Stem cells back from outer space may solve mysterious illnesses of astronauts

Astronauts have a much higher incidence of infections in comparison to humans living under normal gravity. Dr. Millie Hughes-Fulford from the molecular biology department of University of California San Francisco is trying to figure out what may cause this difference. As part of her experiments she has been studying the stem cells that give rise to blood and immune system cells, called hematopoietic stem cells. Today, Dr. Hughes-Fulford is expecting to receive 16 mice that were flown on the Space Shuttle Discovery for two weeks. Various aspects of the stem cells and the immune system will be studied.

The importance of understanding zero-gravity associated immune deficiency comes from the aim of establishing long-term space missions to places like mars, in which the current immune deficiencies observed may take a larger toll on the astronauts. Dr. Hughes-Fulford stated that "many of the conditions found in astronauts are similar to muscular-skeletal diseases in
paralyzed or comatose patients on Earth" she continued to state that she has seen young astronauts come down with shingles, which commonly occur in people past the age of 60.

Over the years I’ve been able to do several experiments on the shuttle, Hughes-Fulford said. We’ve found that the immune system is
suppressed when it doesn’t have gravity.

In the previous George W. Bush administration, after the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated on re-entry in 2003, the work on stem cells and space travel lost funding. Hughes-Fulford, Almeida, and other U.S. scientists were able to get access to space-bound missions only because of personal and institutional partnerships, however NIH funding was not permitted despite the adult stem cell nature of the experiments. Hughes-Fulford hopes the Obama administration will make it easier to conduct such spaceflight experiments. This time, Dr. Hughes-Fulford was able to send 16 mice in climate-controlled containers along with Discovery. Her team will analyze how mouse white blood cells respond to a simulated infection during flight and upon return, and compare that with how white blood cells behave in 16 Earthbound mice.

Her results from previous flight experiments are pretty compelling, said Daniel Bikle, professor of medicine and dermatology at UC San Francisco. He continued If there’s any failure of these stem cells to differentiate into normal tissues, that could cause problems, he said. If we ever do get around to sending somebody to Mars and somebody gets pregnant, if stem cells fail to differentiate you wouldn’t get a normal baby.

2012-04-19T17:58:49+00:00 April 19th, 2012|News|

Legendary Texas Football Coach and Stem Cell Recipient Sam Harrell Returns to Coaching

Sam Harrell Stem Cell Patient for MS

Coach Sam Harrell at Ennis High School

In 2010, the debilitating effects of multiple sclerosis forced Sam Harrell to retire from his position as Head Football Coach at Ennis High School. But after receiving 3 courses of stem cell therapy at the Stem Cell Institute in Panama, Sam is returing to the gridiron once again.

Brownwood Lion Head Coach, Bob Shipley announced that Harrell will be joining the team as quarterback coach.

Sam coached all three of his sons at Ennis High School, most notably his son Graham Harrell. Graham was a standout quarterback at Texas Tech and now plays for the Green Bay Packers.

During his career at Ennis, Harrell pioneered the spread offense that led the team to three Texas state championships.

“I told the kids this morning,” said Coach Shipley when asked about how he addressed the team, “And I didn’t have to explain who Sam Harrell was, they knew. And they just erupted in applause and they were just looking at each other with their jaws dropped open, like they couldn’t believe that Coach Harrell was going to come and be apart of our staff.”

“Sam just really liked the thought of coming and not being the head coach and not being the offensive coordinator, but just coaching the quarterbacks, which is really what his passion is.”

The Stem Cell Institute was founded in 2005 by Neil Riordan PhD and has treated over 1,500 patients to-date. Find out more about stem cell therapy for MS at

2012-04-19T17:58:26+00:00 April 19th, 2012|Multiple Sclerosis, News, Stem Cell Research|

Quality time: Former Ennis coach Sam Harrell is counting his blessings despite having multiple sclerosis

ENNIS, TX — Sam Harrell’s three state football championships are celebrated in his home office. He has pictures, trophies and balls, and even more memories.

For 32 years, Harrell worked in a profession where success is measured by a scoreboard in front of thousands.

These days, life’s little victories — unaccompanied by cheers or Gatorade showers — are just as satisfying.

