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Weekly reads: Xist & autoimmune disease in women, Crohn’s disease, dumb headline of the week – The Niche

Readers of The Niche have asked me many questions about stem cells for autoimmune disease but the puzzle of why women get these conditions more often than men hasn’t come up before here. For instance, why is MS so much more common in women than men? It’s remained somewhat of a mystery over the years.

Now a new paper provides a plausible model for explaining some of this difference.

Xist ,auto immune disease
Xist is now implicated in autoimmune disease. Adapted from: https://bmcgenomics.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1471-2164-11-614

Xist and autoimmune disease in women

Xist ribonucleoproteins promote female sex-biased autoimmunity, Cell. This paper makes a lot of sense even just based on the headline. Xist is a non-coding RNA that regulates X chromosome inactivation in women. The gene is located on the X chromosome so men have one copy, but it generally isn’t active. Thus, Xist activity is mostly unique to women.

The paper reports that in mice the introduction of Xist into males can lead to increased autoimmune activity. Also, “Xist in males reprograms T and B cell populations to female-like patterns.” The data suggests Xist has an important role in some autoimmune diseases but doesn’t do it all. Still, this finding could potentially lead to new treatments. Note that while some of the data are again from mice, the human data in this paper are consistent with the team’s model too.

In the meantime, here’s a question I often get: do stem cells work for MS or other autoimmune diseases?

One specific kind of therapy using chemotherapy and a patient’s own hematopoietic stem cells seems extremely promising for certain kinds of MS. However, “stem cells” as typically sold at for-profit clinics generally do not work for MS.

Other recommended reads

UC Davis Health leads study on promising stem cell-based therapy for Crohn’s disease, UC Davis. It’s fun to see exciting pre-clinical studies that involve researchers from my own institution. Here’s the original collaborative article: MSCs mediate long-term efficacy in a Crohn’s disease model by sustained anti-inflammatory macrophage programming via efferocytosis, npj Regenerative Medicine.

Real coffee… without the beans? Pluri deploys plant cell culture to futureproof coffee supply chain, AFN. I wrote before about how I got to try lab-grown chocolate from a biotech California Cultured  in Davis. Are the cells the future for many food products? Cost is perhaps the biggest issue. You might also enjoy this fun piece on chocolate: Death by chocolate? Let’s crunch the numbers for people.

Sham surgery for the trialing of cell-based therapies to the CNS may not be necessary, Cell Stem Cell. This is from Viviane Tabar and Roger A. Barker. Sham surgery can be very valuable as a trial control but it also can be risky with no benefit to the individuals getting it. So it’d be great if it can be avoided in some cases yet still yield rigorous trial results.

Gamida steps up search for ‘strategic alternatives’ despite stem cell therapy reaching market, Fierce Biotech. I’ve written before about Gamida Cell. The biotech seems to have hit a key turning point due to financial issues. From the piece:

“Despite finally getting an off-the-shelf bone marrow stem cell transplant for blood cancer patients to market last year, cash-strapped Gamida Cell is continuing to search for a financial life raft.”

Florida congresswoman sued the Pentagon over stem cells. One problem: her husband’s stocks, MSN (from Raw). It has to be Florida, right? From the piece:

“Rep. Anna Paulina Luna (R-FL) and her husband are suing the federal government, alleging COVID vaccine requirements in the military violated their religious beliefs because the therapy was developed using embryonic stem cells.”

The headline got this one wrong. There is not just one problem here. The lawsuit is full of baloney. Embryonic stem cells, as they are commonly discussed, were not used to make COVID vaccines. Some fetal cells, including 293 cells, were used in some cases for indirect research.

Dumb stem cell headline of the week

You know when journalists start using terms like “magical” in their headlines about stem cells that the article could be ugly. Then you see “miraculous” near the beginning of the article and you know it’s awful. Here’s maybe the worst stem cell news item of 2024 so far.

‘It’s magical’: Franklin stem cell therapy practice helps those with serious conditions, Fox17.

This one is so dumb and is basically an ad for a stem cell clinic in Tennessee.

Early in the piece it says, “A stem cell therapy practice in Franklin is getting those kinds of reviews: Miraculous results from back pain to autism.”

Except, there is no evidence that stem cells can help back pain. Also, the latest research suggests stem cells for autism doesn’t work.  The stem cell clinic, Kellum Stem Cell Institute, uses adipose cells. Kellum markets “stem cells” for many conditions and also for anti-aging. In my view, none of these things are actually proven to work more generally. There will also be risks. Does the author address any of this? Nope.

Do media outlets get paid for these ad-articles promoting unproven healthcare?

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