Stem Cells, the power to divide

about Stem Cells on National Geographic Magazine

In the beginning, one cell becomes two, and two become four. Being fruitful, they multiply into a ball of many cells, a shimmering sphere of human potential. Scientists have long dreamed of plucking those naive cells from a young human embryo and coaxing them to perform, in sterile isolation, the everyday miracle they perform in wombs: transforming into all the 200 or so kinds of cells that constitute a human body. Liver cells. Brain cells. Skin, bone, and nerve.

James A. Thomson

James A. Thomson

The dream is to launch a medical revolution in which ailing organs and tissues might be repaired—not with crude mechanical devices like insulin pumps and titanium joints but with living, homegrown replacements. It would be the dawn of a new era of regenerative medicine, one of the holy grails of modern biology.

Revolutions, alas, are almost always messy. So when James Thomson, a soft-spoken scientist at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, reported in November 1998 that he had succeeded in removing cells from spare embryos at fertility clinics and establishing the world’s first human embryonic stem cell line, he and other scientists got a lot more than they bargained for. It was the kind of discovery that under most circumstances would have blossomed into a major federal research enterprise. Instead the discovery was quickly engulfed in the turbulent waters of religion and politics. In church pews, congressional hearing rooms, and finally the Oval Office, people wanted to know: Where were the needed embryos going to come from, and how many would have to be destroyed to treat the millions of patients who might be helped? Before long, countries around the world were embroiled in the debate.

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Madison company generates stem cells from blood

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 foundation holds valuable patents on stem cell work done at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and has an ownership stake in Cellular Dynamics.

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.

from JSonline

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Blood-brain barrier building blocks forged from human stem cells


The blood-brain barrier — the filter that governs what can and cannot come into contact with the mammalian brain — is a marvel of nature. It effectively separates circulating blood from the fluid that bathes the brain, and it keeps out bacteria, viruses and other agents that could damage it.

But the barrier can be disrupted by disease, stroke and multiple sclerosis, for example, and also is a big challenge for medicine, as it can be difficult or impossible to get therapeutic molecules through the barrier to treat neurological disorders.

Now, however, the blood-brain barrier may be poised to give up some of its secrets as researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have created in the laboratory dish the cells that make up the brain’s protective barrier. Writing in the June 24, 2012 edition of the journal Nature Biotechnology, the Wisconsin researchers describe transforming stem cells into endothelial cells with blood-brain barrier qualities.

Access to the specialized cells “has the potential to streamline drug discovery for neurological disease,” says Eric Shusta, a UW-Madison professor of chemical and biological engineering and one of the senior authors of the new study. “You can look at tens of thousands of drug candidates and just ask the question if they have a chance to get into the brain. There is broad interest from the pharmaceutical industry.”

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USA – Stem Cells, Possible to Reproduce Diseases in Laboratory

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An experiment successfully performed by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Missouri in Colombia, described in Nature magazine shows that cells removed from a patient’s skin and transformed into cells similar to embryonic stem cells have become a laboratory model for diseases and can be observed in real time and studied to find new cures. The researchers recreated spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) pluripotent stem cells removed from the skin of a child affected by the neurodegenerative genetic disease. In the laboratory, the cells behaved exactly as they do in a human being, giving the researchers an opportunity to observe the progression of the disease. This is an entirely new opportunity, made possible by a discovery by a Japanese research group, which less than a year ago was able to reprogram adult embryonic-like stem cells.

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