Harrell can jump up and down in his living room. He can walk across a parking lot without a cane or a walker. He can spend hours at Kolache Depot Bakery without getting fatigued.

Harrell hasn’t beaten multiple sclerosis, but he is successfully living with it.

“It puts everything in perspective,” Harrell said. “Now, I’d rather play catch with my grandson in the back yard than win a state championship. When that gets taken away from you, you realize how precious it is.”

Harrell was 153-51 in 16 seasons at Ennis, winning Class 4A state titles in 2000, ’01 and ’04. He coached all three of his sons — Graham, now a backup quarterback with the Green Bay Packers; Zac, the offensive coordinator at Van High School; and Clark, who finished his college career at Abilene Christian in 2010 and now works as a financial planner.

It was in 2005, while he was on the tennis court, that Harrell’s vision in one eye became blurry. An eye specialist sent him to a neurologist, who, after running tests, gave Harrell the best possible diagnosis: He had MS.

“I didn’t know whether I was supposed to cheer or cry,” Harrell said. “I got the best of the three things it could be, but the bad news is: I have MS.”

Multiple sclerosis is a chronic, unpredictable disease that affects the central nervous system. The immune system eats away the myelin sheath surrounding the nerves. Symptoms vary from person to person. Mild symptoms include numbness in the limbs, weakness, fatigue and blurred vision. Severe symptoms include paralysis and loss of vision.

There is no known cure for MS.

Harrell chose to keep the news a secret from everyone except his wife, Kathy. He didn’t reveal the diagnosis for four years, though, as his condition worsened, those close to Harrell knew something was wrong.

“We’d go to practice, and he had to take a golf cart,” Graham Harrell said in a phone interview after a recent Packers practice. “Sometimes he was off balance a little bit, or shaky walking. So there were times we knew something wasn’t quite right, but we didn’t know exactly what was going on until he finally told us.

“It was hard to watch, obviously, especially with him wanting to coach, and yet not being able to do it like he used to. But recently, he’s seen great improvement, and that’s huge encouragement not only to him, but to us, and hopefully he’ll continue to get better.”

Sam Harrell knew his MS wouldn’t kill him, but he thought not coaching might.

Sam’s father, Jake, established the family business at Seminole, where he spent 20 seasons, including 10 as the head coach. But Sam Harrell’s health forced him to quit coaching before the 2010 season.

“That’s all I’d done my whole life,” Harrell said, “so I was sick about it. I just didn’t know what I was going to do.

“I do wish I could still do it, but I haven’t died from not coaching.”

Harrell, in fact, is alive and well. He credits three trips to Panama for his improved health.

After he retired from coaching, Harrell began researching regenerative medicine. Stem cell treatment is not approved in the United States, but Dr. Neil Riordan, who lives in Trophy Club, is the founder of the Stem Cell Institute in Panama.

Riordan is one of the leading stem cell scientists in the world.

Harrell talked to several of Riordan’s patients, including Richard Humphries, a golf coach out of Diamond Oaks Country Club in Fort Worth. Humphries was diagnosed with MS in 2005. He began stem cell treatments in 2008.

Stem cell treatments introduce new cells, which have regenerative potential, into damaged tissue to treat disease or injury.

“After talking to Richard, I didn’t have the money, but I knew I was going to go,” Harrell said. “I mean, what did I have to lose? I knew where I was headed if I didn’t go. I was going downhill fast. So why wouldn’t I go try this?”

Friends, family and fellow coaches held fundraisers for Harrell’s treatments. Harrell’s first trip to Panama, which was four weeks, cost $40,000. He has been back twice more, the last time in September.

It wasn’t until the third visit that Harrell saw dramatic results.

“MS is like a two-hump camel,” Humphries said. “You can get over the first hump of active T-Cells fairly easily, but the second hump, the memory T-Cells, sometimes bring our MS symptoms back, as it did with Sam.

“He was extremely disappointed for taking the two steps back after three steps forward. I told him it may take another two or three treatments to really get you going again. Needless to say, he could not stop smiling and was greatly relieved. Now, he is seeing the results.”

Harrell is a strong Christian and is quick to credit God and prayer for his recovery. But he also is a big believer in stem cell therapy. Kathy Harrell is a more recent convert.

She was skeptical until seeing the change in Harrell.

