WNPRC Scientists Receive Grants to Study New Type of Stem Cell

November 1, 2008

Primate Center scientists have received new foundation grants to study induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPS cells.

Marina Emborg, assistant professor of medical physics, and Su-Chun Zhang, associate professor of anatomy and neurology, received a $148,000 grant in October from the Parkinson's Disease Foundation. The award will fund a pilot study to explore the use of dopaminergic neurons derived from iPS cells to treat Parkinson's disease. The scientists will conduct their work at the Waisman Center and the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center.

Igor Slukvin, assistant professor of pathology and laboratory medicine, received a $100,000 grant in October from the Lupus Foundation of America to explore the use of induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells) in treating systemic lupus erythematous (SLE). Slukvin conducts his research through the Primate Center.

These two new pilot project grants provide an avenue for the researchers to obtain future, long-term funding for iPS cell research through additional sources.

In November 2007, James Thomson of UW-Madison and Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University in separate studies reported reprogramming human skin cells into iPS cells. So far, the new cells act just like embryonic stem cells, but without the need to destroy lab-fertilized embryos.

At a Sept. 22 press conference during the World Stem Cell Summit in Madison, a gathering of leading scientists and patient advocates urged increased support for critical research on the new induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells, but not at the expense of continued research on embryonic stem cells. According to Thomson, scientists will need years of comparison studies to make sure that the iPS cells are exactly like the ES cells and are not "fatally flawed" in some way as to prevent their usefulness for research and potential clinical utility.