Harnessing Stem Cells for New Medical Uses
News Jan 25, 2017 | Original story from University of Wisconsin-Madison
Credit: University of Wisconsin-Madison
Stem Pharm Inc., a University of Wisconsin–Madison startup built on inventions related to the growth and control of stem cells, received a $290,000 grant Jan. 19 from the National Institutes of Health. The grant will support Stem Pharm’s continued development of sophisticated biological materials that can efficiently manufacture stem cells for medical use.
Stem Pharm’s custom materials support growing human cells to evaluate potential drugs or serve as replacement tissues for regenerative medicine. The company builds on research by founder William Murphy, a professor of biomedical engineering at UW–Madison.
Stem cells are highly versatile cells that have not yet specialized into adult cells, such as blood, muscle or nerve cells. Murphy focuses on finding better ways to direct stem cells to develop into adult cells and tissues.
This year, Stem Pharm plans to market systems that drug-makers can use to evaluate the safety and utility of drugs for treating blood vessels, liver and nerve tissue. Stem Pharm sells both biomaterial (which supports cell growth) and cells, depending on the market.
Human stem cells were greeted as miracle cures when they were discovered at the UW–Madison in 1998, but they are extremely difficult to work with. They are eager to develop into something else – but not necessarily whatever cell the scientists working with them intend.
Stem Pharm creates a synthetic, customizable Jell-O-like material that can support developing stem cells. “To manufacture a particular cell or tissue type,” Murphy says, “you often need to find a ‘Goldilocks’ environment” that balances characteristics like stiffness, adhesiveness, and responsiveness to chemicals secreted by the growing cells. “We rapidly identify the conditions needed to grow cells or tissues with the desired function. In some cases, the result is a cell with unique functions that would not exist without the material.”
Stem Pharm has licensed three patents related to the control of cell biomanufacturing through the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation. The patents are based on research in Murphy’s lab in the Wisconsin Institutes of Medical Research.
Over the last decade, studies there and elsewhere have shown the remarkable ability of materials to control virtually all aspects of cell function and tissue formation, Murphy says. “Our material serves as a concierge, to maintain the cells so they function as intended and remain where they are needed.” The same technology, he notes, can also apply to cells that are not derived from stem cells.
The company formed about 18 months ago. It has lab space in Fitchburg and two primary employees: Murphy, who works after his UW–Madison obligations are completed, and Connie Lebakken, president and chief operating officer. The company has several part-time employees and plans to expand if a current round of fund-raising succeeds.
Beyond making cells that enable testing of drugs, Stem Pharm is participating in the quest for cell therapy – replacement cells and tissues that might treat a wide variety of diseases and conditions. Already, Murphy notes, about 600 clinical trials are underway to test the regenerative ability of adult stem cells, such as the mesenchymal stem cells derived from bone marrow or fat.
These cell therapies must surmount certain “primary limitations,” Murphy says. “We need to be able to generate the cell or tissue efficiently and safely. They have to be manufactured at reasonable cost and they must function as intended at the desired location after being delivered into the body.”
The founding of the company, he says, “has come at a time when we realize that our custom biomaterials are very good at controlling cell behavior and we are zeroing in on applications that really require that control.”
Stem Pharm is interested in an eye condition known as age-related macular degeneration, a devastating condition that kills several cell types in the retina. As with all cell therapies, placing the new tissue is a significant challenge. “You don’t just want to get the cells to the target location, you want to place them in a way that allows them to organize and create the human tissue that was destroyed,” Murphy says. “We are exploring ways to generate the tissue outside the body and then implant it. We think the tissue can mature more precisely inside the body than outside.”
As Murphy has learned both in his lab and as co-director of the UW–Madison Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine Center, stem cells teach a master class in the inherent intelligence of development. The process of specialization, honed through eons of evolution, created systems where developing cells almost magically respond to conditions by becoming something new.
That intelligence can be harnessed in for drug discovery, Murphy says. “We have discovered environments where cells that grow on a biomaterial with the right properties can self-assemble into their own three-dimensional tissue. That becomes exciting for drug discovery: the pharma just needs to seed the cells and walk away and they will assemble themselves, ready to be tested against thousands of potential drug compounds.”
This article has been republished from materials provided by University of Wisconsin-Madison. Note: material may have been edited for length and content. For further information, please contact the cited source.
Switch Discovered to Convert Blood Vessels to Blood Stem Cells During Embryonic DevelopmentNews
Findings could aid research into creating new blood cells for transplants and understanding cancer metastasis.READ MORE
Chemicals in Lavender and Tea Tree Oil Could be Hormone DisruptorsNews
A new study lends further evidence to a suspected link between abnormal breast growth in young boys--called prepubertal gynecomastia--and regular exposure to lavender or tea tree oil, by finding that key chemicals in these common plant-derived oils act as endocrine-disrupting chemicals.READ MORE
Unraveling How Mesenchymal Stem Cells From Gum Tissue Accelerate Wound HealingNews
To assist with wound healing, mesenchymal stem cells from the gum tissue secrete extracellular vesicles that contain the anti-inflammatory signaling molecule IL-1RA.READ MORE
Comments | 0 ADD COMMENT
World Congress on Advanced Pharmacy and Clinical Research
Jul 16 - Jul 17, 2018
6th Annual Congress on Biology and Medicine of Molecules
Sep 17 - Sep 18, 2018
International Conference on Molecular Biology and Stem Cells
Aug 13 - Aug 15, 2018