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Giving stem cell research a boost
ST. JOSEPH, Mich.—Seeking to give academic researchers the financial tools they need to boost stem cell research efforts—and in line with its efforts to entrench itself in this growing field—Millipore Corp. in December became the benefactor for three groups to join the MetaMiner Stem Cells project, a consortium run by systems biology tools company GeneGo Inc.
Recipients of Millipore's sponsorship are research groups from Australia's University of Queensland, the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom and the University of Southern California (USC) in Los Angeles. Millipore's contribution will allow the groups to participate in MetaMiner Stem Cells, a partnership launched in early 2009 for the reconstruction of stem cell pathways and their application in analysis of experimental data as well as knowledge mining. The groups, which are each conducting cutting-edge research in the field of stem cell biology, will use Millipore's financial backing to develop biological pathways specific to their areas of interest. Specific financial details were not disclosed.
According to Julie Bryant, GeneGo's vice president of business development, Millipore is the company's long-term partner in pathway biology and sponsored membership of the stem cell scientists because of the value the company sees in the project. Currently, there are seven members—stem cell experts from top pharmaceutical companies, the University of Glasgow and Chicago Children's Hospital—who direct the development of MetaMiner Stem Cells, Bryant says.
"Kudos to Millipore—I really give them so much credit, " Bryant says. "This is a very nice thing they did, and it is unique, but they are really dedicated to the field of stem cell research and the life science community. The academic groups Millipore has sponsored are very important to stem cell research, and their participation in this project will really help them advance this growing field. MetaMiner is a cutting-edge system, and their expertise will be very useful in the development of high- quality pathway content."
Siamak Baharloo, director of e-business at Millipore, says that in addition to Millipore's own dedicated team of stem cell scientists, the company has sponsored stem cell research programs around the world.
"Stem cell research is strategically at the heart of our life science business unit's initiatives, based on the product lines we already have in our portfolio, as well as new projects that we are working on," Baharloo says. "Our goal is truly altruistic—I know that sounds hard to believe, but Millipore really believes in the need to have standardized protocols for stem cell research, especially around certain areas, like iPS cells, which is an exciting new field of research. This is our chance to help support that. Our goal is to support the stem cell and research community through our products and services, especially on the academic side."
As an example of the work being performed by these groups, the University of Sheffield is working on cell and tissue replacement therapies, which hold great promise for the future treatment of human disease and injury, says Prof. Peter Andrews of the university's Department of Biomedical Science.
"This will depend upon a thorough understanding of the biological processes that control the pluripotency, self-renewal and differentiation capacities of stem cells and their progeny, and we hope to get help from our collaboration with GeneGo to develop pathway maps covering processes to address these issues we face currently," Andrews said in a news release.
Martin Pera, professor and founding director of the Eli and Edythe Broad Center for Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research at USC, says his group is studying human embryonal carcinoma, and has begun to derive human induced pluripotent stem cells.
"We are still learning about the signal transduction pathways and transcription factor networks that control self-renewal and lineage specification in these cells," Pera says. "What we hope to get out of our collaboration with GeneGo is high-quality, manually curated, multi-step pathway maps that encompass all the knowledge in the literature in one place, with easy-to-use interface tools for knowledge mining and data analysis. I am interested to see what insights the MetaMiner platform can provide that will help us to better understand these cells and to use them more effectively in research and therapy."
Baharloo stresses that one of the major goals of the project is to create standard procedures and protocols to assist scientists with their communication with each other—something made absolutely necessary by President Barack Obama's lifting of restrictions on federal funding for stem cell research last year.
"Before the ban was lifted, there was a finite number of cell lines that could be characterized, and this made it easier for people to exchange information and communicate. Now that the ban has been lifted, and the field of iPS cells is really flourishing, we will have tens if not hundreds of new cells lines that will need to be characterized," he says.
"From this point on, whatever we discover and accomplish through this collaboration belongs to those laboratories," Baharloo adds. "It will be their achievement, and we will be happy to see something good come out of it. We hope these laboratories take advantage of this opportunity to take a positive step and fruitful engagement in stem cell research. At the end of the day, I hope it will move the needle in the right direction and help this very important field."
MetaMiner Stem Cells is halfway into its two-year project and is directed by its members in a shared cost scenario.