Dr. Kiminobu Sugaya, UCF Team Patent iPS Stem Cell Technique

University of Central Florida team patents stem cells advance: The University of Central Florida recently achieved another breakthrough in stem cell research, when a research team from its Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences patented a method of creating human stem cells—a way that bypasses ethical controversies as well as medical concerns.

Because they are naturally flexible, can adapt to what the body needs and multiply quickly, many scientists see stem cells as the keys to unlocking cures for incurable and difficult conditions.

Instead of transplanting organs to replace damaged ones, medical researchers hope to replace missing or damaged cells with stem cells that will regenerate damaged organs or body parts. They aim to do this by manipulating the flexibility of stem cells to create precursors to the type of cells the patient needs.

But a lack of stem cells has set back researchers’ efforts to explore ways to use stem cells to treat incurable diseases or reverse nervous system damage caused by disease or trauma.

The controversy over experimenting with stem cells taken from human fetuses is also another stumbling block. For a long time, United States health authorities banned funding for the creation of new stem cell lines from human embryonic stem cells (hESCs). President Barack Obama has since lifted this ban, but many researchers are still reluctant to court the controversy.

The controversy and ban have driven researchers to pursue methods of creating stem cells from adult donors. But many existing methods involve the use of a number of genes believed to be connected with the uncontrolled cell growth seen in cancer—and this poses the risk that stem cell treatments will trigger cancer in patients that use them.

Researchers have tried using several different genes to manufacture stem cells, but these have proven unpredictable so far.

Induced pluripotent stem cell technique without cancer risk
The UCF’s breakthrough involves the development of a technique that generates millions of the type of stem cells researchers want from a single cell taken from an adult—and without the risk of cancer.

The UCF technique, developed by Dr. Kiminobu Sugaya and his team at the university’s Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences, uses only one gene to spur the creation of stem cells from an adult cell.

The gene, called NANOG, has the genetic blueprint for a protein molecule known as a transcription factor. The researchers believe that this NANOG transcription factor is what helps stem cells maintain their pluripotency—or the ability to turn into many other types of adult cells.

With this new induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) technology, Dr. Sugaya and his team hope to test the capabilities of their manufactured stem cells and hopefully begin to cure numerous diseases, including heart disease, diabetes and strokes.

“Stem cells are the building blocks, the foundation for our research,” Dr. Sugaya said. “Although (adult stem cells’) capabilities are limited, we can use this technology to push those capabilities and make them do more things.”

This is why “this technology has the potential of literally changing the entire landscape of regenerative medicine,” raves the bioengineer who is a professor at UCF’s College of Medicine.

Patenting the technology
Dr. Sugaya’s team filed the claim to patent this new technology in October 2005 and finally received it last December (2010)

The doctor says he hopes this patent will increase awareness of this particular field of regenerative medicine— iPSC technology research—and attract more research personnel to the Burnett School. Right now, the doctor is one of only two stem cell researchers at the UCF.

In 2009, UCF’s various institutions and programs jointly garnered 51 patents—leading the university to be ranked third in the U.S. in the number of patents and the impact these have on the national economy.