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October 2011
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UW scientists grow neurons that integrate into brain

By Mark Johnson of the Journal Sentinel

Scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have grown human embryonic stem cells into neurons that appear capable of adapting themselves to the brain's machinery by sending and receiving messages from other cells, raising hopes that medicine may one day use this tool to treat patients with such disorders as Parkinson's and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease.

Researchers inserted the human cells into the brains of mice where they successfully integrated themselves into the wiring. Then the UW team applied a new technology, using light to stimulate the human cells and watching as they in turn activated mouse brain cells.

In a lab dish, the brain cells or neurons began firing simultaneously "like a power surge lighting up a building," said Jason Weick, an assistant scientist at UW who worked on the study published online Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Weick said the use of light stimulation, called optogenetics, raises the possibility of modifying transplanted brain cells, in effect turning them up or down like the dimmer control on a light.

"You can imagine that if the transplanted cells don't behave as they should, you could use this system to modulate them using light," said Su-Chun Zhang, a UW professor of neuroscience and one of the authors of the new study.

For years, scientists have talked of the possibility of growing neurons in a dish to replace damaged cells in the brain, but there always have been questions about whether the transplanted cells could become fully functional.

But the new work at UW suggests the idea may be poised to make the transition from theory to reality.

Full story.

Hype Aside, Hope for Stem Cell Therapy May Be Emerging From Hibernation

Two small studies of cardiac stem cells for the treatment of heart failure have shown promise, but ABC News, CBS News and other media outlets are throwing around words like “medical breakthrough” and “heart failure cure.” ABC News correspondent Richard Besser was so enthusiastic that anchor Diane Sawyer commented that she had never seen him “so excited.” The first author of one of the studies, Roberto Bolli, said the work could represent “the biggest advance in cardiology in my lifetime.”

Full story.

Wheeler, dean of statehouse press corps, dies at 67

By Jason Stein of the Journal Sentinel

Madison - The smell of pipe smoke will fade from the West Washington Avenue and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard entrances of the Capitol.

Dick Wheeler, a lover of tobacco and the smallest details of lawmaking and the undisputed dean of the statehouse press corps, died in his Madison apartment Friday at 67 years old. Wheeler had been diagnosed with congestive heart failure six years ago but daughter Gwyn Guenther said the cause of death was still unknown.

"Dick Wheeler was the quintessential Capitol press room reporter. He often knew more about what was going on than his sources. His coverage of state government, including the judicial branch, will be missed, as will his smile and quick wit," Supreme Court Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson said in a statement.

Full story.

Tommy Thompson pushes for focus on adult stem cells

Speech at Vatican differs from earlier push for embryonic research

By Mark Johnson and Kathleen Gallagher of the Journal Sentinel

A decade after he helped persuade a president to allow funding of some embryonic stem cell research, Tommy Thompson, the former Wisconsin governor and presumptive U.S. Senate candidate, paid a visit to the Vatican on Wednesday to deliver a very different message.

In Rome, Thompson, who is Roman Catholic, portrayed himself as a strong proponent of adult stem cells - cells that aren't culled from embryos - while appearing to brush aside the embryonic stem cell research he once defended.

"The best ideas I've come across have always been the simplest ones," according to prepared remarks furnished by Thompson's spokesman. "And frankly, I just don't believe that man can engineer something superior to what the good Lord has already given us. That's what I love about adult stem cells - we're using the divine wisdom inside each of us to supercharge our bodies and wipe away disease.

"And as we do this, not a single human embryo is destroyed."

Speaking at a three-day conference jointly organized by the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Culture and the U.S.-based Stem for Life Foundations, which promotes adult stem cell research, Thompson called on President Barack Obama to create a commission of private sector business leaders to recommend ways to coordinate discovering and funding of therapies that use adult stem cells.

Full story.