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Stem Cell Science

Discover what’s possible. Browse these features to find out more about the impact of University of Minnesota research, education, and care—and how you can help.

Rita Perlingeiro, Ph.D. (Photo: Brady Willette)

The company MyDirectives.com made a multiyear gift commitment to help kick-start a University research project focused on finding a new therapy for limb-girdle muscular dystrophy type 2A.

Macular degeneration experts Erik van Kuijk, M.D., Ph.D., and Deborah Ferrington, Ph.D., are part of the University team charged with finding a cure for the debilitating eye disease.

A $10 million gift supports innovative research in the University of Minnesota's Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Neurosciences and in its Stem Cell Institute.

A fibrin patch made in the lab of Jianyi Zhang, M.D., Ph.D., may help improve the effectiveness of stem cell therapies for the heart. (Photo: Jim Bovin)

"Everyone has some kind of tie to a person with heart disease," says Brian Engdahl, Ph.D., whose own father died of heart failure in 2005 at age 81. Through giving, Engdahl and his family are intent on improving the sobering statistics on heart disease today.

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University of Minnesota investigators have opened a Phase I clinical trial designed to test the safety and potency of blood-forming stem cells in umbilical cord blood (UCB) that previously have been multiplied in a new cell-culturing system.

Derrick Keller, an 18-year-old from St. Louis Park, Minn., who has acute lymphoblastic leukemia, was the first patient to enroll in the study.

Andrew Grande, M.D., and his lab team are investigating new ways to deliever stem cell therapies to the brain during surgery. (Photo: Richard Anderson

For a person who had been in an accident or suffered a stroke, crushed neurons or blood-deprived brain tissue meant uncertain recovery and the possibility that loss of function, like walking or speaking, would be permanent.

But the thinking about brain injury has begun to change, in particular with the latest advances in stem cell research. Today's stem cell technologies involve a wide range of naturally occurring and engineered cells, and they're altering the outlook on restoring the highly specialized brain and spinal cord.

In the Medical School's Department of Neurosurgery, a new group of researchers is focused on stem cells and how their astounding capabilities may be harnessed to help patients regain function.

Clayton and Susan Kaufman (Submitted photo)

Clayton Kaufman knows a high-impact story when he hears it. His judgment is forged by a broadcasting career that spanned more than four decades. That’s one reason he’s keeping tabs on advances in stem cell science—and why he’s supporting the research through current and planned gifts to the University of Minnesota, his alma mater. “The importance of stem cell research cannot be overemphasized,” he says, mentioning its potential impact on a myriad of diseases, such as diabetes, cancer, and Parkinson’s disease. That’s another reason Kaufman is interested in the research: he has Parkinson’s.

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University of Minnesota researchers have developed a new method for creating induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS), which can differentiate into many different types of the cells in the body and are used in medical research focused on diabetes, cancer, and many other diseases. This new process will dramatically speed up the creation of iPS cells and improve their quality, which could accelerate the treatment of many otherwise incurable diseases.

In gratitude to his doctors, Matthew donated part of his bar mitzvah money to research at the University of Minnesota. [Photo: Alison Langer]

Of all the things a teenage boy might choose to do with his bar mitzvah money, giving a portion to medical research might seem low on the list. After all, there are Xboxes and iPods and skateboards to buy. But when Matthew, 13, gave his money to a research program led by John Wagner, M.D., at the University of Minnesota, he was sharing a heartfelt thanks.

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Michael Johnson would have been shocked to learn last summer that his heart would fail by fall. Then came September 6, 2010, when he suffered a massive heart attack. While recovering at Fairview Southdale Hospital and facing a future limited by significant heart failure, Johnson got another surprise: University of Minnesota researchers asked him to participate in an innovative cell therapy study that might improve his prognosis. He agreed, and 10 days after his heart attack, doctors injected 150 million of Johnson's own stem cells from his bone marrow into his heart.

Research by Jakum Tolar, M.D., Ph.D., and John Wagner, M.D., moved quickly from mouse studies to showing success in paitents. (Photo: Emily Jensen)

For the first time ever, physician-scientists at the University of Minnesota have demonstrated that a lethal skin disease can be successfully treated with stem cell therapy.

Medical School researchers John E. Wagner, M.D., and Jakub Tolar, M.D., Ph.D. — in collaboration with researchers in Oregon, the United Kingdom, and Japan — used stem cells from bone marrow to repair the skin of patients with a fatal skin disease called recessive dystrophic epidermolysis bullosa (RDEB).

Image courtesy of Hyperion.

Laurie Strongin’s uneventful pregnancy belied the reality of her firstborn’s medical condition. Born in 1995, Henry had Fanconi anemia, and Laurie and her husband, Allen Goldberg, quickly learned that a matched sibling blood and marrow donor was his only hope.

In 1996, while Laurie was pregnant with their second child—healthy but not a genetic match—the couple learned about the possibility of using preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) and in vitro fertilization (IVF), guaranteeing a healthy child and a match.

