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Hitting targets one cell at a time
March 2008
by David Hutton  |  Email the author
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SAN FRANCISCO—Stem Cell Sciences (SCS) recently reached an agreement with the Myelin Repair Foundation (MRF) for the development of techniques that will lead to scalable and sustainable sources of uniform human brain cells for research, target validation and drug discovery assays.
Being able to utilize human brain cells would be a significant step forward to confirm results from animal research experiments in demonstrating the relevance of drug therapies for CNS disorders.

"SCS has first rights to commercialize product, however the full terms of the agreement are still to be finalized," says SCS CSO Tim Allsopp. Financial terms of the collaboration are not being disclosed.

Under the agreement, researchers at the MRF-supported Human Neural Assay Center, located at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, will optimize sustainable methods for culturing SCS' human neural stem (NS) cells and subsequent differentiation into the three principal cell types normally found in the brain: neurons, oligodendrocytes and astrocytes.

"These cells would be used initially in the early stages of drug development before the product enters clinical trials," says Allsopp. "This will allow researchers to study the effects of drug candidates on human cells directly but in a laboratory setting. This may highlight any potential side effects before any human testing is conducted. The cells may also have applications in testing for toxicity of drug candidates that have already entered clinical trials."

Historically, access to primary human brain tissue suitable for cell culture has been extremely limited and tissue that was available has been difficult to sustain in culture. Using human NS cells overcomes this problem by providing a constant, dependable and unlimited source of brain cells.

Allsopp notes there are differences between humans and other species in individual components of biochemical pathways, or in the way these components work.

"As such, a drug discovered using animal cells might not work efficiently, if at all, on human cells. Thus, using human cells in initial studies ensures that only those drug 'hits' can be considered for further testing," Allsopp points out. "This eliminates the time spent confirming activity of drugs discovered using non-human cells and reduces the use of laboratory animals in research.
 
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