Commercially Promising Stem Cell Research Projects Land State Funding
Regenerative medicine – the practice of replacing, restoring or regenerating damaged cells, tissues or organs – is widely viewed as one of the most promising of avenues of biotech business growth in Minnesota. And in seeking to advance that goal, a state-funded scientific board has announced grants to some of the most promising local research projects in the field.
Regenerative Medicine Minnesota (RMM), established by the Minnesota Legislature in 2014 with a $43.6 million allocation over a 10-year span, last week revealed the 2018 winners of its “translational research” category, which seek to help scientists develop clinical applications for basic regenerative medicine research projects.
Translational research is the crucial intermediate step between a medical discovery and the clinical trial phase of a potential new product or therapy.
Regenerative medicine most often involves the transplantation of stem cells, which can be transformed, or “differentiated,” into many different types of cells, such as tissue cells, brain cells and lung cells. RMM, however, also funds projects aimed at chronic disorders that strongly impact health care costs in Minnesota, such as kidney disease requiring dialysis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), diabetic and other non-healing wounds.
Here’s a rundown of this year’s translational research award winners:
- Marija Cvetanovic, University of Minnesota Department of Neuroscience. Cvetanovic’s laboratory at the U is studying how different brain cells and their interactions influence the onset and progression of neurodegenerative diseases, particularly the inherited disease Spinocerebellar ataxia type 1 (SCA1). Her translational research efforts are focused on determining the therapeutic potential of brain-derived neurotrophic factor, a protein also known as BDNF, in delaying the onset and progression of SCA1.
- Dr. Joseph Lillegard, Mayo Clinic and Pediatric Surgical Associates. Lillegard’s research involves using transplanted liver cells delivered by viruses to fight HHHGHHereditary Tyrosinemia Type 1 (HT1), a metabolic disorder caused by an enzyme deficiency. The common treatment for this disease is a drug regimen, but it is ineffective in many patients — liver transplant is currently the only curable option in treating HT1. This new method is a form of cell transplantation utilizing the patient’s own cells, so it does not require immunosuppressive drugs.
- Dr. Troy Lund, University of Minnesota Stem Cell Institute. Dr. Lund's research focuses improving the outcomes of patients undergoing blood and marrow transplantation by increasing the speed at which stem cells can rebuild the immune system after a bone marrow transplant. Despite its growing use, there is significant morbidity and mortality with bone marrow transplants due to infection during the neutropenic state just after transplant, which can take up to 32 days. One way of ameliorating this is to make the transplanted hematopoietic cells engraft in the recipient more quickly.
- Alexander Revzin, Mayo Clinic Medical School. Revzin, a biomedical engineer, is working on a high-throughput platform for generating bioactive microgels, which can, in turn, facilitate the in vitro differentiation of transplanted stem cells in the body. His research has demonstrated that “microencapsulation” of embryonic stem cells within growth factor-binding hydrogels can be used to tailor the microenvironment so as to quickly promote the cells’ transformation into the desired types. This could provide a “straightforward path to large-scale bioprocessing” in the future.
- Robert Tranquillo, University of Minnesota Department of Biomedical Engineering. Renowned U researcher Tranquillo was awarded an RMM grant for his ongoing work in cardiovascular tissue engineering, focusing on generating transcatheter heart valves and vein valves with the use of stem cells. His method involves combining unique tubes of stem cell-generated tissue with stent technology. This has the advantage of “hemocompatibility” for the patient, whose own cells are used to construct the valves and veins.