The hype in medical media over stem cells often overlooks the complexity and difficulty behind their production. In fact, there are only a few laboratories among businesses and universities with the capacity to pull it off. This is one of the things that make the Waisman Biomanufacturing Center at the University of Wisconsin, Madison particularly impressive.
One of the greatest advantages of working with stem cells is also the greatest challenge when working with them. Their ability to change into several different types of cells becomes a liability when cells slated for one job morph into a different type. “If the cells are not fully differentiated, they can end up differentiating into the wrong cell type," explains Waisman Biomanufacturing director Derek Hei (left). This is a large problem when preparing large batches of cells for bioresearch- for instance; a batch of heart cells is suddenly a lot less useful when half of them arbitrarily change into liver cells.
Another challenge when working with stem cells is ensuring that the patients that receive the cells accept them as their own. In other words, it’s important that stem cells do not trigger an immune response from the recipient. To this end, the Waisman Biomanufacturing Center partners with the Madison company Cellular Dynamics International (CDI) to identify “super-donors,” or people whose stem cells can be accepted by anybody with a significantly reduced chance of an antibody attack.
Cells from super-donors can be used for locations that are normally very sensitive to cell transplant, namely the eye. UW researcher David Gamm has a plan to create small patches for a part of the eye that is often off the table in most medical procedures. As Hei puts it, "The idea would be to transplant the patch into the small area at the center of the retina that gives the most detailed vision." Development of these patches is still underway, but this is still considered a revolutionary advance in ophthalmology.
(The Waisman Center, courtesy of UW)
The Waisman Biomanufacturing Center is uniquely poised to develop top-grade cell batches, perform research with said cells, and even design new medical implements. It’s as pluripotent as the stem cells it produces. Even Hei is impressed with the progress of the center recently: "When I came here 10 years ago, this would have sounded like science fiction.”
The center has earned a $1.8 million annual contract from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute to create specialized batches of cells like neurons and retinal cells for research and clinical trials. It also receives funding from the NSF. To read more about funding for the University of Wisconsin, Madison and its studies, click on the link below:
Biotechnology Calendar, Inc. visits the University of Wisconsin campus for two of our BioResearch Product Faire™ events each year. We hold both our Madison University Research Park BioResearch Product Faire™ and our Madison BioResearch Product Faire™ annually. If you’re interested in attending a show closer to home, please look at our 2013 schedule or our2014 schedule of events.