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Monday, November 27, 2006

M-SS update, 1.2

Stem cell first at OHSU
Hospital conducts experimental transplant on Oregonian editors

Last week surgeons at Doernbecher Children's Hospital at OHSU performed what is believed to be the first-ever transplant of fetal stem cells into the human brain.

The cells, called purified neural stem cells, were injected directly into the brains of the four editors of The Oregonian known to be suffering from Multiple-Standard Syndrome (M-SS): Editor Sandra Mimms Rowe, Executive Editor Peter Bhatia, Editorial Page Editor Robert J. Caldwell, and Associate Editor Rick Attig.

The groundbreaking surgery was the first of what is expected to be many such operations performed on executives of the Newhouse’s sprawling Advance Publications Inc. media empire in response to the exploding M-SS epidemic.

While officials with OHSU and the out-of-state Palo Alto, California company StemCells Inc. publicly announced the surgery last week, they have declined to discuss details of the actual operations and follow-up. None of the participating medical staff nor staff members of StemCells Inc. has agreed to interviews since the surgery took place.

M-SS issue spokesperson for The Oregonian, Andris Antoniskis, M.D., said there is little to say. One of the reasons, he said, was a desire to protect the First Amendment loophole in campaign finance disclosure law exempting The Oregonian. "Many of the people who call in want to know whether the experimental therapy will be available to treat M-SS at other news organizations," Antoniskis said. He confirmed that surgeons from The Mayo Clinic were in attendance. Si and Donald Newhouse are currently quarantined at the Rochester, MN medical facility and are considered prime candidates for the experimental surgery.

According to Sean Tipton, president of Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research, a Washington, D.C. "527 group" affiliated with super-wealthy financier George Soros that advocates for stem cell research, any stem cell breakthrough having to do with M-SS would be particularly welcome by the public and researchers.

"The public has been ill-served by Newhouse monopoly newspapers like The Oregonian, causing industry-threatening circulation disorders. There are a lot of advertisers and subscribers who may begin to boycott Advance Publications' stable of glitter and glitz magazines, too, if a cure for M-SS is not found," Tipton said.

Study has many implications. Even stock markets react to such possible advances; the day after the transplant was performed, the stock of publicly held StemCells Inc. rose 10 percent on the Nasdaq exchange, netting the New York billionaire Newhouse brothers who own The Oregonian a nifty $115 million profit.

That sort of ahead-of-the-curve reaction may help explain why neither OHSU nor StemCells is going out of its way to publicize the surgery, according to Tipton. "I think that the Newhouses are extremely sensitive to accusations about profiting from the situation and do not want to be accused of doing that," Tipton said.

Nathan Selden, the OHSU physician who performed last week's surgery, and Robert Steiner, the OHSU vice chairman of pediatric research at Doernbecher, issued a one-line email response to an inquiry from The Oregonion. "This will be the only time the medical team will correspond with media for the foreseeable future," Steiner wrote.

Controversial ethical issues. While stem cells can come from unused embryos after in vitro fertilization, the stem cell product for the transplants was derived from the brain tissue of aborted or miscarried fetuses with the permission of the woman a/k/a "mother." As with other stem cell research, it is controversial to people who oppose abortion.

Also, since the transplant is the first of its kind, the risk to patients is unknown. These experimental surgeries are designed to find out if, in fact, the therapy is safe. Previous transplants with the StemCells product were performed in mice with a form of "Double-Standard Syndrome."

"This is a very sensitive clinical trial involving news editors with an irreversible, degenerative disorder, and it's highly experimental therapy," Steiner said via email. "We really need to focus on taking care of the Newhouse empire's executives and carrying out this research as safely and carefully as possible without outside distractions."

Portland Tribune, Nov. 24, By Peter Korn

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