Archive for November, 2003

Here's some truly revolutionary medicine, if it pans out.

November 28, 2003 Leave a comment

I ran across this today, and thought “Wow, if this pans out, Mom could definitely use this.”

Blood could generate body repair kit

A small company in London, UK, claims to have developed a technique that overturns scientific dogma and could revolutionise medicine. It says it can turn ordinary blood into cells capable of regenerating damaged or diseased tissues. This could transform the treatment of everything from heart disease to Parkinson’s.

If the company, TriStem, really can do what it says, there would be no need to bother with conventional stem cells, currently one of the hottest fields of research. But its astounding claims have been met with bemusement and disbelief by mainstream researchers.

TriStem has been claiming for years that it can take a half a litre of anyone’s blood, extract the white blood cells and make them revert to a “stem-cell-like” state within hours. The cells can be turned into beating heart cells for mending hearts, nerve cells for restoring brains and so on.

The company has now finally provided proof that at least some of its claims might be true. In collaboration with independent researchers in the US, the company has used its technique to turn white blood cells into the blood-generating stem cells found in bone marrow.

When injected into mice, these cells migrated to the bone marrow and generated nearly all the different types of human blood cells, the team will report in the January edition of Current Medical Research and Opinion (vol 20, p 87), a peer-reviewed journal.

Proof required

“I would be extremely sceptical of these findings and would need more proof,” says stem cell expert Evan Snyder of the Burnham Institute in La Jolla, California, whose response is typical of many scientists New Scientist contacted.

“I was extremely sceptical,” says team member Tim McCaffrey, a cardiovascular researcher at George Washington University in Washington DC, who was asked to evaluate TriStem’s claims. “They did it in front of my eyes with my own blood,” he says. “It’s stunning.”

Even if replacing bone marrow is all TriStem’s method can achieve, it is still significant. Tens of thousands of people need bone marrow transplants each year. In some cases, doctors already extract stem cells from the blood instead of transplanting bone marrow itself. A donor is given growth factors that make their marrow stem cells proliferate and spill over into the blood, but the procedure takes several days.

TriStem’s method might make it possible to obtain vast numbers of blood stem cells in a fraction of the time. “What’s radical is the speed and ease with which it works,” McCaffrey says.

Much, much more

But the company claims it can do much, much more. Ilham Abuljadayel, the founder of TriStem, says that by adapting standard culturing methods she has managed to turn white blood cells into heart, nerve, bone, cartilage, smooth muscle, liver and pancreatic cells.

TriStem has not yet published results proving all these claims. Since the company has worked only with human cells, it cannot perform what is regarded as the “gold standard” test of stem cells’ versatility: inserting them into an embryo to show they can form all the different tissues. But if TriStem’s method really can produce a wide range of cells, its potential is huge.

For starters, it would avoid the ethical issues associated with embryonic stem cells, the most versatile kind of stem cell. TriStem’s method would also make it easy to treat individuals with their own cells, avoiding any problems with immune rejection. The only way to obtain ESCs that match a patient’s own tissues would be therapeutic cloning, yet to be achieved with human cells.

The adult stem cells found in various tissues in the body could also solve both these problems. But there is still much debate about their versatility, and even if some are capable of forming just about any cell type, they are scarce. Extracting and multiplying them is difficult and time-consuming.

In addition, TriStem’s claims challenge the scientific dogma that specialised cells cannot revert back to an unspecialised state or be converted from one type to another. Other groups also claim that they can “transdifferentiate” cells (New Scientist print edition, 12 October 2002). But none can do so as swiftly and easily as TriStem.

Killer antibody

Its “miracle” hinges on an antibody manufactured by DakoCytomation of Denmark that is normally used to detect abnormal brain cells. In the early 1990s, while working as a consultant immunologist, Abuljadayel tried to use the antibody to kill leukaemia cells. Instead of dying, the cells altered form and flourished.

Abuljadayel says the antibody binds to a receptor on the cell surface. But how the antibody triggers “retrodifferentiation”, if indeed it does, remains to be established. To avoid arguments about whether the cells produced are genuine stem cells, she calls them “stem-cell-like cells”.

