Irvine, Calif., May 14, 2007
UC Irvine neurobiologist Hans Keirstead and his research team today launched a project to develop stem cell lines that genetically match human patients. These lines would allow scientists to better study conditions ranging from diabetes to Parkinson’s disease, and they would provide the basis for potential patient-specific stem cell treatments.
Keirstead will use a technique called somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) in which a patient’s DNA is transplanted into a donated unfertilized egg cell in order to generate stem cell lines with the same genetic makeup of the patient. These lines have tremendous therapy potential because the human immune system is less likely to attack genetically identical cells. Only a few laboratories in the world are attempting this technique in human stem cell research and, thus far, no human stem cell lines have been derived using this method.
“This technique holds tremendous promise to advance our knowledge of stem cells and their potential to cure disease,” said Keirstead, associate professor of anatomy and neurobiology and co-director of UCI’s Sue and Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center. “I am excited to embark on this line of research and look forward to the day when patient-specific stem cells are utilized to treat people suffering from debilitating injuries and health conditions.”
This project received approval May 11 from UCI’s Institutional Review Board, which under federal regulation reviews all proposed studies involving human tissue. The Embryonic Stem Cell Research Oversight Committee at UCI also has reviewed the project and will ensure that experiments involving embryonic stem cells serve important research goals and are conducted according to the highest ethical standards.
UCI has built a cutting-edge workstation that is custom-designed for SCNT experiments. Designed by Gabriel Nistor, a scientist in Keirstead’s laboratory, the quarter-million dollar system housed at the Sue and Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center will allow scientists to dissect single cells using lasers, manipulate cells using robotic instruments, and control the climate in the work area. Nistor collaborated with scientists at West Coast Fertility Centers’ Embryology Laboratory to design the system. From this Orange County medical practice, Keirstead plans to obtain donated egg cells for his SCNT research.
Stem cells are the “master” cells that give rise to each of the specialized cells within the human body. During organ and tissue development, these cells transform into a particular specialized cell, such as a heart cell or a liver cell, when prompted by their environment or by their internal genetic programming. If researchers can control the processes directing stem cell transformation, they may one day be able to use these cells as a source of healthy replacement cells for diseased or injured tissues.
Keirstead is a pioneer in the use of human embryonic stem cells in the study of spinal cord injuries. Keirstead’s laboratory was the first in the world to develop a method to restrict human embryonic stem cells so they generate large amounts of only one cell type in high purity. That type of cell, an oligodendrocyte, insulates connections in the spinal cord, allowing them to conduct electricity.
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