a­peutic drugs have not yet been conducted.

Developing com­petent, arti­ficial RBCs is a hematologist’s holy grail of sorts, because with that you might alle­viate anemia without the risks of transfusion.

2. Progress in using human stem cells to gen­erate lots of platelets

In an exciting paper pub­lished today in Cell Research, inves­ti­gators stim­u­lated human embryonic stem cells to become platelet-producing cells, called megakary­ocytes. According to the article (open-text at Nature PG), the platelets were pro­duced in abun­dance, appeared typical and clotted appro­pri­ately in response to stimuli in vitro. The researchers injected them into mice, used high-speed video microscopy for imaging, and demon­strated that the stem cell-derived human platelets con­tributed to clot for­mation in mice, in vivo (i.e., they seem to work). Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Medical Lessons*

Stem Cell Researchers Turn Skin Into Blood: Could Help Cancer Treatment

From The Australian:

Stem cell researchers have found a way to turn a person’s skin into blood, a process that could be used to treat cancer and other ailments, according to a Canadian study published today.

The method uses cells from a patch of a person’s skin and transforms it into blood that is a genetic match, without using human embryonic stem cells, said the study in the journal Nature.

Wow. Very cool. I wonder if hopefully someday this could be a replacement for random blood donation?

*This blog post was originally published at GruntDoc*

Sharing Your Health Issues: The Responsibility Of Survivorship

Jill ClayburghThis past weekend Oscar-nominated Hollywood and Broadway actress Jill Clayburgh died at age 66. The cause was chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), which she had been fighting, privately, for 21 years.

As you may recall, I, too, have CLL and I was diagnosed at the same age, 45. For me, I am 16 and a half years into that “battle” although, fortunately, I have been feeling very good in the ten years since I received treatment as part of a breakthrough clinical trial. While I have no symptoms and take no medicine I do not consider myself cured.

So when someone like Ms. Clayburgh dies of CLL after 21 years, I can’t help but wonder if the disease will shorten my life too, even if I feel good now. That brings up the question of what do we do with the time we have when we know we have had a serious diagnosis and the clock may be ticking for us — or not? Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Andrew's Blog*

A Grassroots Leukemia Mission

I am just back from Phoenix where I spent the weekend with people living with CML, chronic myelogenous leukemia. The operative words are “living with” because it wasn’t very long ago when people did not live long with this disease. However, medical science and dedicated researchers like Dr. Brian Druker at OHSU in Portland, Oregon have brought us what first appear to be “miracle” pills (Gleevec, Sprycel, and Tasigna) that can keep patients alive and doing well.

My weekend was spent with several people, all taking one of the tyrosine kinase inhibitor drugs, as they were planning next steps for a new advocacy organization, The National CML Society. The Society is the creation of Greg Stephens of Birmingham, Alabama, a business consultant who lost his mother to CML. Now he has devoted his life to giving voice to patients, researchers, and building a vibrant community.

CML is not common. There are just over 4,000 new cases in the U.S. each year. And, now that there are three powerful and approved medicines, some people feel the disease is “cured” and not in urgent need of public discussion. The patients I met with said this was “baloney” and they were driven to support the new society because they felt the obvious advocacy group, The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, was not giving them enough attention nor listening carefully to their stories. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Andrew's Blog*

Breaking Oncology News: Can It Spread Socially?

I [recently] received a press release from a friend in the Bay Area. Investigators at UCSF have published a study in the New England Journal of Medicine showing that less chemotherapy can be effective at treating some childhood cancers.

The paper was the result of an eight-year clinical study in children with neuroblastoma. In this particular population, researchers were able to reduce chemotherapy exposure by 40 percent while maintaining a 90 percent survival rate. You can read about it here.

The press release sparked a brief email exchange between me and my friend: Who might be interested in writing about this study and is there any way to get it to spread?  What would make it sticky in the eyes of the public?

Here are a few ideas:

Figure out who cares. Sure it’s niche news, but there are people who would think this is pretty darn important. Think organizations centered on parents of children with cancer, adult survivors of childhood cancer, pediatric hematology-oncology physicians, pediatricians and allied professionals in pediatric medicine like nurse practitioners and hematology-oncology nurses. Networks form around these groups. Find them and seed them.

Make a video. Offer powerful, visual content beyond a press release. A four-minute clip with the principal investigator, Dr. Matthay, would be simple and offer dimension to what is now something restricted to print. The Mayo Clinic has done this really well. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at 33 Charts*

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I am proud to be a part of the American Resident Project an initiative that promotes the writing of medical students residents and new physicians as they explore ideas for transforming American health care delivery. I recently had the opportunity to interview three of the writing fellows about how to…

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Latest Book Reviews

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The Spirit Of The Place: Samuel Shem’s New Book May Depress You

When I was in medical school I read Samuel Shem s House Of God as a right of passage. At the time I found it to be a cynical yet eerily accurate portrayal of the underbelly of academic medicine. I gained comfort from its gallows humor and it made me…

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Eat To Save Your Life: Another Half-True Diet Book

I am hesitant to review diet books because they are so often a tangled mess of fact and fiction. Teasing out their truth from falsehood is about as exhausting as delousing a long-haired elementary school student. However after being approached by the authors’ PR agency with the promise of a…

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