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October 2007

Medical College Honors Two Female Faculty Scientists With School’s First Women Pioneers in Research Awards

Two faculty scientists are the first to be honored in the Medical College of Wisconsin’s initiative to raise awareness of outstanding local women researchers. Winners of the Women Pioneers in Research Awards are Elizabeth R Jacobs, M.D., professor of medicine and physiology and chief of the division of pulmonary and critical care medicine, and Michele A. Battle, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow in the department of cell biology, neurobiology and anatomy at the Medical College.

Dr. Jacobs will receive a $10,000 research award.  Dr. Battle will receive the $1,000 Edward J. Lennon, M.D. Award for Outstanding Woman Postdoctoral Researcher.  The awards were announced at the College’s new Women in Science lecture series, Sept. 27, at the Women’s Club of Wisconsin.  Earnestine Willis, M.D., the college’s nationally-recognized maternal and child health researcher, discussed Health Literacy in the second lecture of the series.

“The awards were created to recognize women who have advanced research in their field and have served as mentors to other women scientists,” says Medical College President and CEO, T. Michael Bolger.   Recognized by the Milwaukee Academy of Medicine in 2005 for distinguished service,

Dr. Jacobs also directs the pulmonary & critical care research program. She has served as clinical director of the Medical College Cardiovascular Center.  She received her fellowship training in pulmonary and critical care medicine at the University of Arkansas Medical Center, and in electrophysiology at Rush Medical College in Chicago.

As a translational research practitioner, her goal is to bring laboratory discoveries to the bedside, and then back to the lab for validation.  Her clinical focus is on critical care, septic syndrome and lung injury. She is the principal investigator for two National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute-funded grants, to study the process of vascular damage by high blood pressure in the lungs; and to investigate the role of naturally-occurring lipid modulators in lung vascular and airway tone.

“Dr. Jacobs and collaborators have teamed for more than five years to facilitate adaptation of ideas derived in the basic science labs to the clinical sphere, and back to the lab again,” says Medical College Dean and Executive Vice President Michael J. Dunn, M.D. “Respected by the faculty, she is multi-talented, with excellent clinical skills, outstanding research, impressive leadership and a ready willingness to serve and represent the college.”

She received her M.D. degree and completed an internal medicine residency, at the University of Kansas School of Medicine after receiving her undergraduate degree from Marquette University.

Dr. Battle has been working in the laboratory of Stephen Duncan, D.Phil, the Marcus Professor in Human and Molecular Genetics and professor of cell biology, neurobiology and anatomy, since 2003.  She is studying the mechanism of cholesterol absorption by the small intestine and making excellent progress, according to Dr. Duncan.  The school’s postdoctoral office selected her for the award on the basis of her outstanding capabilities and productivity.

She is the winner of a National Institutes of Health Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award for 2004-07, has published six research papers and made numerous invited presentations at national scientific sessions. She received her Ph.D. from Michigan State University in 2002, and her B.S. in biology and philosophy, summa cum laude, from the University of Scranton, Pa., in 1996.

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Medical College Receives $1.8 Million NIH Grant To Study Relationship between Bacterial Pathogens and Host Cells

The Medical College of Wisconsin has received a five-year, $1.8 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study the injection of toxins into epithelial cells by a bacterial pathogen.  These studies may ultimately provide opportunities to develop therapeutics that prevent damage to tissues and limit bacterial growth.  The grant is from the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Dara W. Frank, Ph.D., professor of microbiology and molecular genetics, is principal investigator for the grant. . Dr. Frank is also director of the Medical College’s Center for Biopreparedness and Infectious Diseases.

She believes that the localization of a cofactor for membrane integrity may govern the toxin’s biologic activities and promote either colonization or spreading at certain stages of bacterial invasion.  Understanding how eukaryotic elements critical to bacterial toxin activity work together will allow the development of inhibitors that interrupt the natural progression to serious infections. This may result in a combination of therapies that could help patients who are critically ill or in the early stages of chronic infection.

