Federal funding for new stem cell project at the ZRM
Researchers in Tübingen have successfully cultivated germ cells of adult men to create pluripotent stem cells with a therapeutic potential similar to that of embryonic stem cells, but with much less potential for ethical conflict. Now, with funding from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, a new project has been launched to characterize these cells in depth and to explore their therapeutic application in regenerative medicine.
It is the second chapter of a success story written by a group of stem cells researchers from Tübingen. They burst onto the scene in the fall of 2008 when the team around ZRM Director Prof. Dr. Thomas Skutella published its trailblazing results in the prestigious scientific journal “nature.” For the first time anywhere in the world, the group was able to generate pluripotent stem cells from the germ cells of human adults. Like embryonic stem cells, these new adult stem cells were able to develop into a variety of tissue types, but unlike embryonic stem cells, they were not fraught with ethical problems. Thus, they have enormous potential for application in the medicine of tomorrow.
The new cells "made in Tübingen" are extremely promising, and this potential must now be explored in depth, but this kind of stem cell research is very expensive. Fortunately, the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research has agreed to carry some of the costs. "It would be a real setback if we weren't able to follow up on this research now. We are dependent on outside funding so that we can stay ahead of the international competition and consolidate our leading position. The federal grant of almost a half a million euros is very welcome," reports Skutella.
Over the next three years, the money will be used to finance an ambitious work program. First of all, pluripotent cell lines must be generated which remain stable over long periods of time. In order to make it possible to compare the results, the cell lines must be raised from a single cell. These so-called "clonal" cell lines will then be exhausively characterized on a genetic and epigenetic level, but also with respect to their proteome and cellular metabolism. The results will provide the scientists with important information about the origin and regulation of pluripotency.
The Tübingen success story continues
In addition to this basic research, the work will serve the greater goal of developing therapeutically versatile stem cells that meet the rigorous legal prerequisites and ethical standards for stem cell research in Germany. First studies indicate that it might be possible to use the cells to treat diseases as diverse as diabetes or degenerative defects of the musculoskeletal system or brain.
In order to reach these goals the pluripotent cells will be differentiated in the laboratory into cell types of the affected tissue, for example insulin-producing cells of the pancreas. The patient’s own cells could then be reintroduced in the form of healthy replacements for diseased or dead tissue. Once transplanted, they would not trigger an immune reaction, but instead, hope the researchers, restore the function of the organ. The newly funded project itself does not encompass these visionary medical strategies, but it represents an important milestone on the way to stem cell therapies of the future in the scope of regenerative medicine.
One great advantage of the cells from Tübingen lies in the fact that they are generated without any kind of genetic manipulation of the original cells, which will make it considerably easier to gain the approval to use them in humans. And the group has another ace in its sleeve: The ZRM acts as an umbrella organization for the hospitals and institutes in Tübingen that are working on stem cell research, so it can bring the right partners together. In cooperation with the University Hospital’s Department of Urology, the researchers have direct access to the tissue and biopsy material that is necessary for the isolation of adult stem cells from human testis. In addition, the group can count on the support of interdisciplinary facilities such as the University of Tübingen’s Microarray Facility, which specializes in the quick and precise analysis of genetic material.
For further information:
ZRM - Center for Regenerative Biology and Medicine
Prof. Dr. Konrad Kohler (Coordinator)
72076 Tübingen, Germany
Telephone 49 7071 29 85030
Fax 07071 29 4553