Abuljadayel applied for a patent on retrodifferentiation in 1994, and in 1999 founded TriStem with the help of her husband, Ghazi Dhoot, then an investment banker. The company has long struggled to convince mainstream scientists that its system works.

Like TriStem, McCaffrey encourages sceptics to try the procedure themselves before condemning it. “I don’t think there’s voodoo involved, but until a number of people do it, other scientists have every right to be cautious,” he says.

For many researchers, alarm bells ring loudest over the failure of TriStem to get such groundbreaking results published in a leading journal. They also ask why Abuljadayel has had no permanent academic position.

Gross mortality

Then there is the question of whether TriStem really has achieved retrodifferentiation. Alexander Medvinsky at the Institute of Stem Cell Research in Edinburgh thinks the antibody might simply kill ordinary white blood cells, leaving stem cells behind.

But McCaffrey rejects this, saying that tests show the white blood cells remain alive. “There is no gross mortality, and the numbers surviving are of the order of 90 to 95 per cent.”

Not all researchers are as sceptical. “The results reported here are impressive,” says Bob Lanza, chief scientific officer of Advanced Cell Technology of Massachusetts. “If successfully repeated, this process could have broad clinical potential.”

TriStem is sufficiently confident that its method works to start human trials. Earlier in November it received permission to carry out a clinical trial of its technology for creating stem cells from blood. Senior government research collaborators in the country hosting the trial have asked for the location to be kept secret for now.

The method will be used to treat a dozen patients with aplastic anaemia, a condition in which people have a severe lack of bone marrow. Abuljadayel plans to treat the patients with blood stem cells derived from tissue-matched donors. “Within a week, we should find if the cells have taken,” she says, adding that any improvements in the patients’ condition should be immediately noticeable.

The results should be in by the end of March. Watch this space.


Wow. Any white blood cell being able to turn into, effectively, stem cells. All of the benefits and none of the moral quandaries, and with the ability to be able to use the patient’s own white blood cells, no problems with rejection as the newly created cells will already be seen by the patient’s immune system as being one of the body’s own cells and not to be attacked. The implications for being able to treat diseases by replacing damaged cells are quite incredible. Hopefully, this pans out.

Moment of Zen

Man Caught with 177 Cigarette Packs in Trousers

Categories: Personal

For you gourmets who insist on doing things differently on Thanksgiving.

November 26, 2003 Leave a comment

No, that’s not directed at anybody, this is merely meant to be educational as I ran across an interesting recipe for that omnipresent element of a good American Thanksgiving dinner: stuffing.

For my non-American readers (presuming I have any) who have no idea what I’m talking about with Thanksgiving, please see here, here and here. Stuffing is a bread-based dish that’s usually used to stuff the Thanksgiving turkey with before it goes into the oven. It can also be baked separately, which is good news for vegetarians.

Now that you’re back (or knew what I was talking about without referring to the links), I present Sgt. Mom’s Rye Stuffing:

Tear apart or cut into cubes one loaf rye bread. (Half a loaf, if your turkey is on the small, say 12lb size. You want a lot, put in a lot. You want a little, only put in a little.) Dry until crisp in a warm area, or an oven set to the lowest temperature available.

Heat to simmering 2-4 cups unsalted vegetable or chicken broth.

Rinse inside and out, and pat dry with paper towels one turkey. Remove the bag with giblets and set aside. Do not forget these, you will use them for the gravy base.

In a large frying pan, brown 1/2 to 1 lb bulk sausage. When done, drain off fat, and set sausage to drain on paper towels. Add 1/4 to 1/2 cup butter to frying pan, and sautee until translucent:
1 onion, chopped finely
2-3 stalks celery, sliced finely
handful of celery leaves, also chopped
2 to 4 Tbsp. fresh parsley, chopped
sage to taste, either fresh and sliced, or dried and crumbled
pepper to taste
8-ox box of mushrooms, cleaned and sliced

Empty the dried bread into the largest bowl you have, add the cooked sausage, the sauteed vegetables, and moisten with the broth. You can add chopped cooked chestnuts at this point. The stuffing should not be soggy. Stuff the turkey according to custom. Whatever stuffing does not fit in the bird can be baked in a covered casserole for the last hour or so. Generally it’s 15-20 minutes per pound for a smaller bird, 13-15 minutes per pound for larger, or so sayeth “Joy Of Cooking”.