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Medical College Receives $1.6 Million NIH Grant to Determine if Chronic Sleep Restriction Causes Irreparable Tissue/Organ Injury

The Medical College of Wisconsin has received a four-year, $1.6 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to investigate injury to cells and tissues in different organ systems that may result from chronic sleep restriction, causing susceptibility to disease.

Carol A. Everson, Ph.D., professor of neurology, is principal investigator for the grant, entitled Oxidative Stress Responses to Loss and Recovery of Sleep. The grant is from the NIH National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

Inadequate sleep is a known risk factor for disease and shortened lifespan, and sleep recovery is widely believed to have dynamic healing powers. However, the actual physical and biochemical properties that mediate changes in health status resulting from sleep loss and sleep recovery remain unresolved.

Dr. Everson and her team have shown that sleep restriction in the rat model leads to severe metabolic and endocrine disturbances, uncompensated oxidative stress, and generalized cell injury. Evidence from her laboratory suggests oxidative stress-associated damage may mediate biologically and clinically important changes in physiology, such as a proinflammatory state, hypercatabolism (catabolism is the destructive phase of metabolism during which complex substances are converted into simpler substances, usually accompanied by energy release), and altered survival.

Corresponding studies will determine the extent to which recovery of sleep reverses functional impairments. The studies are designed to answer questions about processes induced by sleep loss that cause morbidity, and provide a specific physiological basis for how subsequent sleep may be recuperative. The outcomes are expected to facilitate interventions that limit adverse health effects of sleep deprivation which can be severe in a variety of medical conditions and is especially profound in the critically ill.

Contributing to these studies is Neil Hogg, Ph.D., associate professor of biophysics and co-director of the Free Radical Research Center at the Medical College.

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Stem Cells Show Promise for Treating Huntington’s Disease

The song of the canary aids the quest to create medium spiny neurons


Paying close attention to how a canary learns a new song has helped scientists open a new avenue of research against Huntington’s disease – a fatal disorder for which there is currently no cure or even a treatment to slow the disease.

In a paper published Sept. 20 in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, scientists at the University of Rochester Medical Center have shown how stem-cell therapy might someday be used to treat the disease. The team used gene therapy to guide the development of endogenous stem cells in the brains of mice affected by a form of Huntington’s. The mice that were treated lived significantly longer, were healthier, and had many more new, viable brain cells than their counterparts that did not receive the treatment.

While it’s too early to predict whether such a treatment might work in people, it does offer a new approach in the fight against Huntington’s, says neurologist Steven Goldman, M.D., Ph.D., the lead author of the study. The defective gene that causes the disease has been known for more than a decade, but that knowledge hasn’t yet translated to better care for patients.

Full story.

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Dr. Owen Griffith Named Dean, Medical College Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences

Owen W. Griffith, Ph.D, has been named dean of the Medical College of Wisconsin Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. Dr. Griffith, professor of biochemistry, has served as interim dean since July 1.

"The Graduate School has benefited from Dr. Griffith's interim leadership," says Medical College President & CEO, T. Michael Bolger. "He is committed to helping the Medical College develop the best and brightest researchers and scientists, and is very deserving of this appointment."

Dr. Griffith came to the Medical College in 1992 from Cornell University Medical College (now Weill Medical College) in New York City, where he was professor of biochemistry. Dr. Griffith received his Ph.D. in biochemistry from the Rockefeller University in New York, and joined Cornell as a postdoctoral fellow in 1974, rising to the rank of full professor in 1987.

He was appointed chairman and professor of biochemistry at the Medical College in 1992. He remained chairman until July 2001, when he stepped down to devote more time to developing ArgiNOx Pharmaceuticals, Inc., a biotech company he helped start.

Dr. Griffith has written more than 150 research publications, most of which deal with nitric oxide (NO) metabolism, and he serves or has served on advisory committees for the National Institutes of Health and on the editorial boards for several national scientific journals.

He is inventor or co-inventor of 41 U.S. patents and numerous international patents, most of which pertain to controlling the level of NO produced in the body.  NO dilates blood vessels, which helps blood to flow, but becomes toxic if over-produced. 

