U prof develops stem cell line

A Florida-based company will lease professor Walter Low’s stem cell line.

Than Tibbetts

ICorrection: The Daily incorrectly identified the name of the University of South Florida.

In the United States, embryonic stem cells have never enjoyed a completely warm welcome.

Moral concerns about the destruction of human life have tempered, if not slowed, research into therapies some researchers believe can be developed.

But University professor Walter Low may have found a way to avoid much of this debate after developing a stem cell line from umbilical cord blood.

Umbilical cord blood is already rich in a type of stem cells that develop into blood cells.

Low’s team was able to isolate a population of stem cells from the umbilical cord blood that potentially have the ability to develop into other types of cells. This opens up the possibility of a multitude of treatments, including spinal injuries and heart attacks.

In 2001 researchers at the University of Southern Florida transplanted umbilical cord blood stem cells into rats that had had a stroke.

Low’s stem cells showed even greater improvement in animals with strokes, including significant reductions in neurological deficits and the size of the brain lesion.

“They have many of the characteristics of a true stem cell, an embryonic stem cell,” Low said. “This tells us that the cord blood stem cells have the ability to repair the brain and restore function in these animal models.”

In an agreement announced Wednesday, Florida-based Saneron CCEL Therapeutics Inc., will license Low’s stem cell line, hoping to develop novel treatments for disease. The company is a product of the University of Southern Florida.

Although it likely will be many years before the process even reaches a clinical trial, Saneron CCEL Therapeutics Vice President Nicole Kuzmin-Nichols was optimistic about the prospects for developing innovative treatments.

She said the company is looking to use Low’s stem cells in the treatment of traumatic brain injuries. She added that the company is already researching umbilical cord blood treatments for Alzheimer’s disease and Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Together, Low and Saneron will apply for federal grants through the National Institutes of Health to pay for further research and experiments.

In animal trials, researchers have already studied umbilical cord blood stem cells’ ability to limit heart attack damage, reduce stroke damage and improve recovery from traumatic brain injury.

University professor Steven Miles, a member of the University’s Center for Bioethics, said he has some doubts about the potential of umbilical cord blood stem cells.

“Since it doesn’t involve the destruction of human embryos, it’s not seen as morally objectionable,” he said. “The problem has been that generally these cells have not had the same possibility to completely differentiate into diverse tissues.”

Differentiation is the process by which stem cells turn into cells of a certain kind of tissue.

Low said many more preliminary trials and experiments will be conducted before the researchers will be able to approach the Food and Drug Administration for clinical trials.

He added that he couldn’t guess as to how soon clinical trials might begin.

“That all depends on Mother Nature,” he said.