“I just feel really grateful that these are good days and good months, and I’m not going to worry about next year,” Kathy Harrell said. “It just makes you thankful that things are good right now, and he’s pretty mobile. This disease reminds you to just be thankful for the day, so that’s what we’re doing. I realize now it can be worse.”

By Charean Williams

2012-04-18T18:01:56+00:00 April 18th, 2012|Multiple Sclerosis, News, Stem Cell Research|

New Stem Cell Therapy Guidelines Approved in Texas

The Texas Medical Board has approved new rules regulating adult stem cell therapies similar to the ones used to treat Governor Rick Perry last summer, the Associated Press (AP) reported on Friday.

The rules were drafted by the state board, which licenses and disciplines doctors, at the request of Houston’s Dr. Stanley Jones, the same man who in July 2011 injected Perry with the governor’s own stem cells in order to help him recover from a back injury, Nathan Koppel of the Wall Street Journal said.

Koppel noted that the new regulations will make it easier for medical professionals in Texas to offer the experimental treatments without needing to obtain federal approval, while the AP added that the rules to require patients to provide their express consent to the procedure, as well as receive approval from a review board before the stem cell therapy is permitted to begin.

“We know this is far from a perfect policy, but our hope is that this affords people in Texas seeking this therapy some protection,” Texas Medical Board President Dr. Irwin Zeitler told Todd Ackerman of the Houston Chronicle. “The wheels of federal government move so slowly – we’re not willing to wait to protect our patients.”

The rules were approved by a 10-4 vote, and members of the board have promised that they will consider revising and improving the policy as early as June, when they meet again, Ackerman said. The official start date for the new policy was not announced, but staffers told the Chronicle that it will be at least 30 days.

While Perry has lauded the stem cell treatment he has received, not everyone shares his enthusiasm for the procedure, according to Minjae Park of the New York Times.

Some researchers argue that the evidence of stem cell injections is anecdotal in nature, and that the results of clinical trials should ideally be obtained before doctors are allowed to perform the treatment, which can cost tens of thousands of dollars, added Park.

Leigh Turner, a professor at the University of Minnesota’s Center for Bioethics, told the New York Times, that there were “some real problems” with the Texas regulations, adding that the “protective mechanism that they’re focusing on” would not be able to do terribly much.

Mario Salinas, the director of Texans for Stem Cell Research, countered that the rules would protect patients and help eliminate treatments without some kind of oversight. As he told Park, “Doing something at this point is better than doing nothing… This is just the first step.”

2012-04-16T18:03:34+00:00 April 16th, 2012|News, Stem Cell Therapy|

First patient to get stem cell therapy identified

By Rob Stein, The Washington Post
Embryonic stem cells have numerous pitfalls in addition to the ethical dilemmas. While the concept of a “blank slate” cell is extremely attractive in terms of generating new tissues for transplantation and organ replacement, the problem is that these cells are so young that they do not properly “know” how to integrate with existing tissues. This causes the problem of possible dysfunction of the cellular products made from the cells, but also causes the issue of cancer formation. Many studies have demonstrated that administration of embryonic stem cells, or products made from them form cancers when injected into mice that lack an immune system.
Because of the risks associated with embryonic stem cells, the FDA has been historically reluctant to allow initiation of clinical trials with them. The leader of the field of embryonic stem cells is Geron, the company that funded the research that lead to the discovery of human embryonic stem cells, as well as the company that has the exclusive license for their commercial use. The business of embryonic stem cells is associated with large financial investments. Specifically, patents are not only associated with the cells themselves but one methods of growing the cells and methods of selecting the cells to reduce the possibility of cancer formation. In some ways people believe that embryonic stem cells are an exercise in science because adult stem cells have been demonstrated to elicit numerous therapeutic effects without the risks.
Last year a monumental study was initiated in that the FDA allowed for the first human use of an embryonic stem cell product. The company Geron was granted approval to treat patients with spinal cord injury using embryonic stem cell derived oligodendrocytes, the cells that generate the myelin that lines the nerves.
Today, information was released on the first patient that was treated with these cells. The patient was a partially paralyzed young man, Timothy J. Atchison, 21, known to family and friends as T.J.
T.J. was a student at the University of Alabama College of Nursing when he was partially paralyzed in a Sept. 25 car accident, his aunt and father said. He agreed to let doctors infuse more than 2 million cells made from stem cells into his spine 13 days later at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, according to his aunt and a family friend.
While the primary endpoint of the trial is to demonstrate safety, doctors are also testing whether the cells restore sensation and movement. It was too soon to tell whether the cells were helping T.J., Angela Atchison said. “They said it would be about a year before they’ll know if there’s any difference — if it takes,” she said. “We’re just hoping and praying that it works.”
T.J.’s father, Timothy Atchison of Millry, said his son had maintained a positive attitude, beginning when he was in the emergency room after the accident. and understood how seriously he was injured.
“He said, whatever the Lord leaves him with, he’ll do the best he can with it,” the father said in a phone interview Monday. He would not directly acknowledge that his son was in the stem cell study, but confirmed details including his Shepherd Center treatment. “I’ll put it this way, they tested a lot of folks, and only one made the cut,” he said during another interview Tuesday. “You can read between the lines.”

