Benefit # 40 (of 71) of the California Stem Cell Program: PREGNANCY PROTECTION?
By Don C. Reed
Forty-five years ago, when my daughter Desiree’ was about to be born, I was in the delivery room, both to support Gloria, and to greet our daughter into the world.
I was not entirely sure what to expect. We had been shown a medical movie about the birthing process, which struck me as needlessly graphic. Gloria said my face went pale in certain parts. I had planned on comforting her, but found myself sinking down into my chair, while she patted my hand and told me everything would be all right.
Still we practiced all the LaMaze breathing techniques, to make birthing easier, going through the physical moves and coaching techniques night after night.
In the delivery room, Gloria was a star. She strained her muscles and shouted like an athlete. I stood at her shoulders, whispering encouragement, mainly trying to stay out of the way. In those days, a husband’s presence in the delivery room was decidedly not usual, and the doctor warned I would be ejected if problems arose, i.e., if I fainted. But Gloria was busy and the staff soon ignored me, yelling code words like “crowning!” which apparently means “I can see the top of her head!”
Suddenly, the doctor put a baby in my arms: Desiree’ Don Reed, middle-named in pride after me… They say newborns are ugly—not mine! She seemed very dignified, surveying her surroundings. She looked up at me, smiled, then turned her attention to her fingers, closing them into a fist, like what do we have here?
The nurse took her from me, and I felt like growling. But then an intern handed me some lime Jell-o, told me Gloria could eat a little something now. I tried to feed her, but she was too tired to chew. The little green chunks fell out of her mouth.
And then, on a corner of the bed, I saw it: the placenta. It was just a limp torn plastic-looking white bag. There were a few streaks of blood on it, but nothing gross or shocking. I felt...gratitude. In my mind I actually said “thank you” to the placenta, which had sheltered my daughter inside the womb, all those long months.
But what if there had been something wrong with the placenta, that protective connection between mother and unborn child?
“Pre-eclampsia is a pregnancy complication…(which) threatens 5-8% of all pregnancies. It has major effects on blood pressure and kidney function of the mother.
“It is responsible for a significant proportion of maternal deaths and growth-restricted babies…”
It never occurred to me Gloria might be at risk. We were just two young twenty-somethings, going to the hospital to pick up our baby! Our thoughts were all on our soon-to-be-born child—never a worry for mom…
Pre-eclampsia could have endangered Gloria, and our child.
“On an average day in California, 149 babies are born prematurely. Many of these babies will require weeks of care in an…intensive care unit… at an average cost of $25,000…compared to $1,500 (for) a baby born at (normal) term…”
Dr. Mara Parast, of the University of California at San Diego, is trying to reduce that suffering, risk, and expense.
A difficult challenge. For one thing, the usual test subjects, rats and mice, do not get pre-eclampsia the same way people do.
The main problem in pre-eclampsia is too few of a certain kind of “trophoblasts” a cell that builds and repairs the placenta. (Interestingly, these useful cells may look like cancer under a microscope, though they are not.)
There are two kinds of trophoblasts: syncitiotrophoblasts, (syn-city-o-tro-pho-blasts) which transfer nourishment from mother to fetus, and invasive trophoblasts, which help make blood.
Dr, Parast has made a stem cell model of the diseased trophoblasts , and another for healthy ones, to compare and contrast, maybe find a way to use the healthy stem cells to combat the sick ones—or for the testing of new medications.
“(Her) work focuses on the stem cells that give rise to the placenta …trophoblast stem cells. Her lab has created a human trophoblast stem cell model—a first—that can be used to study stages of placental development. The CIRM grant will fund continuation of this work…to identify potential stem cell based therapies for treating pre-eclampsia without resorting to premature delivery.”
A valuable project indeed!
But what if the young doctor had not been able to get a grant? The average age for first grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) nowadays is 44 years. When Dr. Parast tried for her first grant, she was 35. If the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) had not been there, she could have been forced to work on so many other jobs that she would not have had time for stem cells.
Fortunately, this need was foreseen by Bob Klein, the man who began the citizens’ initiative Proposition 71, which led to the $3 billion California stem cell program.
I asked him, the other day, what did he consider the most important grants?
His first thought was the grants to help young scientists to survive financially, while they were just getting started in the stem cell research field.
All across the country, research funds of any kind are increasingly difficult to find. The primary source of medical research funding, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) may receive a 20% cut in the first Trump budget. 20%! The NIH has been flatlined for many years; it needs a massive increase, not a cut. A shortfall of research funding means many projects are just not getting done.
For new scientists, obtaining grants can be doubly difficult.
But the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine is helping where it can, and has established 4 separate grants with that purpose:
New Faculty grants I (given to 22 investigators) and II (23 recipients), plus the Physician Scientist Translational Research Awards (15)—and the Medical College Repayment Award, which went to 5. –Dr. Pat Olson, chief scientist, CIRM, personal communication.
Those 65 scientists might otherwise have been unable to fund their research; they might have been lost to the field. Instead, they are working.
Dr. Arlene Chiu, CIRM’s former Chief Scientific Officer, remembers:
“These grants are designed to encourage newly independent (stem cell) investigators…providing salary and research funding for up to five years, ensuring stable, secure financial support as they begin their … scientific careers.”
Providing a base of stability for brilliant new scientists is just one of many reasons the California stem cell program was made.
And why it must go on.
Don C. Reed is the author of the forthcoming book, “CALIFORNIA CURES: How the California Stem Cell Program is Fighting Your Incurable Disease!” available for pre-order from World Scientific Publishing, Inc., and Amazon.com.
For a 20% discount on the book, go to http://bit.ly/californiacures and use the following code: “WSPY2PP20”!*