Biotechnology research to grow from embryonic start

The Adelaide-based biotechnology company, BresaGen, expects to receive human embryonic stem (ES) cells in the near future from the University of Wisconsin, USA. The cells are intended for use in the BresaGen Cell Therapy Programme which is conducted in the Department of Biochemistry at Adelaide University under the scientific direction of Professor Peter Rathjen.

Stem cells are embryonic cells, among the first to appear as a fertilised egg develops. They have the ability to develop into most of the specialised cells in the human body including blood, skin, muscle and nerve cells They also have the capacity to divide and proliferate indefinitely in culture.

Scientists can use these two unique properties of stem cells to produce seemingly limitless supplies of most human cell types from stem cells, paving the way for the treatment of diseases by cell replacement. In fact, cell therapy has the potential to treat any disease that is associated with cell dysfunction or damage, including stroke, diabetes, Alzheimers and Parkinsons diseases, heart attack, spinal cord injury, cancer, and AIDS.

Parkinsons disease provides a model of how such treatment might occur. The disease is caused by dysfunctional nerve cells in a particular area of the brain. Using cell therapy, these faulty cells could be replaced with healthy, stem cell-derived nerve cells.

"Scientists in the Cell Therapy Programme have been able to produce nerve, muscle and blood cells from mouse ES cells and would like to demonstrate the same transitions using human ES cells," said Dr Paul Tolstoshev. "BresaGen is focusing on developing cell-based therapies for Parkinsons Disease and genetic diseases of the bone marrow, using the mouse and rat as model systems," he said.

The most useful population of human stem cells for therapeutic purposes are the embryonic stem cells. In December 1998, two USA research teams announced the isolation and stable regeneration of human ES cel

Contact: Paul Tolstoshev
Adelaide University

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