2012-04-07T19:51:08+00:00 April 7th, 2012|Clinical Trials, News, Stem Cell Research|

“The fight to walk” – spinal cord injury patient improving after stem cell therapy in Panama


Daniel Leonard working out at physical therapy

Published March 31, 2012
By Sue Guinn Legg – Press Staff Writer

Daniel Leonard is doing all he can to walk again, and after a recent course of stem cell treatment he’s as close as he has been since a few months after the 2005 injury that put him a wheelchair.

He was 22 years old and about to begin his third year of college when he woke up one August morning on the floor at his family’s Johnson City home unable to move and struggling to breathe.

While the cause of his injury remains a mystery, what is known is that three vertebrae near the top of his spine had been crushed, leaving him paralyzed from the neck down, on a ventilator and not expected to never walk or even breathe on his own again.

Six months after undergoing surgery to remove the bone fragments from his spinal cord, Leonard, who had played several sports in high school and was boxing at the Johnson City Athletic club prior to his injury, was exceeding all expectations.

In treatment at the Patricia Neal Rehabilitation Center in Knoxville, he was not only breathing independently, he was pulling himself up on parallel bars and being fitted with leg braces to help him take his first steps.

Then the unthinkable happed, again. Because there had been nothing done to stabilize his damaged vertebrae, his spine collapsed at the site of his injury and all of his progress was lost.

“I worked my butt off to get to the point I was about to start walking,” he said. But the gains he had made in upper body strength were erased and there was no longer any movement in his legs.

After a second surgery to fuse the bones, his condition was labeled as “incomplete paraplegia” characterized by limited movement and sensation in all the muscles below his neck and none at all in his legs. Doctors told his family he would never be able to move his legs, and for many years he could not.

For a while, he lived independently with the assistance of a caregiver. When his caregiver left, he moved to a nursing home, expecting to stay only long enough to find another place and another caregiver. But without money to finance that plan, months turned into years and the Four Oaks Health Care Center in Jonesborough became his home for the long term.

Early last year, things took a turn for the better when for reasons unknown he began to regain some movement in his legs. Encouraged, Leonard once again threw all his effort into physical therapy. In October, he began working out regularly with Amy Caperton, a personal trainer at the Tri-Cities Lifestyles fitness center in Johnson City, and coupled that with physical therapy at the new Mountain States Rehabilitation Center.

His family, who had long believed stem cell treatment would provide his best chance at recovery, stepped up their efforts to pay for the treatment.

His sister, Rachael Leonard, a business consultant who had been following the progress of stem cell research and exploring treatment options since a few days after Daniel was injured, zeroed in on The Stem Cell Institute, a reputable facility in Panama founded by Neil Riordan PhD, that concentrates on treatment of spinal cord injuries, muscular sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and heart disease.

His mother and siblings pooled their resources and came up with about half the $45,000 needed for the $35,000 cost of his first four-week course of treatment and travel expenses for Daniel, Rachel and their mother, Diane, to make the trip to Panama.

The balance was raised through a series of small benefits — dinners at area restaurants, a concert and an auction, and through many individual gifts and online contributions to Daniel’s fundraising page,

“People we know around here and businesses were very generous and there was a lot of money raised,” his mother said.

