In an Australian-first, a UNSW researcher based at the Diabetes Transplant Unit at the Prince of Wales Hospital has produced a human embryonic stem cell (hESC) line without the use of any animal products. The breakthrough eliminates the risk of animal-to-human contamination in potential stem cell therapy treatments.
In another first, the Prince of Wales Hospital is the first public institution in the country to extract stem cells from human embryos produced using IVF in infertile couples.
"This is the first hESC line produced in Australia and only the second one in the world, which does not use animals in any way. Our line grows on human fetal fibroblast feeder layer that does not require fetal calf serum," said UNSW Senior Lecturer, Dr Kuldip Sidhu, who was the scientist responsible for the creation of the line.
"Other researchers have used animal tissue to keep the hESC alive in the petri dish or as a culture to grow it on," said Dr Sidhu. "Those animal products have the potential to transmit retroviruses in humans, which could have disastrous consequences."
Human embryonic stem cell lines are derived from specialized cells from embryos donated by infertile couples that specifically consented for their excess embryos to be used in stem cell research.
These lines could eventually lead to safer treatments for conditions such as diabetes, Parkinson's disease, spinal cord injury and even breast cancer.
"The new line, named 'Endeavour 1', is only the fifth human embryonic stem cell line to be produced in Australia," said UNSW Professor Bernie Tuch, Director of the DTU. "We now hope to collaborate with other researchers, using this line. We will also make it available to other researchers for their own work."
The DTU also plans to use this new line in its next hands-on training course for professionals who wish to work with human embryonic stem cells. The course, planned for April, is being conducted by the New South Wales Stem Cell Network in conjunction with the DTU.
The National Health and Medical Research Council granted a licence to IVF Australia in collaboration with the DTU at the Prince of Wales Hospital to produce six stem cell lines in November 2004. Seed funding for the project came initially from the Australian Foundation for Diabetes Research, and subsequently from Diabetes Australia.
"Couples who have completed their families often ask us to donate the excess embryos created during their past treatments to research to help others," said Emeritus Professor Doug Saunders, Chair of Research & Development Committee, IVF Australia. "We are very encouraged to see the progress of this significant research project."
About stem cell lines
A stem cell line is composed of a population of cells that can replicate themselves for long periods of time in vitro, meaning out of the body. A stem cell line is able to generate all the cells in the three basic embryonic germ layers.
There are around 240 hESC lines in the world. Four other lines have been produced in Australia.
About Kuldip Sidhu
Kuldip received his PhD from India in 1978. His initial research interest has been in assisted reproduction in various animal species including humans. Last year, Dr Sidhu produced three clonal lines from an existing hESC line by flow cytometry for the first time. While at Macquarie University (1995 to 2001), his team achieved in vitro fertilization in possums, the first for any Australian marsupial. He came to the DTU in 2002 after obtaining advanced training in hESClls in Wisconsin with Professor James Thomson who produced these cells for the first time in 1998.
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