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Stem Cell Research at the Technion

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Imagine enabling people with spinal cord injuries to walk again, even after years of immobility. 

Imagine restoring vision to people who are blind, restoring insulin-producing function to diabetics and growing  new hearts to replace damaged ones.

Such cures—once the stuff of science fiction—may be on the horizon thanks to stem-cell research.

Please watch the brief video below which breaks down the fundamentals of stem cells:

Technion Breakthroughs

The Technion has been at the forefront of embryonic stem cell (ESC) research. Today, it is one of a select group of academic institutes and companies worldwide—and the only one in Israel—approved by the NIH for federally funded stem cell research.

Technion researchers have already turned embryonic stem cells into various cell types, including muscle and blood vessel cells for future replacement parts. They are successfully growing stem cells into beating heart muscle (link to release) and cardiac cells that create their own blood supply (link to release), which is being used to test new drugs and to study the effects of stresses on the heart. Technion researchers have shown that in animals, stem cells can be integrated into a damaged heart (link to release), where they help regulate its activity, in effect becoming a biological pacemaker.

Technion scientists are also developing special cell lines that can address one of the most significant challenges of stem cell technology: how to coax more of the cells to develop into specific types that are needed, say skin or nerve cells.

What Are Stem Cells?

Named because they are the cells from which all other cell types stem, stem cells are the body’s building blocks—the foundation for every cell, tissue, and organ in the body.

They differ from other kinds of cells in that they are primitive and unspecialized, meaning they can’t perform the specialized functions of, say, a red blood cell, pancreatic cell, or nerve cell, but they can develop, or differentiate, into specialized cells themselves. They can also divide and renew themselves over and over again, in a process called proliferation.

Who’s Who in Technion Stem Cell Research

Professor Itskovitz

Prof. Joseph Itskovitz-Eldor

Prof. Joseph Itskovitz-Eldor of the Faculty of Medicine was on the international team that in 1998 first discovered the potential of stem cells to form any kind of tissue and pioneered stem-cell technology. The breakthrough garnered headlines around the world. He is the Director of the Technion Stem Cell Center.

Since then, Profs. Karl Skorecki and Itskovitz-Eldor have grown insulin-secreting cells, the first step toward a new approach to treating diabetes. Prof. Skorecki is Director of nephrology and molecular medicine at the Faculty of Medicine.

Dr. Lior Gepstein, together with Prof. Itskovitz-Eldor and Dr. Michal Amit, has coaxed embryonic stem cells to develop into heart cells and subsequently into beating heart muscle.

Professor Levenberg

Dr. Shulamit Levenberg

Dr. Shulamit Levenberg is a leader in tissue engineering, the growing of new human tissue for replacement purposes. Most recently, Dr. Levenberg created muscle tissue with a blood vessel network that attracted additional blood vessels when transplanted into an animal, aiding the tissue’s survival and integration. She was named one of Scientific American’s top 50 scientists in 2006.

More Technion Stem Cell Achievements:

  •  Prof. Itskovitz-Eldor’s team is now able to grow an infinite number of human ESCs, and is working toward making these cells safe for transplantation.
  • His team is also growing stem cell lines that carry genetic diseases for research purposes, as well as lines that have capability for differentiation. This makes it easier to direct them into developing into specific types of cells such as blood vessel cells, for example.
  • The Technion was approved by the NIH as a training center for ESC technology. In 2004 the NIH funded two courses simultaneously at Johns Hopkins University and at the Technion with a $450,000 grant for three years.
  • Technion scientists recently created cancerous cells for use in studying the effectiveness of various anti-cancer drugs. This will yield more reliable results than studying the drugs on animals, as is traditionally done.
  • Millions are spent on harvesting tendons from cadavers to replace damaged and torn tendons, which connect muscles to bones. Dr. Itskovitz and his team are creating tendons from stem cells. Although other research teams are also working on this challenge, the Technion team is closest to creating a viable product. These tendons have been successfully implanted in mice. The researchers are learning how to control the length, width and other options in the process, before beginning clinical tests.

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