Stem Cell Research
Noted neuroscience researcher
Ira B. Black, MD, talks about
the present and future promise of
stem cell research in New Jersey.
||You have been at the forefront of stem cell research
for a number of years. Can you explain the advantages
and disadvantages of using embryonic vs. adult stem cells
This is a burning question, but we have no answers yet. It’s
apparent that embryonic stem cells have vast potential. Only
recently have we realized that adult stem cells have similar
potential. We don’t know how they compare. We must perform
experiments comparing and contrasting adult and embryonic
stem cells to get answers. The underlying question is: Are
all stem cells created equal? Or which cells should be used
for which diseases under which circumstances? We hope to tailor
stem cell research to the patient.
||How will the new stem cell law, recently passed
in New Jersey, affect stem cell research in the state?
It will have a very positive effect. By affirming the state’s
commitment to the new regenerative medicine of the 21st century,
the law will stimulate research in this important area. Conversely,
restrictions on stem cell research imposed by any government
will have an inhibitory effect. This is important because
our objective is to deliver new treatments to the bedside
as quickly as possible. Any environment that fosters careful,
rigorous research will have a positive effect on translational
||What are the potential future uses of stem cells?
It should be stressed that the stem cell revolution represents
an entirely new approach to medicine and disease. Replacing
dead, dying or dysfunctional cells applies to diseases as
diverse as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, diabetes,
stroke, hypertension, spinal cord injury and heart disease,
to name just a few. We can see that a whole variety of plagues
may become accessible through stem cell therapies. What are
the limits to this extraordinary new approach to human disease?
We don’t know. In summary then, it would appear that
stem cells hold the possibility to markedly decrease human
suffering. Our dream is to get patients out of bed, out of
wheelchairs to live productive lives. We hope stem cells will
get us there.
||What are you working on now?
We are exploring the potential of adult stem cells as treatment
for animal models of disease. We recently found, for example,
that we could differentiate bone marrow cells into nerve cells.
We are now transplanting these cells into animal models of
Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and spinal cord injury
– and waiting with bated breath for the results. We
are also transplanting the bone marrow cells into living embryos
in the uteri of animals to approach congenital diseases, birth
defects and mental retardation. We thereby hope to use stem
cells to treat diseases at different stages of life. In
parallel, we are examining cells from animals of different
ages to compare potentials.
||What can you tell us about the new stem cell institute?
The governor’s vision for a new stem cell institute
has far-reaching import. For now, the institute will be the
only state-supported initiative in this field. It will foster
multidisciplinary basic science and clinical approaches to
stem cell biology and stem cell treatments. This novel inter-institutional
entity between UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and
Rutgers will form partnerships with the pharmaceutical industry
and with biotechnology start-up initiatives, and will invite
visiting scientists from around the world to share the most
recent advances. We anticipate that New Jersey will continue
to emerge as a leader in this exciting and critical new area.
The work itself is beginning immediately while we refine a
three-year plan for realizing these goals. We have already
initiated efforts to recruit international leaders in stem