Wisconsin Scientists Culture Elusive Embryonic Stem Cells

MADISON - The dream of one day being able to grow in the laboratory an unlimited amount of human tissues for transplantation is one step closer to reality.

Writing in the journal Science, a team of scientists from the University of Wisconsin-Madison report the successful derivation and prolonged culture of human embryonic stem cells - cells that are the parent cells of all tissues in the body.

The achievement has profound implications for transplant medicine, drug discovery and basic developmental biology. It opens the door to growing from scratch everything from heart muscle to bone marrow and brain tissue.

The work "shows you can derive and culture these cells, and it opens the possibility for some dramatic new transplantation therapies," said James A. Thomson, a UW-Madison developmental biologist and the lead author of the report published today (Nov. 6) in the nation's leading scientific journal. "Although a great deal of basic research needs to be done before these cells can lead to human therapies, I believe that in the long run they will revolutionize many aspects of transplantation medicine."

The work, which was supported by the Menlo Park, Calif.-based biotechnology company Geron Corp., caps a 17-year international race to be the first to capture and sustainably culture human embryonic stem cells. By providing the raw material for virtually every kind of human tissue, new customized strategies for treating a wide range of human diseases including diabetes, heart disease, some forms of cancer, and Parkinson's disease can now be developed.

For example, many diseases, such as Parkinson's and juvenile onset diabetes mellitus, occur because of the death or dysfunction of just one of a few cell types. The replacement of those cells would offer lifelong treatment. To treat heart disease, heart muscle cells could be injected directly to shore up failing heart tissue.

Such clinical applications are years - perhaps more than a decade - away.


Contact: Terry Devitt
University of Wisconsin-Madison

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