James Thomson, the UW scientist who discovered the cells in 1998, has received the go-ahead to create a new stem-cell line that would be safe to test in humans.
The research, which involves the manipulation of the human embryonic stem cell into a self-perpetuating, unspecialized string of cells that could eventually develop into any of the body’s 220 cell types, has put UW-Madison in the spotlight in recent months.
The five existing stem-cell lines Thomson claims were grown using animal “feeder layers.” Thomson keeps his current stem-cell lines dividing and multiplying with the use of mouse cells, which provide nutrients and chemical signals.
Now, with the support of the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, the researching and licensing arm of UW, Thomson will create a stem-cell line without these animal feeder layers.
Since it is unknown whether or not stem cells with the animal feeder layers are contaminated with germs, the Federal Drug Administration has prohibited experimenting with the cells on humans.
“If there’s some kind of virus that’s been flipping between species, the human cells could potentially acquire it,” Thomson said in a statement.
Researchers are seeking couples that could potentially donate embryos under specific ethical guidelines for this new stem-cell line. Thomson said it would take at least six months to grow these cells into a line once removed from embryos.
Any new stem cells created after Aug. 9, 2000, will not receive federal funding.