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University of Wisconsin–Madison

Recognizing a milestone in human embryonic stem cell research at UW–Madison

A recent story in the journal Nature called it a “revolution,” and it’s a revolution worth celebrating.

Nov. 6, 2018 will mark the 20th anniversary of publication of “Embryonic Stem Cell Lines Derived from Human Blastocysts.” The seminal paper, published in the journal Science, documented a breakthrough that occurred when researchers, led by James (Jamie) Thomson at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, developed a technique to isolate and grow human embryonic stem cells in cell culture.

Co-authors of the paper were Joseph Itskovitz of the Rambam Medical Center, Haifa, Israel; and Sander Shapiro, Michelle Waknitz, Jennifer Swiergiel, Vivienne Marshall and Jeffrey Jones, who at the time were all of UW–Madison.

In the abstract, the authors predicted that “these cell lines could be useful in human developmental biology, drug discovery and transplantation medicine.”

Today, that prediction is playing out.

The discovery underscores the importance of basic science and is an excellent example of how basic science can lead to applied science, clinical trials (such as in the area of macular degeneration in the case of stem cell therapies), and entrepreneurship.

Throughout the year and recognizing the possibilities borne from that discovery two decades ago, UW-Madison and its partners will celebrate with events, multi-media productions, and more. It’s a great opportunity to honor the pioneers and to support and celebrate the work of those who are building on that discovery.

Events kick off on April 18 at the 13th Annual Wisconsin Stem Cell Symposium, where “20 Years of Human Pluripotent Stem Cells” is the focus. The symposium is coordinated by UW-Madison’s Stem Cell & Regenerative Medicine Center, and the Biopharmaceutical Technology Center Institute, a nonprofit in Madison. This year’s symposium will bring together researchers advancing human pluripotent stem cell products to clinical applications for a range of degenerative diseases. The event will highlight progress in clinical trials, as well as major barriers for developing these revolutionary new therapies.

The Stem Cell & Regenerative Medicine Center is a central point of contact, information, and facilitation for all stem cell research activities on the UW-Madison campus. It houses five scientific focus groups addressing bioengineering, blood, cardiovascular, musculoskeletal and neural regeneration research, and operates under the School of Medicine and Public Health and the Office of the Vice Chancellor of Research and Graduate Education.

Stem cell research occurs across campus, from the Waisman Center to the National Primate Research Center, the UW Institute for Clinical and Translational Research, the McPherson Eye Research Institute, the Cardiovascular Research Center, the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery, the private Morgridge Institute for Research and more.

The Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation in 1999 established WiCell to advance stem cell research in the politically charged environment of the time. WiCell is an important nonprofit partner in stem cell research on campus and has consistently worked to advance stem cell technology through research, education, and technical support for UW–Madison. It has been integral in keeping UW-Madison at the forefront of advances in stem cell technology.

Those advancements include embryonic stem cell therapies proposed for regenerative medicine and tissue replacement after injury or disease; drug discoveries; and using pluripotent stem cells to treat blood and immune-system related genetic diseases, cancers, and other disorders. At UW-Madison, stem cells have become heart muscle cells and spinal motor neurons, and skin cells have been genetically reprogrammed to behave like embryonic stem cells.

Where will the next 20 years of stem cell research take us? Join us in following the research underway at UW-Madison.

It’s here that world class faculty and staff work alongside brilliant students who weren’t even born when Jamie’s team made its discovery in a lab dish on the far west side of campus.

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Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education