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This is the beginning of the new age of recovery from Neurological diseases

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Unread 06-27-2007, 11:57 PM   #1
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Default This is the beginning of the new age of recovery from Neurological diseases

World’s first stem cell ‘library’ on deck at McMaster

Margaret Munro, CanWest News Service
Published: Wednesday, June 27, 2007

: * * * * Mick Bhatia was handed $15 million Wednesday to create the world’s first human embryonic stem cell “library” at McMaster University in Hamilton.

But no one will be borrowing cells grown from human embryos anytime soon.

The library will be a database of information amassed as researchers “interrogate” the 26,000 genes at the heart of the potent cells, says Bhatia, head of stem cell research at the university and co-director of the new venture.

Stem cells have the potential to turn into any cell in the human body, and researchers dream of using them to treat everything from Parkinson’s to diabetes. Bhatia says they may also be key to new cancer treatments.

He says the team will be working with cell lines that already exist, such as the ones harvested from human embryos in Wisconsin in 1998 that are still being used in many research labs around the world.

The plan is to turn off the 26,000 genes inside the cells one by one. The hope is to identify key genes the cells use to morph into more specialized cell types, such as neurons, skin or heart muscle, as well as the genes that make them grow into cancers.

Genes that regulate cancer processes will be the team’s first priority, says Bhatia. “I think there is the potential there to revolutionize cancer therapy.”

The project, financed as part of a $50-million donation to the university’s medical school by Hamilton businessman David Braley, is among the most significant private investments ever in human embryonic stem cell research in Canada.

Total spending on stem-cell research in Canada is about $40 million a year and only a fraction of it is on human embryonic stem cells. “It’s staggeringly low," says Bhatia, "I keep crossing my fingers that it will change.”

He says the beauty of human embryonic stem cells is they are a showcase for the genes that comprise the biochemical recipe for human beings.

“Embryonic stem cells have all their options open for producing different cell types,” says Bhatia. “So they express the majority if not all the genes in the human genome.”

The $15-million library project will record what happens to the cells as they are turned off using high-tech and automated techniques.

“The library is simply going to be the sequential and systemic down-regulation of each gene in the human genome," says Bhatia. "And we’re going to document the cell’s behaviour. What did it become? Did it die? Did it become a cancer cell? Did it form blood? Did it form a neuron?”

He say they will try to find and learn more about the gene triggers stem cells use to “make decisions.”

The $15-million donation to the stem cell project was described by McMaster officials Wednesday as “perhaps the boldest” component of the $50 million gift from Braley, who built his fortune in the auto parts industry and who also owns the B.C. Lions football team. His donation will also finance a $10 million family medicine centre, and a $25-million endowment fund at McMaster’s medical school.

McMaster’s Stem Cell & Cancer Research Institute is the only facility in Canada dedicated to human embryonic stem cell research.

© CanWest News Service 2007
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