Indiana University scientists' research success puts Indiana in new stem cell business

01/27/05

INDIANAPOLIS -- Scientific discoveries by two Indiana University School of Medicine researchers have led to the creation of a life sciences company whose products could someday repair the blood vessels of heart attack victims and diabetics.

Working with the Indiana University Research and Technology Corp. and BioCrossroads, Mervin C. Yoder Jr., M.D., and David A. Ingram Jr., M.D., have created EndGenitor Technologies Inc., which will begin operations Feb. 1 at the Emerging Technology Center in downtown Indianapolis.

Local venture capital executive Ronald D. Henriksen has joined the firm as chief executive officer. Carlos Lopez, Ph.D., a retired Eli Lilly & Co. executive director, is the chief scientific officer of the company. Dr. Yoder, who is the Richard and Pauline Klingler Professor in the Department of Pediatrics, and Dr. Ingram, assistant professor of pediatrics, will remain members of the IU School of Medicine faculty. They have ownership positions in the company and will serve as consultants to the firm.

EndGenitor's goal is to take advantage of Drs. Yoder and Ingram's discovery, reported last year, of the "ancestor" cells that enable the body to create endothelial cells, which make up the crucial inner lining of the body's blood vessels and internal organs. Using those ancestor cells, called endothelial stem cells and progenitor cells, they hope to create cell therapy products to treat people with circulation problems in their arms and legs, those who have heart disease, or those with other problems involving blood vessels and circulation.

The ability to detect and measure the endothelial precursor cells is a "landmark discovery" on par with earlier discoveries of the precursors of blood cells, known as hematopoietic stem cells, Yoder said.

"It is our firm belief that the therapeutic use of adult stem cells will revolutionize the practice of medicine and that EndGenitor Technologies, Inc. will play a leading role in the discovery and development of cell therapies for treating chronic degenerative diseases associated with aging," Yoder said.

While the company works toward that long-term goal, it plans to market test kits for researchers that will enable them to determine whether their samples contain the endothelial stem and progenitor cells.

Such test kits should be of interest to scientists testing compounds they hope would block the growth of blood vessels, which in turn could block the growth of tumors, said Ingram. Similarly, cardiovascular specialists would be interested, hoping to find compounds that promote the growth or repair of blood vessels, Ingram said.

The origin of these endothelial cells, which play a vital role in the body's circulatory system and internal organs, had been uncertain. But by extracting and comparing cells from adult blood and infant umbilical cords, the IU team was able to isolate the parents -- the progenitors -- of the cells and explain how they differ from related cells.

The progenitor cells the researchers identified are adult type stem cells, but they proliferate much like embryonic stem cells, and they can be grown in large quantities in the laboratory, said Dr. Yoder.

The research appeared in the November issue of Blood, the journal of the American Society of Hematology.

The Emerging Technology Center, 351 W. Tenth St., is a life sciences business incubator owned and operated by the Indiana University Research & Technology Corporation (IURTC). The IURTC, which provides technology transfer assistance to IU faculty, has taken an ownership position in EndGenitor.

Officials of IURTC and BioCrossroads provided assistance in putting together a business plan for the new company, and helped the founders arrange financing. The primary source of startup capital came from an "angel" investor who does not wish to be identified, Yoder said.

Source: Eurekalert & others

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