Stem cell training program to make its Stanford debut


STANFORD, Calif. - For the first time ever, an advanced training program that teaches how to create and maintain embryonic stem cell lines will be offered outside of the University of Pittsburgh, where it originated in 2003. The weeklong course on these all-purpose cells, which can develop into any of the tissue in the adult body, will run June 15-23 at the James H. Clark Center at the Stanford University School of Medicine.

Among the many stem cell luminaries participating in the event will be one of the most sought-after speakers in the field: Woo-Suk Hwang, PhD, of Seoul National University, who led the research team that recently succeeded in creating 11 new stem cell lines from cloned embryos, will lecture June 17 at 8 a.m., in addition to helping to teach some of the laboratory seminars. The results of Hwang's work stunned the scientific community when it was published in the May 19 issue of Science, prompting front-page stories in the New York Times, Washington Post and other newspapers.

Also featured in the program is Ian Wilmut, PhD, of the Roslin Institute near Edinburgh, Scotland, who led the effort to clone Dolly the sheep. He will speak June 21 at 8 a.m.

These and other morning lectures in the course are open to the public, as seating permits. The afternoon laboratory modules are restricted to the 20 scientists who are enrolled in the program. In addition to the lectures and lab sessions, Robert Klein, the chair of California's newly established stem cell institute, will speak at 8 p.m. June 18 at a banquet for the program participants.

This training course comes west as researchers in California are flocking to enter the field of stem cell research-spurred by the promise of $3 billion in state funds from Proposition 71 and the belief that someday treatments for a host of diseases will involve using these cells to replace the damaged adult cells.

Yet for scientists now wishing to start out in this area, it isn't as simple as just buying the cells and launching a new research program. The cells are in limited supply and are notoriously difficult to maintain in a lab. They can't be frozen easily, they are sickly, they quickly form new cell types rather than remaining as stem cells and the cell population changes over time.

The course, called the Frontiers in Human Embryonic Stem Cells Advanced Training Course, offers solutions to some of these problems. It was originated by stem cell pioneers Gerald Schatten, PhD, of the University of Pittsburgh and Roger Pedersen, PhD, of Cambridge University with the goal of recruiting and developing the future generation of human embryonic stem cell researchers. While the previous courses lasted three weeks, the Stanford course has been condensed to one week. Both Schatten and Pedersen will be lecturing.

The morning lectures will cover the ethics of egg donation, history of embryonic stem cell derivation, legal aspects of working with stem cells and biological processes in stem cells. Afternoon laboratory workshops will give the 20 course participants hands-on experience learning cellular, molecular and genetic approaches to working with embryonic stem cells.

The opportunity to interact with others working on human embryonic stem cells is a boon for Stanford researchers, according to Julie Baker, PhD, assistant professor of genetics, whose own work involves studying and hopefully creating the persnickety cells. Although she's not enrolled in the courses she's hoping to get advice from visiting researchers. She is particularly interested in learning how other labs increased their success rate harvesting stem cells from early embryos. In the recent article in Science, Hwangs's group reported a success rate of about one in 10 - two to three times better than what other labs typically experience.

"This is a great chance to learn more about protocols used by other labs," Baker said.

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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