Giving stem cell research a boost

Millipore sponsors three academic memberships for GeneGo’s MetaMiner Stem Cell project

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ST. JOSEPH, Mich.—Seeking to give academic researchers thefinancial tools they need to boost stem cell research efforts—and in line withits efforts to entrench itself in this growing field—Millipore Corp. inDecember became the benefactor for three groups to join the MetaMiner StemCells project, a consortium run by systems biology tools company GeneGo Inc.

Recipients of Millipore's sponsorship are research groupsfrom Australia's University of Queensland, the University of Sheffield in theUnited Kingdom and the University of Southern California (USC) in Los Angeles.Millipore's contribution will allow the groups to participate in MetaMiner StemCells, a partnership launched in early 2009 for the reconstruction of stem cellpathways and their application in analysis of experimental data as well asknowledge mining. The groups, which are each conducting cutting-edge researchin the field of stem cell biology, will use Millipore's financial backing todevelop biological pathways specific to their areas of interest. Specificfinancial details were not disclosed.

According to Julie Bryant, GeneGo's vice president ofbusiness development, Millipore is the company's long-term partner in pathwaybiology and sponsored membership of the stem cell scientists because of thevalue the company sees in the project. Currently, there are seven members—stemcell experts from top pharmaceutical companies, the University of Glasgow andChicago 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 theyare really dedicated to the field of stem cell research and the life sciencecommunity. The academic groups Millipore has sponsored are very important tostem cell research, and their participation in this project will really helpthem advance this growing field. MetaMiner is a cutting-edge system, and theirexpertise will be very useful in the development of high-quality pathwaycontent."

Siamak Baharloo, director of e-business at Millipore, saysthat in addition to Millipore's own dedicated team of stem cell scientists, thecompany has sponsored stem cell research programs around the world.

"Stem cell research is strategically at the heart of ourlife science business unit's initiatives, based on the product lines we alreadyhave 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 forstem cell research, especially around certain areas, like iPS cells, which isan exciting new field of research. This is our chance to help support that. Ourgoal is to support the stem cell and research community through our productsand 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 replacementtherapies, which hold great promise for the future treatment of human diseaseand injury, says Prof. Peter Andrews of the university's Department ofBiomedical Science.

"This will depend upon a thorough understanding of thebiological processes that control the pluripotency, self-renewal anddifferentiation capacities of stem cells and their progeny, and we hope to gethelp from our collaboration with GeneGo to develop pathway maps coveringprocesses to address these issues we face currently," Andrews said in a news release.

Martin Pera, professor and founding director of the Eli andEdythe Broad Center for Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research at USC,says his group is studying human embryonal carcinoma, and has begun to derivehuman induced pluripotent stem cells.

"We are still learning about the signal transductionpathways and transcription factor networks that control self-renewal andlineage specification in these cells," Pera says. "What we hope to get out ofour collaboration with GeneGo is high-quality, manually curated, multi-steppathway 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 aminterested to see what insights the MetaMiner platform can provide that willhelp us to better understand these cells and to use them more effectively inresearch and therapy."

Baharloo stresses that one of the major goals of the projectis to create standard procedures and protocols to assist scientists with theircommunication with each other—something made absolutely necessary by PresidentBarack Obama's lifting of restrictions on federal funding for stem cellresearch last year.

"Before the ban was lifted, there was a finite number ofcell lines that could be characterized, and this made it easier for people toexchange information and communicate. Now that the ban has been lifted, and thefield of iPS cells is really flourishing, we will have tens if not hundreds ofnew cells lines that will need to be characterized," he says.

"From this point on, whatever we discover and accomplishthrough this collaboration belongs to those laboratories," Baharloo adds. "Itwill be their achievement, and we will be happy to see something good come outof it. We hope these laboratories take advantage of this opportunity to take apositive step and fruitful engagement in stem cell research. At the end of theday, I hope it will move the needle in the right direction and help this veryimportant field."

MetaMiner Stem Cells is halfway into its two-year projectand is directed by its members in a shared cost scenario.

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