While the bird bakes, take the giblets and the neck and simmer them in a heavy saucepan in the leftover broth and enough water to make about 3 cups of liquid. Finely chop the giblets and neck meat when thuroughly cooked, and mix a little water with flour to thicken it all, and there’s your gravy.

With luck, there will be no leftovers.

Moment of Zen

Air Rage Granny Scrambles Fighters

Categories: Personal

Weekend off. Whoo hoo!

November 22, 2003 Leave a comment

Yup, I’m taking the weekend off. Sorta. I do need to go into work tomorrow night for a couple of hours to swap out a weirdly malfunctioning RAID controller card in one of my XRaids. But otherwise, free as a bird to spend time with La which is a beautiful thing. More tomorrow.

Moment of Zen

Woman Too Busy for Free Shopping Spree

Categories: Personal

How the first Republican president was viewed in London.

November 19, 2003 Leave a comment

Another entry on George Bush’s trip to London (Two entries in one day? The President should leave town more often. -ed.) occasioned by my remembering some of my studies of foreign policy during the American Civil War. Lest anyone think that hostility towards American Presidents is a new thing in London, here’s how Abe Lincoln and his evil puppeteer Seward were seen by the chattering classes back in the day:

Here’s how the first Republican president was seen in London:

For some reason partly connected with American sources, British society had begun with violent social prejudice against Lincoln, Seward, and all the republican leaders except Sumner. Familiar as the whole tribe of Adamses had been for three generations with the impenetrable stupidity of the British mind, and wary of the long struggle to teach it its own interests, the fourth generation could still not quite persuade itself that this new British prejudice was natural. The private secretary suspected that Americans in New York and Boston had something to do with it. The copperhead was at home in Pall Mall. Naturally the Englishman was a course animal and liked coarseness. Had Lincoln and Seward been the ruffians supposed, the average Englishman would have liked them the better.


London was altogether beside itself on one point, in especial; it created a nightmare of its own, and gave it the shape of Abraham Lincoln. Behind this it placed another demon, if possible more devilish, and called it Mr. Seward. In regard to these two men, English society seemed demented. Defense was useless; explanation was vain; one could only let the passion exhaust itself. One’s best friends were as unreasonable as enemies, for the belief in poor Mr. Lincoln’s brutality and Seward’s ferocity became a dogma of popular faith. The last time Henry Adams saw Thackeray, before his sudden death at Christmas in 1863, was in entering the house of Sir Henry Holland for an evening reception. Thackeray was pulling on his coat downstairs, laughing because, in his usual blind way, he had stumbled into the wrong house and not found it out till he shook hands with old Sir Henry, whom he knew very well, but who was not the host he expected. Then his tone changed as he spoke of his—and Adams’s—friend Mrs. Frank Hampton of South Carolina, whom he had loved as Sally Baxter and painted as Ethel Newcome. Though he had never quite forgiven her marriage, his warmth of feeling revived when he heard that she had died of consumption at Columbia while her parents and sister were refused permission to pass through the lines to see her. In speaking of it, Thackeray’s voice trembled and his eyes filled tears. The coarse cruelty of Lincoln and his hirelings was notorious. He never doubted that the Federals made a business of harrowing the tenderest feelings of women—particularly of women—in order to punish their opponents. On quite insufficient evidence he burst into violent reproach. Had Adams carried in his pocket the proofs that the reproach was unjust, he would have gained nothing by showing them. At that moment, Thackeray and all London society with him, needed the nervous relief of expressing emotion; for if Mr. Lincoln was not what they said he was,–what were they?

