Cellular Dynamics International‘s disclosure Wednesday that its researchers have generated stem cells from ordinary human blood samples holds enormous promise in the emerging field of personalized medicine.
The promise in the long term is that, by giving a vial or two of blood, we could all have our own personal stem cells to deploy in the event of a spinal cord injury or the onset of Parkinson’s disease or many other now-incurable diseases.
Cellular Dynamics is the first company to say it can make stem cells from something as readily available, and so representative of human diversity, as blood.
“This stuff sounds like science fiction, but it’s science fact – and we’re doing it in a lab in Madison,” said Bob Palay, the Madison biotech company’s chairman and chief executive.
The discovery will allow the company in the near term to more easily provide a diverse mix of stem cells to researchers to help them understand the basis of disease and how to treat it, he said.
“It opens up all human tissue cells, in all human diversity, to pharmaceutical and academic researchers. It’s so huge, and so few people understand it,” Palay said.
The stem cells, which scientists refer to as induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPS cells, have all the characteristics of embryonic stem cells. They can turn into beating heart cells, liver cells or any other tissue cells in the body.
“From my knowledge of the market, there are companies out there that may be supplying a particular or specific cell type and offering it to industry, but CDI is doing it with a large suite of cells,” said Andy DeTienne, licensing manager for stem cells at the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation.
The company started out selling stem cell-derived heart cells to Roche and other pharmaceutical companies to help them test the toxicity of drugs.
The company has said it hopes to industrialize production of human cell types for research and create a bio-bank in which people could store stem cells engineered from their DNA for use in personalized therapies or in testing reactions to drugs.
Expanded deal with Roche
Cellular Dynamics said this month that it expanded its drug development testing agreement with Roche so that it will be supplying the drug industry giant with more iPS heart cells and other types of cells over the next two years. The companies also will collaborate to perform various tests on the cells.
Cellular Dynamics was formed in 2004 by stem cell pioneer James Thomson and three other UW researchers. The company has 65 employees and finished ramping up its stem cell production facility in June, Palay said. Cellular Dynamics has sales in the “multimillions” of dollars, he said.
Given its early lead in the industry and the additional products Cellular Dynamics is developing, DeTienne said he expects revenue to snowball.
Cellular Dynamics raised $18 million from mostly Wisconsin-based investors late last year.
Palay declined to comment about whether the company is trying to raise more financing.