Tag Archives: Jordana Lenon

Primate research and twenty years of stem cell firsts

This guest post is by Jordana Lenon, B.S., B.A., Senior Editor, Wisconsin National Primate Research Center and University of Wisconsin-Madison Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine Center. The research will also be featured this evening in a public talk at UW-Madison’s Wednesday Nite at the Lab. WN@tL: “Twenty Years of Stem Cell Milestones at the UW.”  Details and link are below. Update 1/8/15:  Dr. William Murphy’s talk  can now be viewed at:  http://www.biotech.wisc.edu/webcams?lecture=20150107_1900

As we enter 2015, the 20th anniversary of the first successful isolation and culture of primate pluripotent stem cells in the world, it’s time to look back and see how far we’ve come. Thanks to a young reproductive biologist who came from the University of Pennsylvania’s VMD/PhD program to the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1991, and to those whose research his groundbreaking discoveries informed, the fields of cell biology and regenerative medicine will never be the same.

stem cell colonies

Pluripotent stem cells are right now being used around the world to grow different types of cells—heart muscle cells, brain cells, pancreatic cells, liver cells, retinal cells, blood cells, bone cells, immune cells and much more.

Cultures of these cells are right now being used to test new drugs for toxicity and effectiveness.

More and more of these powerful cells are right now moving out of the lab and into preclinical (animal) trials and early human clinical trials to treat disease. The results are being published in peer-reviewed scientific journal articles on stem cell transplant, injection and infusion, reprogramming, immunology, virology and tissue engineering.

Pluripotent stem cells and their derivatives are right now being studied to learn more about reproduction and development, birth defects, and the genetic origins of disease.

Embryonic, induced pluripotent, tissue specific (adult), and other types of stem cells and genetically reprogrammed cells are all being used by researchers due to the open and collaborative environment of scientific and medical enterprises in the U.S. and around the world.

All of this is happening right now because of discoveries made 20 years ago by researchers at the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center.

Here is a brief timeline of stem cell breakthroughs by WNPRC scientists:

  • 1995-James Thomson becomes the first to successfully isolate and culture rhesus monkey embyronic stem cells (ES cells) at the Wisconsin Regional Primate Research Center (PNAS)
  • 1996-Thomson repeats this feat with common marmoset ES cells (Biol Reprod).
  • 1998-Thomson publishes the neural differentiation of rhesus ES cells (APMIS).
  • 1998-Thomson’s famous breakthrough growing human ES (hES) cells is published in Science. (This research occurred off campus, with private funding.)

Many subsequent stem cell “firsts” were accomplished by scientists who conducted lengthy training with James Thomson or Ted Golos, reproduction and development scientists at the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center. These highlights include the following accomplishments by Primate Center researchers:

  • 2003-WNPRC Post-doctoral trainee Thomas Zwaka achieves homologous recombination with hES cells. A method for recombining segments of DNA within stem cells, the technique makes it possible to manipulate any part of the human genome to study gene function and mimic human disease in the laboratory dish (Nature Biotechnology).
  • 2004-WNPRC Post-doctoral trainee Behzad Gerami-Naini develops an hES model that mimics the formation of the placenta, giving researchers a new window on early development (Endocrinology).
  • 2005- WNPRC scientist Igor Slukvin and post-doc Maxim Vodyanik become the first to culture lymphocytes and dendritic cells from human ES cells (Blood, J Immunol).
  • 2005-WiCell’s Ren-He Xu, who completed his post-doctoral research at the WNPRC, grows hES cells in the absence of mouse-derived feeder cells (Nature Methods).
  • 2006-WiCell’s Tenneille Ludwig, a graduate student/post-doc/assistant scientist through the Primate Center with Barry Bavister, then James Thomson, formulates a media that supports hES cells without the need for contaminating animal products (Nature Biotechnology). Co-authoring the work is another former Primate Center post-doc, Mark Levenstein.
  • 2007-Junying Yu, WNPRC and Genome Center, in Jamie Thomson’s lab, grows induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPS cells. (Science). These are genetically reprogrammed mature cells that act like embryonic stem cells, but without the need to destroy the embryo.

