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New Kind of Stem Cell Spurs Regenerative Medicine Research

Richard Schlegel Photo

Dr. Richard Schlegel, professor and chair of the pathology department in Georgetown's Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, says the cells he and a team of Georgetown researchers created more than a year ago could one day make regenerative medicine a reality.

January 30, 2013 – Researchers at Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center say the powerful cells they first created in the laboratory more than a year ago constitute a new stem-like state of adult cells that may eventually make regenerative medicine possible.

In a recent article in the early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), the researchers report these cells do not express the same genes as embryonic stem cells or artificially developed stem cells.

Also, unlike previous stem cells, the new cells don’t produce tumors in animals and are genetically stable, the researchers say.

Follow Up on Breakthrough

“These seem to be exactly the kind of cells that we need to make regenerative medicine a reality,” says the study’s senior investigator, Dr. Richard Schlegel, chair of the department of pathology at Lombardi.

Lombardi is a part of Georgetown University Medical Center.

The study is a continuation of work that led to a breakthrough in December 2011, when Schlegel and his colleagues demonstrated a newly designed laboratory technique that for the first time keeps normal and cancer cells alive indefinitely.

Calling the cells conditionally reprogrammed cells (CRCs), the advance also has been viewed as an exciting demonstration of personalized cancer medicine.

Personalized Medicine

A case study authored by Schlegel and his team reported in the Sept. 27 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine demonstrated how CRCs derived from normal and tumor cells of a 24-year-old man with a rare type of lung tumor allowed physicians to identify an effective cancer therapy.

These cells were used to screen potential treatments, allowing the scientists to ascertain which therapies were active against the tumor cells and less harmful to normal cells.

“Our first clinical application utilizing this technique represents a powerful example of individualized medicine,” Schlegel said in September.

Vast Potential

He says the new study shows that the CRC cells may one day be used for regenerative medicine to replace damaged organ tissue.

“The potential of these cells is vast, and exciting research to help define their abilities is ongoing,” he says.

The research described was funded by a grant to Schlegel from the National Institutes of Health (R01 CA106400) with additional support from an additional NIH grant (5 U42 RR006042). Georgetown University has filed a patent application on the technology described in this paper. Schlegel is an inventor for the patent application.

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