Dr. Weeks’ Comment: I have spoken with the force behind this center, Dr. Max Wicha, Distinguished Professor of Medicine and Oncology to clarify my understanding of the revolution in oncology today. He is a brilliant scientist and is changing the world!
The University of Michigan has recently emerged as a national leader in the three main types of stem cell research: embryonic, adult, and reprogrammed cells known as iPS cells.
A long-time leader in the study of adult stem cells, U-M has bolstered its human embryonic stem cell program, and added a complementary iPS cell research effort, since the passage of Proposal 2 in November 2008. The state constitutional amendment eased onerous restrictions on the types of embryonic stem cell research allowed in Michigan.
Recent milestones include:
- The launch, in March 2009, of a U-M-led consortium to create new human embryonic stem cell lines to aid the search for disease treatments and cures. The A. Alfred Taubman Medical Research Institute’s Consortium for Stem Cell Therapies (CSCT) is based at the Medical School, and researchers from across campus—including scientists at the Life Sciences Institute, the College of Engineering, the Comprehensive Cancer Center and the Department of Cell and Developmental Biology—participate.
In addition, collaborations are underway between CSCT and U-M’s University Research Corridor partners—Michigan State University and Wayne State University–as well and other institutions.
- CSCT’s development of the state’s first human embryonic stem cell line in October 2010. The first Michigan line, known as UM4-6, is the product of years of planning and preparation at U-M; the work was made possible by the state constitutional amendment allowing Michigan researchers to derive embryonic stem cell lines using surplus embryos from fertility clinics.
- CSCT’s development, in April 2011, of Michigan’s first human embryonic stem cell lines carrying the genes responsible for inherited diseases. With this accomplishment, U-M joined a small handful of U.S. universities that are producing disease-specific human embryonic stem cell lines. The work will enable scientists here and around the world to study the onset and progression of genetic disorders and to search for new treatments.
- The reprogramming, by CSCT scientists in July 2011, of adult skin cells so they behave like embryonic stem cells. The reprogrammed cells are called induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPS cells. They display many of the most scientifically valuable properties of embryonic stem cells while enabling researchers to bypass embryos altogether.
- The announcement on Feb. 14, 2012, that the U-M’s first human embryonic stem cell line, UM4-6, will be added to the National Institutes of Health’s national registry, joining 146 other cell lines. Inclusion on the national registry makes the U-M-derived cell line available to the scientific community for federally funded embryonic stem cell research projects. Registry listing was a prime CSCT goal since its inception.
In addition to the work underway by the Consortium for Stem Cell Therapies, hubs for U-M stem cell research also exist at the Life Science Institute’s Center for Stem Cell Biology and at the U-M Health System’s Comprehensive Cancer Center. Other groundbreaking stem cell work is being pursued at other units across campus.
The Center for Stem Cell Biology was established in 2005 with $10.5 million provided by the U-M Medical School, the Life Sciences Institute, and the Molecular and Behavioral Neurosciences Institute.
The center’s main goal is to determine the fundamental mechanisms that regulate stem cell function. That knowledge, in turn, provides new insights into the origins of disease and suggests new approaches to disease treatment. Most of the work involves adult stem cells — including blood-forming and nervous system stem cells — but human embryonic stem cells also are studied.
The U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center is one of the few places in North America that has made an institutional commitment to cancer stem cell research. Cancer stem cells are responsible for triggering the uncontrolled cell growth that leads to malignant tumors.
U-M researchers were the first to identify stem cells in solid tumors, finding them in breast cancer in 2003. They were also the first to find pancreatic and head-and-neck stem cells. At the U-M cancer center, scientists are investigating how these cells mutate, causing unregulated growth that ultimately leads to cancer.