Researchers at all of the National Primate Research Centers continue to make advances in this remarkable field of research and medicine. A few more milestones include the following:

  • 2007- Shoukhrat Mitalipov at the Oregon National Primate Research Center successfully converted adult rhesus monkey skin cells to embryonic stem cells using somatic cell nuclear transfer (Nature)
  • 2012- Shoukhrat Mitalipov at the Oregon National Primate Research Center generation chimeric rhesus monkeys using embryonic cells (Cell)
  • 2012-Alice Tarantal at the California NPRC successfully transplants human embryonic stem cells differentiated toward kidney lineages into fetal rhesus macaques.
  • 2013-Qiang Shi at the Texas Biomedical Research Institute and Gerald Shatten at the University of Pittsburgh – and previously with the Oregon National Primate Research Center and Wisconsin National Primate Research Center – genetically programs baboon embryonic stem cells to restore a severely damaged artery.
  • 2013-Shoukhrat Mitalipov at the Oregon National Primate Research Center produces human embryonic stem cells through therapeutic cloning, or somatic cell nuclear transfer (Cell)

NPRC Stem Cell Timeline 01.06.15

Before all of this happened, we must note that non-primate mammalian embryonic stem cells were first successfully isolated and cultured in 1981, by Martin Evans and Matthew Kaufman at the University of Cambridge, England. That breakthrough occurred almost 35 years ago. Jamie Thomson studied mouse embryonic stem cells in Pennsylvania before working on primate cells.

Even before that, in 1961, Ernest McCulloch and James Till at the Ontario Cancer Institute in Canada discovered the first adult stem cells, also called somatic stem cells or tissue-specific stem cells, in human bone marrow. That was 55 years ago.

So first it was human stem cells, then mouse, then monkey, then back to humans again. Science speaks back and forth. It reaches into the past, makes promises in the present, and comes to fruition in the future.

In every early talk I saw Jamie Thomson give about his seminal stem cell discoveries in the late 1990s and early 2000s – to staff, scientists, to the public, to Congress, to the news media – he would explain why he came to UW-Madison in the early 1990s to try to advance embryonic stem cell research. In large part, he said, it was because we had a National Primate Research Center here at UW-Madison, and also that we had leading experts in transplant and surgery at our medical school. After he joined the WNPRC as a staff pathologist and set up his lab, first he used rhesus and then marmoset embryos before expanding to cultures using human IVF patient-donated embryos off campus with private funding from Geron Corporation in Menlo Park, California.

Human And Mouse EmbryoIn these early talks, Jamie included images (see above) showing how very differently the mouse blastocyst (a days-old embryo, before implantation stage) is structured from the nonhuman primate and human primate blastocysts concerning germ layer organization and early development (ectoderm, mesoderm and endoderm). He also was able to show for the first time how differently stem cells derived from these early embryos grow in culture. In contrast to the mouse ES cells, the monkey cells, especially those of the rhesus monkey, grow in culture almost identically to human cells.

At the time, Thomson predicted that more scientists would study human ES cells in their labs over monkey ES cells, if human ES cells could become more standardized and available. Yet he emphasized that the NPRCs and nonhuman primate models would continue to play a critical role in this research, especially when it would advance to the point when animal models would be needed for preclinical research before attempting to transplant cells and tissues grown from ES cells. Both predictions have come true.

Jamie closed his talks, and still does, with this quotation:

“In the long run, the greatest legacy for human ES cells may be not as a source of tissue for transplantation medicine, but as a basic research tool to understand the human body.”

This simply and elegantly reminds us how basic research works: Many medical advances another 20 years from now will have an important link to the discoveries of today, which have their underpinnings in that early research in Jamie Thomson’s lab 20 years ago. It will become easy to forget where it all started, when many diseases of today, if not completely cured, will become so preventable, treatable and manageable that those diagnosed with them will spend more time living their lives than thinking about how to survive another day.

Just as I did not have to worry about polio, and my children did not have to worry about chicken pox, my grandchildren will hopefully see a world where leukemia, blindness, diabetes and mental illness do not have the disabling effects or claim as many young lives as they do today.



WN@tL “Twenty Years of Stem Cell Milestones at the UW”


January 7 – 7:00PM – 8:15PM CT
Location: UW Biotechnology Center 425 Henry Mall, Room 1111, Madison, WI 53706
Cost: Free

Speaker: William L. Murphy, Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine Centerwnatl_williammurphy

Don’t miss this fascinating talk covering stem cell milestones at the UW. Professor Murphy will talk about the work of his team at the Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine Center, where they are creating biological materials that could radically change how doctors treat a wide range of diseases.

Bio: Murphy is the Harvey D. Spangler Professor of Engineering and a co-director of the Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine Center. His work includes developing biomaterials for stem cell research. Specifically, Murphy uses biomaterials to define stem cell microenvironments and develop new approaches for drug delivery and gene therapy. His lab also uses bio-inspired approaches to address a variety of regenerative medicine challenges, including stem-cell differentiation, tissue regeneration and controlled drug delivery. Murphy has published more than 100 scientific manuscripts and filed more than 20 patent applications.

