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Stem Cells Proven to Do the Job; An AIDS Vaccine Is in the Works; Prince Charles Raises Money for a Charity in an Unusual Way

Aired September 8, 2001 - 15:30   ET


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Today on YOUR HEALTH: This tank houses some very valuable material. So valuable, it was stored at a top-secret, secured location until now. And now, we take you for an exclusive behind-the-scenes look inside the lab that holds four of the 64 human embryonic stem cell labs the president has approved for federal funding.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I read all the reasons why people weren't signing up, and it really bothered me.


GUPTA: Would you volunteer to test an AIDS vaccine, if it meant you had to have exposure to HIV?

And finally, what in the world are these women doing? And what's Prince Charles doing with them?

Welcome to YOUR HEALTH. I'm medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta at CNN's world headquarters in Atlanta.

Just 65 miles from here at the University of Georgia in Athens, there's a lab, one of only 10 in the world housing some of the 64 human embryonic stem cell lines that the president has authorized for federal funding. Medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen was allowed inside for an exclusive look at these stem cell lines. She joins us now to help explain the controversy surrounding the 64 lines, and also the movement on Capitol Hill to address the issue.

Elizabeth, we've been talking about stem cells all summer, you finally got a chance to see them. Where do they keep them?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: They keep them, Sanjay, in a cryogenic tank. You can you see it right over here. This is filled with liquid nitrogen. There are thousands of stem cells in here. Again, we are in one of only 10 labs in the entire world that has embryonic stem cells.

Now, they let us take them out earlier today. They actually came out of this canister, and they are stored in this canister for up to a month and they get put into some other kind of vessel. And they are in these little tiny, tiny viles. They look small, but boy, are they precious. Theoretically, you can take these blank embryonic stem cells and turn them into spare body tissue and spare body cells, like muscles and neurons, and make them into treatments to help sick people, or at least that's the goal that everyone is heading toward.

GUPTA: Elizabeth, how do you make a stem cell line?

COHEN: Sanjay, stem cell lines start out just like people, with a sperm and a egg. The two are joined together in the lab in a Petri dish. They are allowed to grow for about five days. They become an embryo -- or, more technically, a blastocyst. The stem cells are then scooped out from the inside of the blastocyst and allowed to grow.

Now at first, they grow -- you would get a couple of hundred more or a couple of thousand, but if the conditions are right, they can grow on and on until you have millions upon millions of cells.

GUPTA: And finally, Elizabeth, what happened on Capitol Hill this week regarding stem cell lines?

COHEN: What happened in the Senate this week is that there was the first hearing about President Bush's stem cell announcement on August 9, and lawmakers, bioethicists and scientists expressed some concern. They said, are 64 stem cell lines enough? Why can't there be federal funding for more?

There was also some concern expressed about the fact that these stem cells lines were grown using the help of mouse cells. Now, that could be a problem, because if you want to use human embryonic stem cells to help people, then you are pretty much giving people mice cells, which medically could be problematic. So there was an exchange between Senator Ted Kennedy and Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson.


SEN. TED KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Since all of the current cells now derived their nutrition from mice cells -- all of them now.


KENNEDY: All of them now, correct?

THOMPSON: That is correct.

KENNEDY: And I will get to the question about that issue...


KENNEDY: Just let me finish.


KENNEDY: Now, there may very well be the ability to derive those product of stem cells without using the mice. And under the August 9, that kind of possibility would not be possible, scientifically?

THOMPSON: All I can do to answer is that is to say that one of the scientists did tell us that they think they have developed a system using pre-August 9 embryo derivations without mouse line.


COHEN: Here at this lab at the Breezogen (ph) company in Athens, they say, you know what? It's true. We did make our lines using mouse cells, and we don't think that our lines would be useful for treatments for people. We don't think that these lines should be given to people. They are great for the lab, great for basic research, but they said that they think there has to be a whole new set of stem cell lines that does not use mouse cells, if you want to use those cells to help people.