The Medical College Graduate School offers Ph.D. degrees in cell biology, neurobiology and anatomy; biochemistry; biophysics; biostatistics; microbiology and molecular genetics; pharmacology and toxicology, physiology, and functional imaging (a joint PhD program with Marquette University).

Other degrees offered are; the M.S. in medical informatics (a joint degree program with the Milwaukee School of Engineering), M.S. in epidemiology, M.S. in health care technologies management and M.S. in bioinformatics (both joint degree programs with Marquette University), an M.P.H. in public health and an M.A. in bioethics.

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Taking the sting out of drug application

Harvey Black

For the State Journal

A small Madison biotechnology company called Ratio is working to commercialize a painless way to administer drugs.

The product is a disposable, adhesive drug delivery pump worn on the skin. This device can be worn for up to 24 hours and deliver a steady dose of a drug, then it is discarded and a new patch is applied. It is self-contained and small, making it convenient to wear and easy to hide. A small non-electronic pump provides for constant dosing.

The system, which is touted as being simpler and less expensive than others on the market, was invented by David Beebe, a UW-Madison professor of biomedical engineering, and his colleagues at UW-Madison and the University of Illinois.

Full story.

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Stem Cells in Adult Testes Provide Alternative to Embryonic Stem Cells for Organ Regeneration

Isolation of Specialized Subsets of Spermatogonial Stem Cells Help Generate a Wide Range of Cell and Tissue Types, Weill Cornell Team Reports in Nature

NEW YORK (Sept. 20, 2007) — Easily accessed and plentiful, adult stem cells found in a male patient's testicles might someday be used to create a wide range of tissue types to help him fight disease—getting around the need for more controversial embryonic stem cells.

That's the promise of a breakthrough study in mice led by a team from Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City, who report their findings in the September 20 issue of Nature.

Using spermatogonial progenitor stem cells (SPCs) obtained from the mouse's testes, the researchers were able to redirect the cells' development in the lab to form so-called "multi-potent adult spermatogonial-derived stem cells" (MASCs).

It was these cells that went on to develop into working blood vessel (endothelial) cells and tissue, as well as cardiac cells, brain cells and a host of other cell types.

Full story.

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Early ebola research at UW creates controversy

Anita Weier —  9/20/2007 8:22 am


The UW-Madison conducted research on the deadly Ebola virus in 2005 and 2006 in a lower-level security facility than is recommended until the National Institutes of Health told the university to stop.

John Hammond, director of the Sunshine Project, a watchdog group for biological research, said Wednesday that researchers at the University of Wisconsin made and manipulated copies of the entire Ebola virus genome without proper safety precautions.

Full story.

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Investigating New Developments in the Research Credit

Your company might decide to put extra cash into research and development to stay on the cutting edge. Good news: Besides maintaining a competitive advantage, your business might be able to claim the Research and Development Tax Credit. In the latest tax law, the credit was extended until December 31, 2007.

Full Article.

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UW gets big grant for health research

$41 million will help put discoveries into practice

Posted: Sept. 18, 2007

The University of Wisconsin-Madison's new Institute for Clinical and Translational Research will get $41 million over five years from the National Institutes of Health to improve the way biomedical and health sciences discoveries make their way into clinical trials, hospitals and doctors' offices.

The grant is one of the largest the UW School of Medicine and Public Health has received, and it makes the school one of 12 institutions to receive multimillion dollar grants in the second round of the NIH's Clinical and Translational Science Awards. Twelve other institutions won grants in the first round of the program last year.

The Institute for Clinical and Translational Research was created in January with a planning grant from NIH, money from the Wisconsin Partnership Program, the UW Medical Foundation and other sources in response to the NIH's "Roadmap for Medical Research," a national plan to establish academic centers that aim to get more biomedical research into clinical practice.

Full story.

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Madison start-up seeks to shine at Mid-America Venture Forum

Madison start-up seeks to shine at Mid-America Venture Forum

Posted: Sept. 16, 2007

Jeff Williams will make his first-ever pitch to venture capitalists this month.

