Medical College partners with biotech company to develop new stem cell applications

June 11, 2012

The Medical College of Wisconsin is partnering with Primorigen Biosciences, Inc., a Madison, Wis., stem cell company, to optimize technology that transforms adult stem cells into nerve cells capable of restoring nerve function for ultimate therapeutic use. Primorigen has been awarded a $344,000 Small Business Innovation Research grant from the National Institutes of Health. The project will be led by Arshak R. Alexanian, Ph.D., V.M.D., associate professor of neurosurgery at the Medical College of Wisconsin; and Brad Garcia, Ph.D., Director of Technology and Business Development at Primorigen.

The goal of the research is to demonstrate that Primorigen’s new technology for enhancing stem cell growth and development can enhance Dr. Alexanian’s proprietary methods for restoring nerve cell function. The long term goal of Dr. Alexanian’s work is to develop new therapies to treat neurological disorders such as Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, as well as spinal cord injury.

Using a chemical genetics approach, Dr. Alexanian recently was able to transform human mesenchymal stem cells (hMSCs), which are obtained from adult bone marrow, into neural cells that can be used to replace damaged or diseased cells in the brain and spinal cord, or to promote the preservation and regeneration of those cells. In this patented approach (utility patent U.S./International), the use of patients’ own stem cells prevents rejection of those cells.

In the lab, neurally modified cells survived transplantation into the spinal cords of injured rats and significantly improved recovery in those animals. However, it is difficult to produce enough of these differentiated stem cells to be therapeutic.

Primorigen's proprietary new technology is designed to increase proliferation rates and plasticity of hMSCs and generate cells that more closely mimic primary cell properties. The overarching goal of the partnership is to test the technology with Dr. Alexanian’s neural cell induction method, with the goal of moving the technology closer to clinical trials. This award also qualifies Dr. Alexanian and Primorigen to pursue a Phase II SBIR award of $1,000,000 or more.

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