25, No. 20, May 4, 2006
Research involving adult stem
cells receives state grants
Jim Barlow, News Bureau Staff Writer
Two of 10 state
grants announced April 24 bring more than $841,000 to two UI scientists – Matthew B. Wheeler and Stephen J. Kaufman – for
research involving two forms of adult stem cells.
The two projects were among $10 million in grants awarded through the newly created
Illinois Regenerative Medicine Institute. The IRMI resulted from an executive
order by Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich and Comptroller Dan Hynes.
Wheeler received $591,322 to work with mesenchymal stem cells that can generate
cartilage, bone, muscle, tendon, ligament and fat. They are being pursued for
their potential use to replace damaged tissues in humans and animals.
Wheeler – director of the UI transgenic animal facility, an affiliate of
the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology, and professor in the
departments of animal sciences, veterinary clinical medicine and bioengineering – will
look at porcine mesenchymal stem cells using high-speed robotic systems.
He and colleagues will isolate and characterize the stem cells extracted from
subcutaneous adipose tissue and bone marrow of pigs and conduct a systematic
comparison of the properties of three of their differentiated descendants: osteoblasts
(bone), chondrocytes (cartilage) and adipocytes (fat). They also hope to adapt
and validate a high-speed robotic microscale system for adult stem-cell screening/differentiation.
“One of the major issues in stem-cell biology is the ability to culture
large numbers of stem cells in an undifferentiated state,” Wheeler said. “Discovering
the conditions that enable undifferentiated, and even differentiated, stem-cell
culture has been slow and laborious due to the present nature of culture systems.
The present proposal is designed to combine existing robotic and fluid-handling
technologies with the unique fluid control and microenvironment properties of
the microscale to develop culture systems that accurately replicate human and
animal stem-cell biology in vitro.”
Kaufman, a professor of cell and structural biology and member of the university’s
neuroscience program, – received $250,000 to focus on mesoangioblasts adult
stem cells that have the capacity to become skeletal, cardiac and smooth muscle
cells, as well as nerve cells. It is hoped that they could be used to repair
a variety of diseased tissues, especially for muscle-related diseases and injuries.
“The research we have proposed focuses on the optimization of mesoangioblast
stem cell therapy in mouse models of human diseases including Duchenne muscular
dystrophy, limb-girdle and congenital muscular dystrophy,” Kaufman said.
Kaufman’s postdoctoral fellows Suzanne E. Berry and Marni D. Boppart will
play leading roles in the research. Kaufman’s lab in 1985 discovered a
molecule (Alpha 7 integrin) that naturally occurs in healthy muscle tissue. A
deficiency exists in several forms of congenital muscular dystrophy; the molecule
also appears in abundance in Duchenne MD patients but minus another protein,
dystrophin that promotes structural and functional integrity in muscles.
Kaufman has proposed in the past that gene therapy targeting integrin-chain genes
could stimulate and help to regulate desired balances of these and other molecules
vital to healthy muscles.