Ted Simons: The Mayo Clinic in Arizona will open its own stem cell laboratory next spring, and it will be dedicated to storing and processing stem cells used for bone marrow transplants at Mayo Clinic Hospital and Phoenix Children's Hospital. Here to tell us more is Dr. Ruben Mesa, head of the cancer center at Mayo, and Dr. Henry Tazelaar, who will run the lab. Good to have you both here and thanks for joining us.
Dr. Ruben Mesa: Thank you Ted.
Dr. Henry Tazelaar: Great to be here.
Ted Simons: A new stem cell lab. Explain, please.
Dr. Ruben Mesa: Stem cells are the earliest cells in our body, and they have variety of uses as we try to help patients heal from their diseases. So, the initial use is for individuals who require a bone marrow transplant. Those are areas in which individuals have a blood disease or a bone marrow disease such as leukemia. And we take cells from either them or from a donor. And we process those cells, and give them to the patient to help them to overcome their disease.
Ted Simons: I want to get back to bone marrow transplants in a second here but as far as the lab is concerned, processing and storing stem cells, what's involved here?
Dr. Henry Tazelaar: The laboratory will receive patients’ cells and so a patient will have right now, we do stem cell collection so the patient is in a unit, and they are hooked up to machine that takes off their blood, and we take out the stem cells and those are then frozen and when the patient is ready to get their stem cells back, as a bone marrow transplant, if you will, they are thawed and reinfused so the process of stem cell storage is labeling and making sure that they are properly stored so they are viable and they’re alive when they put them back into the patients.
Ted Simons: Is this something that is new, as far as research and treatment, or is this just a bigger storage facility?
Dr. Henry Tazelaar: This will be our own storage facility, we currently have an outside vendor, we're bringing this in the house because that will allow us to do a number of things related to research down the road and that could be harder to do without having our own lab.
Ted Simons: What goes into storing and processing stem cells? Does it have to a certain procedure involved or certain storage conditions involved? What happens here?
Dr. Ruben Mesa: Well, the lab is really very much at the vanguard of a new change in medicine. So, there is -- what the lab will do, day one, which is to take someone's cells and, and it is a very complex process to store them in such a safe way, so that they can be given back to the patient at the appropriate time. But the future state is very exciting. And it's really at the vanguard of a new area we call regenerative medicine where we take these earliest cells, and we take them from a patient, an individual and we use them to process them and to give them back to the patient in a way that they help to regenerate organs that have been injured from heart disease, or liver disease, or cancer and help to really restore organ function.
Ted Simons: Is this the kind of thing where someone younger in life can have stem cells stored for years and come back later in life, or is there, you know, some sort of shelf life as far as the stem cells are concerned?
Dr. Ruben Mesa: It's a very good question because it really is both. One, as many people are storing the core blood from their children these days, whether they develop the need for a bone marrow transplant in the future, it is possible in the future that these cells, some of which will be stored in facilities such as ours, may be modified or grown in the future to help the either the children or as they become adults, be able to receive a benefit from those cells.
Ted Simons: And back to the lab again here now, why is this lab necessary? Is it important to have your lab as opposed to -- how was it done before? And how is it done now?
Dr. Henry Tazelaar: Currently, we use an outside vendor so the cells leave our facility. They go to an outside vendor, and they are about, oh, 25 miles away. And so, there is a time delay, there is, you know, working with an outside vendor, they have been great to work with. But the -- working with our colleagues in Rochester and across the Mayo enterprise, with research protocols that we feel would be better to process our own stuff in-house, the cells in-house, and down the road, we'll be able to manipulate them so the laboratory is about a 6,000 square foot lab, 4,000 will be devoted to storage and processing, and another 2,000 will be devoted to research. And it's really the access to that research down the road that we're really excited, and it's one of the main reasons we're very excited about bringing this in-house, so they will be right next door to each other, the two laboratories in a way that would be very difficult for us to do if we had an outside processing facility.
Ted Simons: Talk about the state of stem cell research right now. It seems like in the past, we’ve had some bumps along the road here and some controversies here and there. Where do we stand right now?
Dr. Henry Tazelaar: There are a number of clinical trials that we are involved with at Mayo Clinic, cardiac disease, liver disease, other types of neurologic degenerative diseases. We have ongoing treatment trials, I would say that there's been some limited success with those, and I think a lot more work needs to be done and this is part of that work.
Ted Simons: Talk about bone marrow transplants, which you referred to earlier as obviously the major factor here. Again, I can remember years ago with folks, bone marrow transplants, very alternative, very out there. Not a lot of success. Talk about how successful those transplants are, and who benefits from those?
Dr. Ruben Mesa: Well, it's a very important therapy that really can offer a cure to people who suffer from blood cancers that otherwise wouldn't have a chance to be cured, diseases that we sometimes just cannot cure with chemotherapy alone. So, areas that are important, whether they be children who have leukemia, who receive a bone marrow transplant at Phoenix Children's, which is part our bone marrow transplant program, whether they be patients at our hospital at Mayo Clinic, who are overcoming acute leukemia or other bone marrow conditions, it offers an opportunity that they would not have otherwise. It's a very complex, difficult road, but we're very pleased with both the success and the dedication of our team as well as the outcomes that the patients are having.
Ted Simons: I asked because I'm old enough to remember when the bone marrow transplants were considered experimental. Are they still considered such?
Dr. Ruben Mesa: So, I think that, as therapy, they are not considered experimental. That being said, there are many experimental aspects to continue to try to push the envelope so that bone transplants can be safer and more effective. So a center that is a leading center, such as ours, the largest in the southwest, at Mayo Clinic in Arizona, the focus is on how do we make bone marrow transplant safer and more effective for patients today and tomorrow.
Ted Simons: And the future of that particular goal looks like this will, obviously, help, this storage facility.
Dr. Henry Tazelaar: Absolutely, yeah.
Ted Simons: As far as research is concerned, where do you see stem cell research going next? What is the next major hurdle or challenge?
Dr. Henry Tazelaar: I think there are, you know, there is a lot of organs in the body and different tissues, and I think each of the, the various organs and the diseases that we might choose to treat with this kind of regenerative medicine technology will vary, so the barriers will be different, just as an example, of the kinds of protocols that we might be able to put patients on in the not too distant future. One is to take a liver from a donor perhaps, a deceased donor, wash away their liver cells, be left with the scaffolding of the liver, and then give someone their own stem cells back and let that liver regenerate on that old scaffolding from another patient.
Ted Simons: My goodness.
Dr. Henry Tazelaar: So those are the kinds of things that we're hoping -- those trials are, are already existing.
Ted Simons: All right.
Dr. Henry Tazelaar: That's a bit out there, perhaps, but, I mean, those are the exciting things we're hoping to move towards.
Ted Simons: Exciting and encouraging, and this lab opens next spring?
Dr. Ruben Mesa: We're opening in the spring or summer.
Ted Simons: All right. Very good. Gentlemen, good luck and thank you both for joining us.
Dr. Ruben Mesa: Thank you very much.
Dr. Henry Tazelaar: Thank you.