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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

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Second Madison stem cell bank opens in August

Madison became home to a second stem cell bank in August, and the facility will offer new stem cell lines with technology developed at University of Wisconsin.

These new lines from the WiCell Bank, called induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPS cells, are human skin cells that have been genetically modified to behave like embryonic stem cells.

“The idea is then that you can take those iPS cells and direct them to heart cells to treat heart diseases, neuron cells to treat Parkinson’s disease, that sort of thing,” said Erik Forsberg, executive director of the WiCell research institute.

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iPS cells were first created in the lab of UW researcher James Thomson last fall, and Forsberg said it appears any type of cell can be reverted back to an embryonic state.

In the future, Forsberg and the medical community are hoping for a type of “personalized medicine” in which cells are reverted to iPS cells early in a patient’s life, stored and used later on to treat disease.

“But that’s a long way’s away,” Forsberg said. “The technology is not conducive right now to clinical use.”

Vials of iPS cells are sold for $900 each to non-profit research institutes.

The National Stem Cell Bank, which opened in Madison in 2005, offers 21 lines of embryonic stem cells, all of which have been approved for federal funding.

Ed Fallone, president of the nonprofit advocacy group Wisconsin Stem Cell Now, said iPS cells erase any “serious ethical concern” of stem cell research.

“There are some religious-based objections to health care that take the position that any alteration of the human body beyond the way it was created by God is immoral,” Fallone said. “But that tends to be a small percentage of people.”

A 2007 Gallup poll found that 64 percent of Americans think using human embryos for stem cell research is “morally acceptable,” compared with 52 percent in 2002.

That change is apparent in the 2008 presidential election. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., have both made statements in favor of expanded federal funding for stem cell research.

But Fallone was quick to point out that Obama has moved more toward the middle on the topic and McCain has moved more toward President George W. Bush’s position.

“I don’t think if McCain is elected we will see a change in Bush administration policy,” Fallone said. “And Obama has at times been very cautious in his rhetoric and his willingness to follow the liberal wing of the Democratic Party on abortion.”

Another potential problem is coordination of efforts, Fallone said. If the National Institutes of Health expands its funding under a new president, research efforts funded by states like Wisconsin and California could overlap federal research.

“You can get duplication of effort, lack of sharing of results, and the progress is much slower,” Fallone said. “I don’t know if that can be resolved no matter who wins the White House.”

Both NCSB and WiCell will be up for federal funding again next year, though Forsberg said NIH is waiting to find out the next administration’s stance on stem cell research before making any decisions on new contracts.

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