GUPTA: It is what everyone in the stem cell world has been waiting for, signs that stem cells really could help people. Our medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen reports on this landmark study.


COHEN (voice-over): One researcher said these blood cells represent the holy grail in stem cell research. They're an actual indication that you can convert human embryonic stem cells into spare parts for human beings.

DAN KAUFMAN, STUDY AUTHOR: And we can see red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelet or platelet precursor cells, all derived under these conditions.

COHEN (on camera): Embryonic stem cells by themselves aren't useful. They're just blank. The trick is to turn them into something that is useful because it has a specific purpose. This study is the first published report that shows scientists seem to have done just that.

(voice-over): The blood cells, made by the University of Wisconsin researchers, may one day be used to treat a variety of blood diseases, including leukemia, lymphoma and anemia. An account of the work was published in the proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

So how'd they do it? Researchers started with three embryos from fertility clinics. They scooped out the stem cells, allowed them to multiply, and put them in a culture with blood, human bone marrow cells and vitamins. Then, the stem cells grew into blood cells.

KAUFMAN: This is a potential way of alleviating the sort of chronic shortage that we're always in for blood cells and blood products.

COHEN: Now there's a race to turn stem cells into other building blocks of the human body, such as muscles and neurons.

DR. DOUGLAS KERR, JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY: If we learn to appropriately shunt them down toward a particular cell lineage, then they have the potential to treat a wide variety of diseases, and that's really a very important next step.

COHEN: But don't expect results too soon.

KAUFMAN: I don't want to give false hope to anybody that we're able to treat cancers or blood disorders now.

COHEN: Dr. Kaufman says there are several hurdles to overcome. For example, how to make sure the body doesn't reject these lab-made cells. He said he thinks it'll take at least five to 10 years to transform these blood cells, made in a lab, into something that could truly help people.

Elizabeth Cohen, CNN, YOUR HEALTH.


GUPTA: And when we return, 20 years after we found AIDS, we are still searching for a vaccine. What that search is yielding, when YOUR HEALTH returns.


GUPTA: Twenty years since the first cases of AIDS appeared, researchers are still looking for an AIDS vaccine. There are some 20 in various stages of research, and now scientists have convened in Philadelphia for the first international conference on AIDS vaccines.

CNN's Christy Feig explains what they're up against.


CHRISTY FEIG, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Troy Masters is one of nearly 8,000 volunteers, primarily gay men in the U.S. and Europe, who are currently testing a vaccine called AIDS Facts, the first AIDS vaccine that's made it to a large-scale human trial. Interim resulted are expected this fall, but many experts doubt it will be the magic bullet.

GARY NABEL, DIRECTOR, VACCINE RESEARCH CENTER, NIH: Its ability to generate antibodies that actually neutralize the virus and kill the virus is limited in laboratory studies.

FEIG: Another vaccine is based on the experience of a group of prostitutes from Nairobi, Kenya. Several years ago, researchers discovered that these women were not getting infected, even though they were having unprotected sex with infected men. They believe that for some reason their initial exposure to HIV was low enough so that they developed a natural resistance to the virus. A vaccine designed to mimic that dynamic is in the early stage of human testing.

When several of those women returned to prostitution after taking time off, they did become infected, raising questions about how long any protection may last. There are more than 20 AIDS vaccines currently in the pipeline, some already look promising in the early stages. Take Merck's, for example, which is in the first stage of human testing. In animal studies, the vaccine did not block infection, but it did kill many of the infected cells.

If those result carry over to people, it could mean that while the vaccine does not necessarily protect you from being infected, it may kill enough of the virus so that you don't get sick.

NABEL: We are now thinking that we will take our victories where we can.

FEIG (on camera): When the first cases of AIDS appeared in the early 1980s, some experts thought a vaccine would only be several years away, but HIV's abilities to change constantly and hide from the immune system has made this a very slow process.

