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Madison researchers making major breakthroughs in stem cell work

Stem cells derived from the skin and blood of blind people are morphing into retina-like balls in Dr. David Gamm's lab at UW-Madison.

WiCell Research Institute and the Waisman Center, both connected to the university, are growing stem cells to help researchers around the country prepare for clinical trials.

Cellular Dynamics International, a company at University Research Park, is producing more than 2 billion stem cells a day, selling most to pharmaceutical companies for drug testing.

Nearly five years after the most recent major stem cell discovery in induced pluripotent stem cells, mature cells reprogrammed to their embryonic state — progress continues on many fronts.

"We're at the beginning of having some revolutionary approaches to medicine enabled by this technology," said Dr. Tim Kamp, director of UW-Madison's Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine Center and an organizer of the seventh annual Wisconsin Stem Cell Symposium this month.
Madison is well known for stem cell achievements: UW-Madison's James Thomson was the first scientist, in 1998, to grow human embryonic stem cells in a lab.

In 2007, Thomson and colleague Junying Yu of UW-Madison discovered human iPS cells, the stem cells made by reprogramming adult cells, at the same time as Shinya Yamanaka of Japan. The cells, made from skin or blood, provide an alternative source of stem cells without destroying embryos.

Both types of stem cells, believed capable of becoming each of the more than 200 cell types in the body, could someday offer cell therapies for patients with Parkinson's disease, heart disease, diabetes, cancer and other conditions. For now, the cells are mostly being used to better understand diseases and to screen and test drugs.

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