James Thomson, a UW-Madison stem-cell researcher, is featured on the cover of Time magazine this week as one of 18 leaders in science and medicine.
Thomson was one of the first scientists in the world to successfully isolate and culture human embryonic stem cells in late 1998 at UW. Stem cells are found in embryos less than a week old, and exist for a very short time before going off to become other types of cells such as muscle tissue, nerves or skin cells. Scientists believe stem cells could eventually help cure diseases such as Parkinson’s, diabetes and Alzheimer’s.
“We decided that Thompson’s achievement is so astonishing — and the potential applications stirring up so much excitement — that he deserved to be on the cover,” Time managing editor James Kelly wrote in a letter to readers.
The topic of stem cells has dominated the media all summer, and Thomson’s profile in Time comes just three days after President George W. Bush announced his decision to fund some stem-cell research. On Thursday, Aug. 9, Bush said he would grant federal funding to the about 60 strains already in existence. Thomson’s lab owns about five of those strains, and UW officials said they may buy some additional lines.
Thomson, who doesn’t own a television and had to go to a neighbor’s house to watch Bush’s speech, said he was happy with the president’s decision, but is also disappointed on the restriction of creating new lines.
“I am very pleased that President Bush made a decision that will allow human embryonic stem cell research to go forward. The proposed compromise will slow the research, but the compromise is better than halting the research entirely.”
In their undifferentiated state in the laboratory, stem cells show an ability to divide indefinitely. The five cell lines established at UW continue to divide, and show no evidence of a diminished ability to make more cells.
Also, in an effort to protect the five lines at UW, the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation filed a lawsuit against the Geron Corporation in federal court Monday, Aug. 13, regarding the company’s license with WARF.
WARF, a non-profit Wisconsin corporation that licenses patents for research at UW, wants the court to declare that Geron has no right to add additional cell types to its license.
WARF says Geron’s attempts to secure exclusive use of additional cell types, if successful, would preclude the use of important stem cell types by other researchers in the pharmaceutical, medical and scientific communities.