Christy Feig, CNN, Washington.


GUPTA: In order to test these vaccines, researchers need volunteers for their trials, and that can be tricky. After all, some volunteers must be exposed to HIV in some fashion to fully test the vaccine. Again, here's Christy Feig who explains how researchers and volunteers face the dilemma.


FEIG (voice-over): It was an editorial in a newspaper on an AIDS vaccine trial in Atlanta that caught Steve Epstein's eye. He signed up.

STEVE EPSTEIN, AIDS VACCINE TRIAL VOLUNTEER: I read all the reasons why people weren't signing up, and it really bothered me that people were choosing not to participate in the study for fear that they were going to get HIV.

FEIG: Al Cotton saw an advertisement in the paper.

AL COTTON, AIDS VACCINE TRIAL VOLUNTEER: They were looking for sexually active negative gay men, and that was me.

FEIG: As AIDS vaccines move to the pipeline, it will take thousands of volunteers like these Epstein and Cotton before researchers can be sure they have an effective vaccine. But when it comes to HIV, people have concerns other disease don't raise. The biggest fear, experts say, is that can you get HIV from the vaccine.

MARY ALLEN, NIH: The vaccines do not contain HIV. They cannot give anyone HIV. No one can get AIDS from these vaccines.

FEIG: Mark, who asked not to share his last name, did not have any hesitation about signing up in Washington, D.C. MARK, AIDS VACCINE TRIAL VOLUNTEER: I felt a little bit of pride in myself in what I am doing, but it is also nice to know that I am helping out a much larger global community with my efforts.

FEIG: In any vaccine trial, some volunteers must be exposed to disease, so researchers can know if the vaccine works.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is, of course, our six-months checkup.

FEIG: In this case, researchers choose people who will be exposed to HIV normally by their lifestyle, then counsel them as much as possible to continue using protection. The goal is to keep participants from relying on a vaccine they may not have been given.

MARK: You have to realize that a third of the people are getting a placebo, and even if you aren't getting the placebo, they have no idea exactly what level of protection you are going to be getting.

FEIG: The researchers still don't have all the volunteers they need, and that makes them cherish even more those they do.

ALLEN: I think sometimes to -- about the word hero, and how to me, it is an ordinary person in an extraordinary situation who does what needs to be done. And our volunteers are heroes.



GUPTA: In a moment, a look at the stories making "Health Headlines" this week, including, where do we stand on developing an AIDS vaccine? Plus, more evidence on the benefits of consuming alcohol. And could cutting back on calories make you live longer?

Later, what are these women and Prince Charles have in common?


GUPTA: Welcome back to YOUR HEALTH. I'm medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta with this week's "Health Headlines."

A metal tube used to open clogged coronary arteries and keep them clear by releasing medication is being called a very promising tool in the fight against heart disease. At a meeting of the European Society of Cardiologists in Stockholm, doctors reported 97 percent of the patients who received this new stent, called the cypher, had no heart trouble in the six months following the procedure, whereas 26 percent of the patients who received regular stents experienced problems.

Experts predict this improved version of conventional stents will eliminate the need for repeat angioplasties and may spare some patients the trauma and risks associated with heart bypass surgery. More than one million heart disease patients get angioplasty worldwide, and yet another 700,000 have heart operations every year.

Also, seniors who are drinkers can toast to their health. A new study by the American Heart Association shows that moderate drinking may actually decrease the risk of silent strokes among the elderly. In fact, seniors who drink one to six drinks a week fare better against brain injury than those who are heavy drinkers, and even those who don't drink at all.

However, the researchers warned that heavy drinking was found to be linked with greater brain shrinkage.

And what you eat may influence how you age. New research indicates that a low-calorie diet may actually help slow the aging process. A University of California Riverside study found 70 percent of age-related expressions in genes were reversed in mice on a four- week low-calorie diet.