Research by Jakub Tolar, M.D., Ph.D., and John E. Wagner, M.D., moved quickly from mouse studies in the laboratory to showing success in patients. (Photo: Emily Jensen)

Medical School researchers John E. Wagner, M.D., and Jakub Tolar, M.D., Ph.D.—in collaboration with researchers in Oregon, the United Kingdom, and Japan—have used stem cells from bone marrow to repair the skin of children with a fatal skin disease called recessive dystrophic epidermolysis bullosa (RDEB).

It’s the first time researchers have shown that bone marrow-derived stem cells can repair the skin and upper gastrointestinal tract and alter the natural course of the disease. Until now, bone marrow has only been used to replace diseased or damaged marrow.

John E. Wagner, M.D., performed Molly Nash’s controversial transplant. (Photo: Scott Streble)

In most ways, 16-year-old Molly Nash is a typical teenager. She argues with her parents. She bickers with her younger brother and sister (but admits to loving them, too). And she is a budding actress, recently portraying Chip the teacup in Beauty and the Beast. The science that came together 10 years ago to give Molly these opportunities was revolutionary, controversial, and for her family, intensely personal.

Thumbnail image for Daniel Garry, M.D., Ph.D., is excited that a new collaboration grant will connect the University to a nationwide network of other leading stem cell scientists. (Photo: Scott Streble)

The University of Minnesota has been awarded an $8.6 million contract to help speed the development of novel stem cell- and immune cell-based therapies from the laboratory to clinical trials through the Production Assistance for Cellular Therapies (PACT) program.

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Amid the fanfare over the University of Minnesota’s new TCF Bank Stadium, scientists working in labs across the street from it are engaged in quieter but higher-stakes activities. These leading researchers at the University’s Stem Cell Institute along with others performing stem cell research across the campus may hold in their Petri dishes the keys to unlocking the mysteries of diabetes, cancer, heart failure, brain injury — even aging.

Rita Perlingeiro, Ph.D.

For years, Rita Perlingeiro, Ph.D., has been looking for ways to use embryonic stem cells to improve muscle function. Now the University of Minnesota researcher's findings could advance new therapies for muscular dystrophy, a devastating disease characterized by progressive degeneration of the muscles that control movement.

In a study published in the October issue of Experimental Neurology, Perlingeiro and her team showed that transplanting embryonic stem cells that have "specialized" into skeletal muscle stem cells into mice with Duchenne muscular dystrophy can restore function to defective muscles.

Daniel Garry, M.D., Ph.D., is excited that a new collaboration grant will connect the University to a nationwide network of other leading stem cell scientists. (Photo: Scott Streble)

Most major medical discoveries don't happen in a single lab; they result from close collaboration across multiple institutions, often over many years. That's why it was big news when University of Minnesota researchers learned in October that they had received a seven-year collaboration grant to help develop the high-potential field of stem cell therapy.

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Most major medical discoveries don't happen in a single lab; they result from close collaboration across multiple institutions. That's why it was big news when University of Minnesota researchers learned in October that they had received a sevenyear collaboration grant to help develop the high-potential field of stem cell therapy.

With the grant from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), University researchers will partner with a research team from the University of Wisconsin-Madison to understand how and when stem cells commit to becoming a certain type of blood cell.

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As a career-long faculty member at the University of Minnesota Medical School, Leo Furcht, M.D., has had a front-row seat for many breakthroughs in stem cell science over the last few decades.

A resident in the Class of 1975, Furcht has conducted his own research on cancer stem cells. He also is a past president of the Federation of the American Societies for Experimental Biology, a national group of biomedical researchers that advocates for policies promoting research in this field.

To make a gift to the Sarah Moorleand EB Fund, contact Elizabeth Patty at 612-273-8638 or e.patty@mmf.umn.edu.

When Jay and Lonni Mooreland of Folsom‚ Calif.‚ heard about the experimental epidermolysis bullosa (EB) treatment being developed at the University of Minnesota‚ they knew they wanted their infant daughter‚ Sarah‚ to have it.

They also knew the treatment would be risky. Only two other people had undergone the blood and marrow transplant (BMT) aimed at curing the devastating skin disease.

Jeffrey Miller, M.D., began testing the application of natural killer cells to treat leukemia eight years ago. Today he’s developing protocols for using those cells to treat other types of cancer as well.

Packed into the hollows of your bones, pulsing through your arteries and veins, are millions of immature cells that play a very big role in keeping you alive.

Known as hematopoietic stem cells, or HSCs, these cells produce the blood cells that carry oxygen, keep you from bleeding to death, and defend you against incursions by bacteria, viruses, and other adversaries. HSCs are also the stars of blood and marrow transplantation (BMT), a lifesaving therapy that has given thousands of children and adults a new source of blood cells.

Thumbnail image for Daniel Mulrooney, M.D., M.S., listens to the lungs of leukemia survivor Rosie Peterson at the Long-Term Follow-Up Clinic. Lung function can sometimes be diminished by childhood cancer and its treatment. (Photo: Richard Anderson)

After analyzing clinical data from transplant centers around the country, University researchers reported in June that umbilical cord blood transplants may offer blood cancer patients better outcomes than bone marrow transplants, previously considered the gold standard.

