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Miracles in the Making


By Mary Daily

Published Jan 1, 2011 8:00 AM

Building a Better Future

"Embryonic stem cells remain the gold standard by which we test everything," Peckman says, and the derivation of human ES cells is an important area of research at UCLA. Yet the ability to produce human iPS cells has thrown open the doors to the future and heightened excitement among the center scientists — many of whom, not surprisingly, are also gourmet cooks, wizards in the kitchen who love to experiment.

In the lab, they study iPS cells in a dish and, by varying the recipe of the media in the dish, coax the cells into any desired cell type. In the dish, they also watch the development of disease and test the cells' response to pharmaceuticals. These patient-specific, disease-specific cells provide very fertile ground for further work.

No one is more thrilled about this than assistant professor and Broad team member Amander Clark, who studies the causes of infertility. She has converted iPS cells into the precursors to eggs and sperm, where the cells' relationship to the donor is an enormous advantage.

A soft-spoken Australian, Clark completed her Ph.D. at the University of Melbourne before postdocs at Baylor College of Medicine and UC San Francisco. Witte's vision drew her to UCLA because it aligned closely to her hopes for her own career. And it didn't hurt that Los Angeles reminded her of Melbourne. Like Lowry, she teaches undergraduates in the College of Letters & Science.

Clark and her colleagues have generated six ES lines, from which they are learning "the very first steps in how pluripotent stem cell lines are created," she explains.


Image provided by the Broad Stem Cell Research Center.

A major milestone for the center was the acceptance of three of the ES lines into the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Human Embryonic Stem Cell Registry, allowing them to be used in federally funded research projects and increasing the diversity of cell lines available for study. UCLA's ES lines, along with 13 iPS lines created by Plath and Lowry's team, are in storage on campus, available for research to faculty who meet specific ethics and review standards.

No one can predict precisely what else these intrepid medical scientists will achieve in the future, of course, but given the speed with which they work and the advances they have already made, they may soon be able to offer even the sickest patients a fighting chance.

New planets and plant science may have dominated the science headlines in 2005. But tomorrow, it may very well be Broad Stem Cell Research Center breakthroughs that grab the headlines — and offer hope and help for those who suffer from the deadliest diseases.

As Bill Lowry says: "I can't think of anything that's out of the realm of possibility."

Or more important.