But it's a delicate balance, and it's possible to go too far. Researchers say based on mice studies, the more calories you decrease, the better -- until of course, you reach the point of malnutrition, when lifespan actually shortens.

And that's a look at this week's "YOUR HEALTH Headlines."

Time to tackle another dilemma from the store shelves. When YOUR HEALTH returns, sorting through all those multivitamins. How do you know which is best for you? But first, our "Doctor Q&A" from our CNN health Web site.


GUPTA: Remember when all you had to do was pop a daily multivitamin to cover your nutritional bases? Well, things have changed. Today, you'll find multivitamins for women, men, folks over 50, even vegetarians. Are all of these specialized vitamins really necessary? In today's "Feeling Fit," dietitian Liz Weiss tackles the question.


LIZ WEISS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): If the multitude of multivitamins in the supplement aisle seems confusing, you're not alone.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I figured it says it's for women so why not take it?

WEISS: Dietitian Ronan Cohen (ph) believes a basic multivitamin is fine for most people but doesn't think a vitamin tailor made for specific ages or genders is right for everyone.

(on camera): What makes this so special? Why would a woman need to buy this, for example?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Certain women may want to consider this product because it has extra calcium. There's 450 milligrams of calcium in the product and for women who either don't eat dairy products or cannot tolerate them, there may be a real need to increase calcium. WEISS (voice-over): Female formulations also have extra iron, something you won't find in the multis for men because too much iron may actually increase a man's risk for heart disease. As for all those senior supplements...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Typically they have more B12, more zinc, more chromium. The B12 for mental health, neurological function; zinc for immune function, chromium for blood sugar control.

WEISS: Some multivitamins even come with extra antioxidants and herbs. Cohen's advice? If you're confused, talk to a trained nutrition expert to find out what's right for you. And remember, the best source of vitamins is a well-balanced diet.

For "Feeling Fit," I'm Liz Weiss.



GUPTA: Up-close and personal, Prince Charles meets a few women in revealing outfits. CNN's Margaret Lowrie explains the nature of this gimmick and its worthwhile cause.


MARGARET LOWRIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Oh, my royal garters! Could it be? Well, maybe. Yes, it is! The heir to the thrown himself, Prince Charles, in an uplifting photo op.

PETER ARCHER, PRESS ASSOCIATION: It's easy for Charles to get on the front pages if there is scandal or a sensation involved. But it's more difficult for him to grab the headlines and get a picture on the front pages if it's for a good cause. So, the publicity people have to think up a gimmick, and in this case it's women in bras.

LOWRIE: The women in bras gimmick not quite as racy or frivolous as it might sound at first blush. Some of the women and men are breast cancer survivors. They have helped raise a million pounds, more than $1.5 million, with a fund-raising walk in May, a whopping donation for two cancer charities Charles supports. So, in a mutually beneficial bid of public relations, they presented him with the money at Highgrove, his country home.

It was the public's second glimpse in as many days of Prince Charles in the company of women in revealing outfits. These cancan dancers, promoting the premiere of Nicole Kidman's new movie "Moulin Rouge," again in the name of charity, this time benefiting the Prince's Trust, which helps disadvantaged young people.

ARCHER: I think he thinks it's quite funny. I think he thinks it's a bit of a laugh, actually, to go and see "Moulin Rouge" and then look at the girls with freely knickers. He studiously tried to avoid being photographed staring, but of course it must have been difficult for him. LOWRIE: A tough assignment, sure, but somebody has to do it. And Charles is still man enough to wear a skirt. OK, it's a kilt. He is said to always wear one in Scotland, which British paper say is something Prince William won't. He reportedly doesn't think kilts are cool.

Margaret Lowrie, CNN, London.


GUPTA: Well, that's all we have time for today. There is much more health information at your fingertips. If you would like more on stem cells, just log on to Your AOL keyword is CNN. Our Web site is produced in conjunction with WebMD.

For everyone here at the CNN health team, thanks for joining us.



4:30pm ET, 4/16

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