The study, which appeared in the June 9, 2007, issue of The Lancet, compared outcomes of pediatric leukemia patients who received bone marrow transplants from unrelated donors with those who received umbilical cord transplants. While all bone marrow donors were matched, nearly all cord blood donors were mismatched.

John Kersey, M.D., performed the first blood and marrow transplant for treating lymphoma in 1975.

For many years, John Kersey, M.D., has been the face of the University of Minnesota Cancer Center. Both as a groundbreaking researcher and as the center's founding director, he played a key role in bringing together researchers and clinicians from across the University to transform cancer research and patient care.

So when Kersey stepped down as director in March, his colleagues thought they knew why.

John Kersey, M.D., and colleague Ashish Kumar, M.D., Ph.D., conduct research on an often fatal form of infant leukemia.

When asked to name Dr. John Kersey's single greatest quality, those who know him well list several: honesty, fairness, and a collaborative spirit.

"John's legendary skill is listening to what people are interested in and then pulling them together to work toward a common goal," says Tucker LeBien, Ph.D., deputy director of the University of Minnesota Cancer Center, who has worked with Kersey for 30 years. "I've never witnessed anyone who is as good at that as he is."

Thumbnail image for Surgeon Bernhard Hering, M.D., is leading part of a national clinical trial aimed at improving long-term outcomes of islet-cell transplants.

A team of University researchers has found a stem cell in adult rat heart tissue that can make cardiac cells—offering hope that these cells could someday be used to treat heart injuries in people.

The researchers took tissue from rat hearts, added certain growth factors, and multiplied them in a dish. When the researchers injected the cells into rats with injured hearts, the cells repaired the damaged tissue.

Slack has used a green fluorescent protein to mark specific genes in transgenic tadpoles and this transgenic “froglet.”

Jonathan Slack, Ph.D., is one of those self-described science addicts. A native Brit, he finished his first degree in biochemistry at Oxford and quickly became inspired by one of the world's oldest questions: How do embryos develop from eggs? His scientific curiosity led him to the rarefied field of developmental biology. And in 1986 he became the first to identify an inducing factor called the fibroblast growth factor in the frog embryo—a major discovery that was later shown to contribute to the formation of the head-to-tail pattern in all vertebrate embryos.

It was a breakthrough moment in the study of embryology, and Slack still looks back on it with awe. As the new director of the University of Minnesota's Stem Cell Institute, he's carried that sense of discovery across the Atlantic with him.

Twelve-year-old Anusha was cured of aplastic anemia.

The University's internationally acclaimed blood and marrow transplantation (BMT) program has established a research and clinical care partnership with Manipal Hospital in Bangalore, India—the first arrangement of its kind for the University's physician practice plan, University of Minnesota Physicians.

Led by Daniel Weisdorf, M.D., professor of medicine and chair of the University's adult BMT program, the partnership aims to increase scientific collaboration and training opportunities for students and physicians from Minnesota and India and to provide state-of-the art cancer care for patients in Bangalore.

John Ohlfest, Ph.D.

A central theme has emerged in the nation's medical research community over the past few years: Solutions to the most complex biomedical questions result from collaborative research.

That theme is forefront on the mind of John Ohlfest, Ph.D., the University of Minnesota's director of translational gene therapy and director of the University's gene and stem cell core laboratory. A "core" lab describes a research space at the University that is accessible to all disciplines for a variety of scientific objectives. Some discoveries‚ for example‚ could aid researchers looking for treatments for Alzheimer's disease‚ Parkinson's disease‚ and ataxia.

Doris Taylor, Ph.D.

Using minimally invasive robotic surgery equipment, researchers have successfully repaired damaged heart tissue in pigs with injections of stem cells. The cells were successfully transplanted in six of seven cases. Subsequent studies showed that the cells took hold in the heart and function improved.

The research team, co-led by Doris Taylor, Ph.D., professor of physiology and holder of the Medtronic Bakken Chair in Cardiovascular Repair, used a combination of skeletal myoblasts—or cells that give rise to muscle—and bone marrow-derived cells. Both cell types have been shown to improve the development of newblood vesselsand to improve functionof injured heart muscle.

Building momentum

It's a Wednesday afternoon, and things are hopping at the McGuire Translational Research Facility.

In one of the 30 offices lining the south side of the four-story building, a faculty member in the Division of Infectious Diseases and International Medicine is tapping intently at a keyboard. Just down the hall, through doors that open to a long, day-lit laboratory, a student pipettes liquid into a rack full of tubes, preparing to grow plasmids as part of a study on developing gene therapies for brain cancer. At a table looking out over the four-story atrium, three graduate students—perhaps from the Stem Cell Institute or the orphan drug program—eat late lunches from plastic containers. Upstairs and down, dozens of others are working on solutions to a spectrum of health problems: TB, HIV, malaria, Parkinson's, spinal cord injury.

Walter Low, Ph.D.

A group of University of Minnesota researchers has discovered a new population of cells in human umbilical cord blood that have the properties of primitive stem cells.

This is significant because cord blood is generally known to contain stem cells that can only produce cells found in blood. The new findings, however, identify a small population of cord blood cells with the characteristics of stem cells that have the potential to produce a greater variety of cell types.


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