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Kansas State University


Thursday, August 3, 2006


MANHATTAN -- What if there was a non-controversial, inexhaustible supply of stem cells? What if the cells could be harvested and transplanted into animals yielding promising results with a disease such as Parkinson's?

The answer to each question is yes, there is such a supply. At Kansas State University, three researchers took a stridently different approach to stem cell research. Much controversy surrounds embryonic stem cell research so the K-State team asked themselves: What if stem cells are located in the umbilical cord? What if those cells could be harvested after birth?

Then, it happened. Mark Weiss and Deryl Troyer, in the anatomy and physiology department in the College of Veterinary Medicine, and Duane Davis in the department of animal science and industry in the College of Agriculture, began to study the material inside the umbilical cord. That's when they discovered that, indeed, stem cells exist within that matrix and the cells are available in great number.

The researchers collect the matrix material following birth. For centuries, these matrix stem cells – which aren't embryonic-type cells, umbilical cord blood or adult stem cells – have literally been going to waste because the umbilical cord along with the placenta or so-called "afterbirth" is generally discarded.

Recent work at K-State indicates the umbilical cord blood and the matrix material of the umbilical cord may be a precious and inexhaustible resource of therapeutically valuable stem cells. For example, umbilical cord blood transplants are clinically proven and are used to treat about 44 different diseases.

In preclinical work, the umbilical cord matrix stem cells were shown to be therapeutic in a Parkinsonian rat model. After receiving the stem cells, one rat's symptoms of the disease were reduced by 90 percent. Further work is needed to translate this bench-top science into the clinical trials. During the 2006 Legislative session, the Kansas Legislature appropriated $150,000 to fund the researchers' work through the Midwest Institute of Comparative Stem Cell Biology.

"We are grateful for the support we received and the state money will extend our research," Weiss said. "For example, Dr. Troyer's preliminary work indicates that umbilical cord matrix cells home in on cancerous lung tumors and the cells can be engineered to release chemotherapeutic agents," Weiss said. "We want to aggressively pursue this with dedicated lab space and dedicated students who can move us forward in our research. To conduct the necessary preclinical and clinical safety testing, additional funding will be needed."