July 5, 2017

Quarterly Research Gathering: A Spotlight on the Center for Regenerative Medicine

By Lindsey Kirkeby

As seen on Mayo Clinic News Center:

Photo: Quarterly Research Gathering: Stem cells in space, limiting seizures and more

Gregory Gores, M.D., Greg Worrell, M.D., Ph.D., Abba Zubair, M.D., Ph.D., and Atta Behfar, M.D., Ph.D., discuss the latest research at Mayo Clinic.

Quarterly Research Gathering: Stem cells in space, limiting seizures and more

June 30, 2017
Seeing patients with epilepsy walk again, stem cells launching into space, and new therapies for enabling heart transplants were some of the highlights at the Research Gathering on June 15. Among other things, the meeting spotlighted research underway within the Center for Regenerative Medicine.

Gregory Gores, M.D., Mr. and Mrs. Ronald F. Kinney Executive Dean for Research Honoring Ronald F. Kinney Jr., Mayo Clinic, began the meeting with updates from the Research shield and how it is advancing discovery, translation and application at Mayo Clinic.

GROUNDBREAKING FOR DISCOVERY SQUARE

Dr. Gores discussed the first building in Discovery Square, part of the Destination Medical Center initiative in Rochester. Groundbreaking on the project is planned for late 2017, with a target completion date of 2019. Mayo Clinic will lease about 30,000 square feet of research space.

“We are working closely with developers and others to help make a very exciting building where Mayo can interface with industry," Dr. Gores said. "I hope this becomes a gateway for entrepreneurship, innovation and inventions on campus."

STRENGTHENING CLINICAL TRIALS

Dr. Gores also highlighted Mayo’s efforts in translation and advancing basic science discoveries into clinical trials. He announced that Mayo Clinic will serve as a program hub for the new Trial Innovation Network. And the Mayo Clinic Center for Clinical and Translational Science will serve as a liaison for the program.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for Mayo Clinic to not only have potentially more resources for clinical trials, but also to participate in a national effort to improve clinical trial design and implementation,” Dr. Gores said.

ACCELERATING APPLICATION TO CLINICAL PRACTICE

Shifting the focus to application of research in clinical practice, Dr. Gores welcomed Andrew Limper, M.D., as the first associate dean of practice transformation. Dr. Limper will head the newly integrated Robert D. and Patricia E. Kern Center for the Science of Health Care Delivery, which includes the Center for Innovation and the Center for Translational Informatics and Knowledge Management.

Dr. Gores noted that “the previous work of the merged groups has already provided innovative solutions for advancing high-value health care, and the goal is to optimize these activities and align them through formal integration.”

He thanked Veronique Roger, M.D., Cardiovascular Diseases/Health Sciences Research, who preceded Dr. Limper as leader of the Center for the Science of Health Care Delivery, for her “instrumental role in establishing the center and for her vision and leadership.”

Dr. Gores also gave a brief overview of the Center for Regenerative Medicine and its efforts to address unmet patient needs. He said the center is focused on developing a research pipeline and service lines for practice advancement, thereby establishing Mayo Clinic as a leader in regenerative medicine. The ultimate aim, he said, is to “help differentiate Mayo Clinic in the competitive landscape and provide unique services for patients."

STEM CELLS: OUT-OF-THIS-WORLD POTENTIAL

Abba Zubair, M.D., Ph.D., Laboratory Medicine and Pathology, the first of three guest speakers, discussed his research on combating organ failure rejection among lung transplant recipients. He and his team are leading a clinical trial to test the safety of stem cells derived from the bone marrow as a therapy for patients for whom all other lung treatment options have failed. The researchers found that the stem cell infusion improved lung function compared to baseline levels, but increasing the amount of stem cells beyond a certain point was not helpful.

“More cells doesn’t necessarily mean better results, and we’re still trying to find that optimal cell dose,” Dr. Zubair said.

He also talked about his work to understand whether stem cells grow faster in space due to differing gravity conditions. He detailed the great amount of preparation that was required prior to the rocket launch, as well as the return of the samples from the International Space Station. The preliminary results show variation in the stem cells’ growth rate — depending on the type of cells. Some did not grow any faster than those on Earth and others grew 50–300 percent faster. The team is still analyzing the samples to better understand all the differences and future possibilities.

NEW DEVICES TO STOP SEIZURES  

Gregory Worrell, M.D., Ph.D., Neurology, discussed another aspect of regenerative medicine, which focuses on restoring function in the body. Dr. Worrell and his colleagues are testing devices that can be implanted in the brain to limit seizures among patients who have drug-resistant epilepsy.

He showed a video of a patient who was unable to stand, because lifting the left leg induced tremors. The team implanted electrodes in the patient’s brain, which could provide continuous electrical stimulation to the focal point in the brain that triggered the patient’s seizures. After the researchers were able to fine-tune the levels of stimulation, not only was the patient able to stand, but also he was able to walk down the hallway — something he was able to do for the first time in many years.

Dr. Worrell said they are not content to stop there. “Why not be ambitious? Why not cognition?” asked Dr. Worrell.

The team is testing whether electrical stimulation also can improve memory function. In another video example, Dr. Worrell showed a different patient with the implanted electrodes who was asked to memorize a series of 12 words displayed on a screen. On a typical day, the patient was able to recall six words. However, with electrical stimulation he was able to recall all 12 words.

Dr. Worrell concluded by noting that the goal is to move this research into practice by developing a neurorestoration service line within the Center for Regenerative Medicine in the coming years.

'OFF-THE-SHELF' REGENERATIVE PRODUCTS

Atta Behfar, M.D., Ph.D., Cardiovascular Diseases/Physiology and Biomedical Engineering, highlighted how Mayo Clinic is advancing the application of regenerative medicine research into clinical practice. One of those advances is cell therapy.

“The way cell therapy works is that we typically harvest tissue from the patient’s own body,” Dr. Behfar said. "It can either be from fat or from bone marrow, with an aim toward diminishing inflammation in chronic disease and restoring tissue function.”

He noted that, while a number of stem cell-based therapies have been established as safe and effective, there are still issues for wide-scale implementation. These issues include high costs, logistical issues for patients who have to travel to receive therapy — as the cells are grown outside of the body — and variations in stem cells that are unique from patient to patient.

Mindful of these challenges, Dr. Behfar and colleagues studied whether the same benefit that is derived from cultured stem cells could be delivered as an off-the shelf product.

Dr. Behfar showed an example of a new therapy to treat heart failure using particles derived from stem cells known as exosomes. The exosomes can be purified and delivered to the heart, and the team has found that these cells provide almost the same benefit as stem cells. His team also is testing a new liquid-based product for heart transplants, which can be used to revive the heart and extend the viability of the organ prior to transplantation.

Following all the presentations, the guest speakers participated in a Q&A session moderated by Dr. Gores.

The next Research Gathering is scheduled for Sept. 7.

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