He'll be marketing a business with enormous potential that is operating at the intersection of biotech and nanotechnology.

Platypus Technologies has exclusive rights to 13 patents that cover the use of liquid crystals for sensors and other detection devices. The Madison company employs 18 peoplein its lab who have high-level expertise in engineering, molecular biology, physics and other disciplines.

Williams, 55, has a PhD in pharmaceutical biochemistry from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the kind of cutting-edge experience financiers like. Before starting in July as Platypus' chief executive, the Wisconsin native held senior-level positions in research and development, operations and corporate management at Ambion RNA Diagnostics, Roche Diagnostics and other companies.

"I came in clearly excited about the technology - it's incredibly powerful," Williams said.

The challenge he faces is to convince venture capitalists that this 7-year-old company will be able to focus its enormous potential and bring products to market.

Williams will have his first opportunity on Sept. 25 at the Bio Mid-America Venture Forum in Milwaukee. Platypus is one of about 60 companies that will be telling its story to more than 60 potential investors at the conference.

Full story.

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Neurognostics Installs at Cleveland Clinic and University of Iowa

Beginning a Multi-center Huntington's Disease study
September 17, 2007

(Cleveland, OH; Iowa City, IA) - Neurognostics, Inc., a Milwaukee-based medical imaging company, has signed an agreement to provide their functional MRI (fMRI) System to researchers at The Cleveland Clinic and The University of Iowa for a multi-center Huntington's disease study.

Huntington's disease is a rare inherited Central Nervous System (CNS) disorder that most noticeably results in abnormal body movements and a lack of coordination, but can progressively affect mood, memory, and concentration. Individuals with a parent who has Huntington's disease have a 50% chance of inheriting the disease, with a limited number of cases having no prior family history of Huntington's.

In addition to using Neurognostics' Functional Acquisition Device (fDAD™) to acquire subject data, Neurognostics has implemented three specific stimulation paradigms in collaboration with Dr. Stephen Rao and Dr. Jan Paulsen for their NIH-funded Huntington's disease study. "The paradigms that Neurognostics developed will help us test subject reasoning, attention, and timing capabilities," explains Dr. Stephen Rao, Chief Science Officer of Neurognostics and Principal-Investigator from The Cleveland Clinic. "Using these tasks, we will be able to study the cognitive function of individuals with Huntington's disease.

"We are pleased to be working with The University of Iowa and The Cleveland Clinic to study this debilitating CNS disorder," says Cathy Elsinger, Neurognostics Vice President of Research & Clinical Operations. "Neurognostics fMRI data acquisition system will provide these sites with the ability to standardize the administration of fMRI exams in the context of this research study. We hope that through the use of our system, this research will lead to breakthroughs in the evaluation and management of Huntington's disease.

About Neurognostics, Inc.
Neurognostics is a leading provider of integrated Functional MR Imaging (fMRI) solutions. fMRI is a powerful imaging technique that extends the capability of Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) by providing information about the functionality of imaged brain tissue. Neurognostics has applied over a decade of research to standardize fMRI technology and extend its use in a variety of clinical settings. The Neurognostics integrated fMRI system supplies health care providers with state of the art functional imaging technology; integrating easily with existing devices and simplifying the application of fMRI.

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OpGen raises millions in funds

Venture capitalists give to biotech firm

Posted: Sept. 11, 2007

A Madison company that is developing products that can rapidly identify bacteria and other organisms will announce today it has raised $23.6 million in a financing led by venture capitalist firms on both coasts.

OpGen Inc.'s third funding round was led by three firms: CHL Medical Partners, Stamford, Conn.; Highland Capital Partners, whose U.S. offices are in Lexington, Mass. and Menlo Park, Calif.; and Versant Ventures, Menlo Park.

"OpGen's technology has been applied successfully many times, the market opportunity is great, so we felt it was worthwhile trying to develop an instrument to take into the hospital microbiology market," said Ron Lennox, a partner at CHL Medical Partners who will become chairman of OpGen's board.

