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Sunday, May 23, 2010

Stem Cells, Lawyers, and Autism

The San Jose Mercury News reports:

When a child dies of brain disease at Children's Hospital of Orange County, Philip H. Schwartz meets with the parents, explains his research and asks them to donate their child's brain to his quest for a cure.

"These are not easy conversations to have," he said. "There are expectations by parents that if they allow us to do that to their child, it will serve a useful purpose."

But for three years, the cells derived from many of those children's brains have been suspended in limbo, frozen in Thermos bottles. The nonprofit Southern California hospital has shut down the research, intimidated by a patent claim from the Palo Alto biotech company StemCells. The company's co-founder is esteemed Stanford stem cell scientist Dr. Irving Weissman, one of the world's most passionate advocates for giving scientists access to a field entangled by politics, ethics — and now money.


"You can create the battle in a culture dish," said Schwartz, saying it could also benefit research into diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. "Autism — we don't even have a blood test. We don't understand what it is. In metabolic diseases that affect the brain, what is the sequence of events? What kills them?

"These cells can be used to help us get an idea."