Stem cell work crosses boundaries
UW scientists aim to make Wisconsin the epicenter of a medical revolution
By SUSANNE RUST and KATHLEEN GALLAGHER
Posted: April 22, 2006
First of three parts
Madison - The work of Wisconsin stem cell scientists is re-emerging as some of the most promising in the world, eight years after the era of human stem cell research dawned in a lab here.
The focus on fundamental research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison has been eclipsed at times by the quest for dramatic breakthroughs and massive government funding elsewhere.
But private companies trying to leapfrog to a clinical breakthrough have yet to turn a profit, South Korea's program fell from grace when its leading scientist was caught fabricating his findings, and a court battle looms over California's $3 billion stem cell initiative.
Meanwhile, UW-Madison has quietly built a critical mass of scientists across a wide range of disciplines, creating a tight-knit research hub unlike any other institution in the world. Those scientists have seized the opportunity to work with stem cells in unexpected ways.
In departments as diverse as pediatrics and electrical engineering, researchers tinker with human embryonic stem cells: growing them in vials and on plates, immersing them in vats of liquid nitrogen, twisting and stretching them with high-tech vacuums. They work not only to understand the fundamental biology of these cells, but also to build the tools and perfect the protocols that others will use to bring these cells into the clinics and hospitals of the future.
As world-class scientists thrive in an atmosphere of academic openness, Madison's stem cell technology has spread across campus, building a solid infrastructure for a nascent industry. Supporters hope their efforts will deliver embryonic stem cell research into a clinically successful future, adding billions to the state's economy.