Full story.

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Embryonic stem cell strategy advanced with UCSF finding

UCSF scientists are reporting what they say is a significant improvement in the technique for genetically reprogramming mouse cells to their embryonic state, a process that transforms the cells, in essence, into embryonic stem cells.

The finding, published on-line as an immediate early publication in “Cell Stem Cell” (Sept. 6, 2007), builds on the strategic breakthrough reported by Shinya Yamanaka, MD, PhD, in 2006, and confirmed in the spring of 2007 both by Yamanaka’s team and, in independent studies, by scientists at MIT, Harvard and UCLA.

The advance by the UCSF team should accelerate research aimed at improving the original strategy, the team says, and increase its potential use for studying disease development and creating patient-specific stem-cell based therapies.

The work is the result of a collaboration between the labs of Miguel Ramalho-Santos, PhD, and Robert Blelloch, MD, PhD, of the UCSF Institute for Regeneration Medicine.

“The new technique removes a major technical hurdle that has likely discouraged many labs around the world from carrying out studies on the strategy,” says senior author Ramalho-Santos, a UCSF Fellow and a member of the Diabetes Center. For separate reasons, he says, removal of the hurdle increases the technique’s potential use in developing patient-specific cellular therapies.

Full story.

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Embryonic Stem Cells Thrive When Shaken

ATLANTA (September 10, 2007) — Embryos spend much of their time in the womb bobbing along with a mother’s movement, and, surprisingly enough, new research from the Georgia Institute of Technology and Emory University suggests that embryonic stem cells may develop much better under similarly shaky conditions.

Full story.

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Executive Q&A - Jeffrey Williams: Technology lured Platypus CEO back to Wisconsin

Judy Newman

Jeffrey Williams always knew he wanted to be a scientist, even in elementary school.

"It was my favorite subject, " says Williams, who grew up in Argyle, about 40 miles southwest of Madison.

With a pile of experience working for companies ranging from Swiss pharmaceutical giant Roche to Fitchburg 's Promega Corp. to small startups, Williams returned to Wisconsin this summer, taking over as president and chief executive officer of Platypus Technologies.

Most recently, he was vice president of Asuragen, an Austin, Texas, molecular diagnostics company spun off from Ambion Diagnostics, where he was executive vice president and general manager. Under Williams ' leadership, Ambion developed a series of genetic and diagnostic tests, including those for cystic fibrosis and leukemia. In 2006, Ambion 's research products division was sold to Applied Biosystems for $273 million.

Platypus has been regarded as one of the area 's promising young nanotechnology companies, with its work using liquid crystal technology and gold powder. Liquid crystals are rod-shaped molecules that tend to line up with each other on gold-coated slides, under certain conditions.

Full story.

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State will take charge of Forward Wisconsin

Department plans to boost marketing to attract businesses

Posted: Sept. 4, 2007

The state Department of Commerce will take over management of Forward Wisconsin, seeking to "dramatically improve" efforts to attract business here.

The department will manage Forward at no cost, which should save about $100,000 a year that the group previously paid in the president's salary and benefits, according to a memorandum of understanding approved Friday by Forward's board of directors. That money can be re-directed toward attracting businesses to the state, an arrangement that should help ensure tighter coordination and less duplication, the agreement says.

The agreement comes eight months after Forward's president, Eugene "Pepi" Randolph, said he was leaving for a job with the Potawatomi Business Development Corp.

Full story.

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Pittsburgh scientists identify human source of stem cells with potential to repair muscle

Results of study published in September issue of Nature Biotechology

For the first time, scientists at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC have discovered a unique population of adult stem cells derived from human muscle that could be used to treat muscle injuries and diseases such as heart attack and muscular dystrophy.

In a study using human muscle tissue, scientists in Children's Stem Cell Research Center - led by Johnny Huard, PhD, and Bruno Péault, PhD - isolated and characterized stem cells taken from blood vessels (known as myoendothelial cells) that are easily isolated using cell-sorting techniques, proliferate rapidly and can be differentiated in the laboratory into muscle, bone and cartilage cells.

