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Miracles in the Making


By Mary Daily

Published Jan 1, 2011 8:00 AM

Take a dynamic and inclusive leader. Add a visionary benefactor and a multidisciplinary team of dedicated, brilliant scientists. Mix well. What do you have? Potentially life-changing and eventually lifesaving science in the form of UCLA's Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research, which in only a few short years can claim a long — and rapidly growing — string of breakthroughs.


A single hESC (human embryonic stem cell), highly magnified. Image courtesy of the Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research.


Science went into high gear in 2005.

Breakthroughs were made in cell signaling, the study of how the earth was formed, plant science, brain wiring and many other areas.

"The most earthlike planet yet found outside the solar system" was discovered, according to the National Science Foundation (NSF). A 10th planet also was found in our own solar system (but Pluto, alas, was demoted to just a very large rock).

So great was the pace of inquiry in 2005 that NSF declared it "another banner year for science research." But something else happened in science that year that promises — indeed, has already begun — to reap extraordinary dividends, and at a blistering pace.

In 2005, UCLA launched a stem cell program, now known as the Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research. Led by a scientist celebrated for his mentoring as well as his science, the all-star team of medical researchers who collectively comprise the Broad Center has accumulated an impressive — and growing — number of breakthroughs in the cutting-edge field of stem cell research in just a little more than half a decade.

If you or a loved one suffers from any of a host of fatal diseases, the Broad Center is where you may find a fighting chance for a normal life.

And just maybe, someday, a cure.

Run, Don't Walk

Stem cells are special because they can renew themselves, but only embryonic stem (ES) cells have the natural ability to develop into most cell types — and help fight a long list of diseases and afflictions. They are pluripotent. By contrast, adult stem cells are tissue-specific and can only duplicate themselves, so their usefulness in disease fighting is, at best, limited.

Scientists began to unleash the magic of this science in 1981, deriving stem cells from early mouse embryos. This led to the discovery, in 1998, of a way to derive stem cells from human embryos and grow them in the lab. The stage was set to move regenerative medicine into the 21st century.