A global scientific resource, WiCell adapts to advance discovery

SCRMC members Robert Drape, executive director of WiCell, and Tenneille Ludwig, director of the WiCell Stem Cell Bank, write: WiCell Research Institute has reinvented itself dramatically in the last two decades, yet we remain a mission-driven nonprofit at the epicenter of stem cell research. WiCell’s story began in 1999, shortly after researcher Jamie Thomson made his stem cell breakthrough. The U.S. government had yet to approve the use of federal funds for stem cell research, meaning that the work could not be done on campus without jeopardizing all of UW-Madison’s research grants.

After 20 years, stem cells mean business in Wisconsin

When James Thomson and his team succeeded in growing human embryonic stem cells in 1998, biology, health science and the biotech business sector began to fundamentally change. Today, at least 10 Wisconsin enterprises depend – in one way or another – on pluripotent stem cells, either human embryonic or induced pluripotent cells (iPS). Here’s a look at some of them:

Ethics, law central to balancing stem cell research and public policy

SCRMC member Alta Charo, professor of law, writes: Debate about the ethics and legal aspects of stem cell research can feel just as complicated as the science. I grew up in the turbulent 1960s and became interested in the whole “nature vs. nurture” debate taking place, as people argued whether human behavior is the product of inherited traits or our environment. I found both sides fascinating — the nature side led me to study biology, and the nurture side got me interested in public policy.

Building with biology to engineer effective therapies

SCRMC member Krishanu Saha, assistant professor of biomedical engineering, writes: In the first years of my life as an engineer, I started building new materials for semiconductors. It was a booming industry in the 1990s, but now I see a booming industry in building with biology. Back then, only cancerous human cells could be grown for long periods of time in the lab. No normal human cells could be grown for more than a few days or weeks.

Firm relies on innovation, UW discoveries to drive drug development

The reinvention of a photographic film company has transformed a pioneering stem cell startup into a biotech leader with an eye toward regenerative medicine and drug discovery. The former Cellular Dynamics International Inc., with deep ties to stem cell researchers at UW-Madison, was acquired by Fujifilm in 2015 in a $278 million deal.

Stem cells are at center stage in research on brain development, disorders

SCRMC member Anita Bhattacharyya, assistant professor of cell & regenerative biology, writes: My fascination with neuroscience began with a developmental biology class in college. How can you start with a sperm and an egg and end up with a complete organism? That’s amazing enough, and then there’s the development of the brain, the most complex organ in the body, what really makes us human. I just thought it was such an incredible question to be asking.

Summer science camp expands opportunities for Wisconsin’s rural schools

There’s a flurry of activity in the Discovery Building’s teaching labs during the Rural Summer Science Camp. Students huddle around a gelatin model of a heart, poking and prodding, while discussing the best way to use stem cells to repair heart injuries. Another group is moving colorful liquid through channels in Lego-like blocks, testing how liquid can move against the forces of gravity under the right circumstances.

Fighting blindness with a lesson from the Wright brothers

SCRMC member David Gamm, associate professor of ophthalmology and visual sciences writes: As a pediatric ophthalmologist, there are times I have to deliver some pretty difficult news for patients and families affected by genetic disorders of the eye. There are often no treatments, much less cures. Families come to me and I have to tell them, “Your child is going to lose vision, slowly and inexorably, and he or she may end up completely blind.”

The turbulent early days of stem cell policy

Tommy Thompson, former Governor of Wisconsin, writes: As Wisconsin governor in the 1990s, I was very interested in what was happening at the University of Wisconsin with biotechnology discoveries. And when Jamie Thomson discovered how to isolate and grow embryonic stem cells, I thought it should be given as much attention as possible.