Kansas Stem Cell Center Close To First Clinical Trial

Mar 8, 2017

An adult stem cell center established by the Kansas Legislature in 2013 is almost ready for its first clinical trial.

Buddhadeb Dawn, executive director of the Midwest Stem Cell Therapy Center, told legislators Tuesday that the trial will focus on treating graft-versus-host disease and will begin after final approvals from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

“Our goal was to do this (trial) in January, but we got delayed because of different things,” Dawn said during a hearing of the House Health and Human Services Committee. “So we are now hoping to start it perhaps in summer.”

Based at the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City, the stem cell center has analyzed trials done elsewhere and hosted a clinical trial sponsored by a biotech company that uses modified stem cells from bone marrow to treat stroke.

But the graft-versus-host disease trial would be the first homegrown one.

Download the Midwest Stem Cell Therapy Center annual update to legislators.

Graft-versus-host disease is a potential complication when a patient receives a transplant of tissue, like an organ or bone marrow, from another person.

The disease occurs when transplanted tissue fights the patient’s natural immune system, potentially damaging the liver, skin or other areas. It’s a rare illness, with about 20,000 cases in the United States each year.

Rep. Randy Powell, a Republican from Olathe, said the trial was a welcome and exciting development. He said his wife is at risk for the illness following treatment for leukemia.

“I know that graft-versus-host is a big thing,” Powell said. “I think my wife still has an annual checkup where they keep their eye out (to make sure) that’s not sticking its head up and causing issues.”

Dawn said the center would like to “take the next step” and move into clinical trials using adult stem cells to treat things like joint ailments, diabetes and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

But the regulatory process takes time. 

“We’d like to be able to offer a portfolio of different disease conditions that adult stem cells can benefit,” Dawn said. “I’m hoping that within the next five years we would at least have some FDA approval for treatment with adult stem cells for other conditions.”

Dawn said successful trials could lead to more private investment dollars “so we are self-sustaining at some point in the future.”

The center’s reliance on state funds has been a point of contention for fiscally conservative legislators in the past. Most of the facility’s budget still comes from the state’s payment, which was reduced by about $28,000 to $754,500 last year.

“We’re maximizing every opportunity we can with what we have right now.”

That’s far less than what stem cell research facilities in other states receive.

Doug Girod, executive vice president of the KU medical center, said that given the budget, Dawn and his small team have done remarkable work.

“We could be 10 times bigger than we are and doing 10 times as much if we had the resources,” Girod said. “But I think we’re maximizing every opportunity we can with what we have right now.”

The center was spearheaded by socially conservative legislators, including Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, to showcase adult stem cell research as an alternative to using stem cells derived from human embryos.

About $56,000 of its annual budget goes to educating the public about the differences between embryonic stem cells and adult cells and hosting an annual conference about advances in adult stem cell treatment.

Rep. John Wilson, a Democrat from Lawrence, said he initially was skeptical about the facility because he thought the Legislature was inserting itself into a religious or philosophical fight. But he said his attitude has changed.

“I’m glad that despite my opposition to it the state has gone forward with funding some really terrific research,” Wilson said. “My concern now is how do we take it to the next level so all of this hasn’t been for nothing.”

Andy Marso is a reporter for the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio and KMUW covering health, education and politics in Kansas. You can reach him on Twitter @andymarso. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to kcur.org.