To clear up any misconceptions about the treatment, the family emphasized to everyone interested that the stem cells used at the institute come from umbilical cords donated by new parents and the patients’ own bone marrow and referred them to for specifics.

“I’m not trying to tell people what to do with their own bodies, but for me, if it had been kill a baby to walk again, there’s no way I would have,” Daniel Leonard said.

The family finally made it to Panama in February. The treatment began with two weeks of daily cord blood cell injections into his spinal fluid and two hours of “intense interval” therapy that requires Leonard to work his muscles as hard as possible for one minute, rest for two minutes and repeat the process over the course of an hour.

“One hour is what they do, but with what I had been doing with Amy already, I thought I needed more,” he said.

The injections were painful and the workouts exhausting, so Leonard was relieved when Panama’s annual carnival week celebration gave him a week of rest before the treatment resumed with another two weeks of daily injections of cells drawn from his hip bones.

On the second day of his fourth week of treatment, Leonard experienced his first noticeable improvement when he flexed the right calf muscle he had not been able to move in years. The following day he felt himself contracting the pectoral muscles in his chest.

Day by day he’s regaining strength and there have been many small, but encouraging, gains that have also been obvious to caregivers. At Four Oaks, his aides are changing the way they handle things. While transferring Leonard from bed to a chair, it’s easier for them to raise him to his feet to pivot, which can now be done with one person’s assistance rather than two.

“These are all little things, but they are huge for us,” Leonard said.

Caperton, who with help from a client at Lifestyles spent a few days in Panama learning all she could from doctors and therapists at the institute, is equally encouraged.

“I am trying to be objective, but I must say he is making drastic improvements and it excites me,” she said.

The next six months before the stem cells die hold Leonard’s greatest opportunity for improvement, and continuing his physical training will play a critical role in the treatment’s effectiveness.

Optimum recovery will come with repeat treatments, and the fundraising for Leonard’s next trip to Panama is under way. There’s a three-on-three basketball tourney being planned at the Lifestyles center, and Leonard is searching for a local business to put up a prize worthy of the tournament’s entry fee.

He’s inviting everyone to follow his progress at his Facebook page, Daniel Leonard Search for a Cure ( And for anyone who wishes to help, online donations may be made at

Donations to the “Daniel Leonard Search for a Cure Fund” can also be made at any First Tennessee Bank location or by mail to First Tennessee Bank, 1500 W. State of Franklin Road, Johnson City, TN 37604.

“Hopefully, with the next treatment I’ll be able to stand,” he said. “I’m excited about it. I can’t wait to see the results.”

2012-04-02T18:05:40+00:00 April 2nd, 2012|News, Spinal Cord Injury, Stem Cell Research|

Great Day in Ft. Worth for Stem Cell Team

Stem cell patients and MS walk in Fort Worth

Stem Cell Institute patients participate in MS Walk 2012

Saturday, March 31 was the annual MS Walk in Ft Worth. This year, thanks to the Stem Cell Institute and some of the area stem cell patients, several of us MS sufferers and stem cell patients met for the Walk. Here’s a picture of several of us who have been to Panama, or Costa Rica, for treatments – (from L – R) Richard, Carolyn, Shelley, Carla, Judi, Holly, and me.

We wanted to give the Stem Cell Institute a presence in that sea of MS victims and caregivers. I wish all of them knew that many of us in those blue t-shirts were there walking, actually completing the whole mile, even though we were once unable to do such. I wanted to grab that microphone that the organizers were using and tell all of them “There is HOPE – it doesn’t have to be what you hear from your doctors so often. It can be more than ‘Let’s keep taking this medication so you might get worse at a slower rate’ ”

I personally never heard about the possibility of actually improving when I went to good doctors here in the US – but I chose to try the Stem Cell treatment in Panama, and I walked that mile on Saturday! A year ago, six months ago, I couldn’t have done that – but after my third trip to Panama in September, my walking, my balance, and my stamina all improved dramatically. And many of those in our group on Saturday have a similar story; some results more dramatic than others, but most all of us have seen and felt the changes that give us that Hope that all of those sufferers at the Walk are looking for.


Sam Harrell
Sam in Panama

2012-04-01T18:08:27+00:00 April 1st, 2012|Adult Stem Cells, Multiple Sclerosis, News, Stem Cell Research|