For like reason, the members of the Legation kept silence, even in private, under the boorish Scotch jibes of Carlyle. If Carlyle was wrong, his diatribes would give his true measure, and this measure would be a low one, for Carlyle was not likely to be more sincere or more sound in one thought than in another. The proof that a philosopher does not know what he is talking about is apt to sadden his followers before it reacts on himself. Demolition of one’s idols is painful, and Carlyle had been an idol. Doubts cast on his stature spread far into general darkness like shadows of a setting sun. Not merely the idols fell, but also the habits of faith. If Carlyle, too, was a fraud, what were his scholars and school?


The matter of quarrel was General Butler’s famous woman-order at New Orleans, but the motive was the belief in President Lincoln’s brutality that had taken such deep root in the British mind.


A lot has changed from the 1860s. A lot. But sometimes it’s worth looking back and seeing just how little some mindsets have changed.

Categories: Personal

60 letters to President Bush…..

November 19, 2003 Leave a comment

The President’s on a state visit to Great Britain this week and the Guardian is posting letters written by people, both British and American, who wanted to write something to George Bush. They run the gamut from supportive (“Mr President, take no notice of your European critics. Hold fast to your determination to create a better life for the people of Iraq and a safer world for the peoples of the world,”) to extremely condemnatory (one of the Wardens of Oxford wrote “Many of the protesters think you are a mass murderer; you certainly have form as a serial killer,” with regards to Bush having been governor of Texas and Texas’s application of the death penalty) to the strange (“How come Tony does everything you say?…Do you have pictures of him in bed with Prince Charles? Or a goat? It has to be something like that. Please let me know.”) One of the writers wrote something that made me laugh out loud, but considering the source I’m not surprised. After all, the Reduced Shakespeare Company has been making me laugh for years.

Dear George,
Welcome to Grate Britten. We haven’t been introduced before, but my name is Adam of the Reduced Shakespeare Company and I’m Californian. I’m sorry that my state voted Gore, but there you go…

I’m writing because in my work as an expatriate Shakespearean vaudevillian, I spend a lot of time reading ancient Buddhist texts, and I have a suggestion for you regarding policy direction. I think you should model your administration on Asoka, Beloved of the Gods, the great Buddhist emperor of India (3rd century BC). Although he was initially warlike and bloodthirsty (think Dick Cheney with a scimitar), he converted to Buddhism and began governing according to principles of tolerance, compassion and non-violence. And even though he was totally peaceful, neighbouring countries never took advantage of him because he was so cool.

So when you get back to the US, if you could do that for me, I’d be much obliged. Also, could you send over some Oreo cookies? You can’t get ’em anywhere here. Thanks.
Adam Long
Director and female impersonator, the Reduced Shakespeare Co, UK
PS: If you’ve got a free afternoon while you’re here you should come over to my house. I’ve got the director’s cut of Dude, Where’s My Car on DVD.
PPS: The word “fanny” means something completely different over here, so don’t use it in polite company.


Mmmm….yeah. And Adam can do Hamlet. In drag. Backwards. Frankly, though, his Timon of Athens sucks.

Moment of Zen

Maoism Moves Over for Miss World in China

Categories: Personal

Mapping, mapping.

November 6, 2003 Leave a comment
I’m trying to get all my Livejournal friends’ locations plotted on a map – please add your location starting with this form.
(Then get your friends to!)
Categories: Geeky

"Internet littered with abandoned sites" – All right, all right, I'll update!

November 4, 2003 Leave a comment

I ran across this news story on CNN, regarding internet sites, especially blogs, that occupy an appreciable fraction of the internet. Web journals never completed, blogs abandoned after Day One, fan sites for shows now off the air, political campaigns that have ended, Year 2000 info, the list goes on.

Well, I’m taking a stand against my LJ turning into deadwood by updating. That’s right, this blog shall not go quietly into electronic senescence! My posting date will have not just the current month and year, but be within the week! I will-*getting distracted* Oooh! Shiny!

Pardon me, I have to go watch Stargate: SG-1 now.

Moment of Zen

Babyphone Traps Would-Be Robber

Categories: Personal
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