These characteristics may make them ideally suited as a potential therapy for muscle injuries and diseases, according to Drs. Huard and Péault. Results of the study are published in the September issue of the journal Nature Biotechnology.

"Finding this population of stem cells in a human source represents a major breakthrough for us because it brings us much closer to a clinical application of this therapy," said Dr. Huard, the Henry J. Mankin Professor and vice chair for Research in the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. "To make this available as a therapy, we would take a muscle biopsy from a patient with a muscle injury or disease, remove the myoendothelial cells and treat the cells in the lab. The stem cells would then be re-injected into the patient to repair the muscle damage. Because this is an autologous transplant, meaning from the patient to himself, there is not the risk of rejection you would have if you took the stem cells from another source."

Working in dystrophic mice while searching for a cure for Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD), Dr. Huard's laboratory team first identified a unique population of muscle-derived stem cells with the ability to repair muscle 8 years ago.

Dr. Péault, a professor in the Department of Pediatrics, Cell Biology and Physiology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, recognized the importance of determining the origin of these muscle-derived stem cells. His team applied, among others, techniques of confocal microscopy and cell sorting by flow cytometry which led to the discovery in human muscle biopsies that these myoendothelial cells are located adjacent to the walls of blood vessels.

According to their study, myoendothelial cells taken from the blood vessels are much more efficient at forming muscle than other sources of stem cells known as satellite and endothelial cells.

A thousand myoendothelial cells transplanted into the injured skeletal muscle of immunodeficient mice produced, on average, 89 muscle fibers, compared with 9 and 5 muscle fibers for endothelial and satellite cells, respectively. Myoendothelial cells also showed no propensity to form tumors, a concern with other stem cell therapies.

Drs. Huard, Péault and colleagues in Children's Stem Cell Research Center (SCRC) are researching and developing numerous therapeutic uses for the population of stem cells the SCRC team identified. One of the most promising uses could be for the treatment of DMD, a genetic disease estimated to affect one in every 3,500 boys. Patients with DMD lack dystrophin, a protein that gives muscle cells structure.

Dr. Huard is an internationally recognized cell biologist conducting laboratory research into the therapeutic use of stem cells to treat a variety of musculoskeletal and orthopaedic diseases and injuries. In the lab, Dr. Huard is developing cutting-edge therapies to regenerate bone and cartilage and to repair damaged muscle. The application of these therapies could range from the repair of heart muscle damaged by heart attack to the repair of sports-related bone, cartilage and muscle injuries.

Dr. Péault is internationally recognized principally for his work on the prospective identification and characterization of human hematopoietic (blood) stem cells, of which his laboratory has also deciphered the ultimate origin during embryonic life. Besides blood development, his team also is investigating elusive populations of multipotent stem cells that persist in adult tissues, including dispensable ones like fat. Such cells should be invaluable for the regenerative therapy of multiple organs damaged by trauma, aging, genetic or acquired diseases.

Continue reading "Pittsburgh scientists identify human source of stem cells with potential to repair muscle" »

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UK: Human-animal embryo study wins approval

Mixing cells and eggs to be allowed in search for new medical treatments

  • The Guardian
  • Tuesday September 4 2007

Plans to allow British scientists to create human-animal embryos are expected to be approved tomorrow by the government's fertility regulator. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority published its long-awaited public consultation on the controversial research yesterday, revealing that a majority of people were "at ease" with scientists creating the hybrid embryos.

Researchers want to create hybrid embryos by merging human cells with animal eggs, in the hope they will be able to extract valuable embryonic stem cells from them. The cells form the basic building blocks of the body and are expected to pave the way for revolutionary therapies for diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and even spinal cord injuries.

The consultation papers were released ahead of the authority's final decision on the matter, which will mark the end of almost a year of intense lobbying by scientists and a fervent campaign by organisations opposed to research involving embryonic stem cells.

Full story.

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