Part 4: Many voices speaking of animal research

We recently wrote about the many existing venues, activities, and materials designed to encourage public dialogue and informed discussion about animal research.  Many individuals, institutions, and organizations contribute to public outreach and education efforts, and also take active roles in dialogue about continuing changes in practice and policy concerning animal welfare and the conduct of animal research.  This post is the fourth in a series (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3) hosted by Speaking of Research to highlight a wide range of individuals and groups devoted to consideration of animal research.

The National Primate Research Centers Outreach Network

The eight National Primate Research Centers (NPRCs) are riding a wave of unprecedented communication, thanks to a new National Institutes of Health/Office of Research Infrastructure Programs (NIH/ORIP) outreach consortium. This consortium helps our members work together more effectively to educate the public on our many and varied educational programs.

Reaching thousands at the USA Science and Engineering Festival

One exciting result of the new consortium occurred April 27 to April 29 this year in Washington, D.C. Representatives from the National Primate Research Centers (NPRCs) spoke to an estimated 4,000 people who visited the NPRCs’ booth at the 2nd annual USA Science and Engineering Festival at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.

The 2012 USA Science and Engineering Festival, which included a learning station hosted by the National Primate Research Centers, drew 150,000 people to the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C., this April.

Billed as “the largest celebration of science in the U.S.,” the festival featured more than 3,000 interactive exhibits, more than 100 stage shows and 33 author presentations. More than 150,000 people attended. President Barack Obama promoted the festival in keynotes and public service announcements. Special visitors to the festival included The Myth Busters and Bill Nye the Science Guy, plus Nobel Prize winners, best-selling authors, astronauts, and even a rock guitar performance by NIH Director Francis Collins.

The NPRCs’ booth featured a set of touchable and inflatable real pig lungs representing healthy and cigarette smoke-riddled lungs. Our activity not only demonstrated how smoking harms the smoker, but also helped us convey how the Primate Centers have discovered that second hand smoke can stunt infant lung development. Our interactive display also included a flip board with questions and answers about animal research and care.

Volunteers from the National Primate Research Centers educated the public about the effects of smoking on infant lung development at the 2012 USA Science and Engineering Festival.

— The California NPRC outreach team spearheaded the NPRCs’ participation at the USA Science and Engineering Festival. Some of the consortium’s other recent activities   have included the following:

—  The Yerkes NPRC continues to host a booth on behalf of all of the NPRCs at the Society for Neuroscience’s annual meeting.

— Jordana Lenon (Wisconsin NPRC) represented the consortium at a PR/Media Forum sponsored by the New Jersey Association for Biomedical Research last October in Newark, N.J.

— Consortium participants plan to meet for the first time as a group this fall.

To share updates, materials and communicate effectively with one another­ — whether we’re planning for large events such as the USA Science and Engineering Festival, or sharing news releases and other announcements — center outreach specialists, supported by the NPRC directors and consortium facilitators, use a variety of websites and other e-media tools. We heartily contribute our share to the 188 billion emails still sent every day… and we still talk on the phone. So, although we’re working in three different time zones, from one coast to the other, we feel closer than ever in our working relationships. We plan to meet for the first time as a group this fall, and we all look forward to building new partnerships when we meet.

Students, lifelong learners benefit from many engaging programs

What are some of the many other outreach activities we plan and share? For one, we are fortunate to have developed thriving visitors programs at our centers. We host year-round K-12+ programs such as afterschool programs, campus science fairs, family science nights, science Saturdays, science teachers days, and many more activities, both on site as well as at schools and community venues. A few examples follow:

The Oregon NPRC’s tour program welcomes more than 3,000 people each year. The center also provides opportunities for young scientists to experience authentic research by supporting high school students and undergraduates in labs for summer apprenticeships.

At the California NPRC, many classroom outreach activities and lectures introduce K-12 students to nonhuman primates, biomedical research programs and careers. The center offers a large curriculum and classroom resources for teachers.

The Wisconsin NPRC provides lab demos and hands on activities for middle school and high school students participating in the annual State Science Olympiad, as well in the National Science Olympiad hosted by the University of Wisconsin-Madison last summer.

The Yerkes NPRC promotes an  active speakers bureaus and tours of its large indoor/outdoor facility. Yerkes also sponsors an eight-week summer internship program for high school students. The center received more than 130 applications this year for 10 spots.

In addition to tours and community outreach programs, the Tulane NPRC hosts programs for college honor societies, summer scholars, biomedical students and career tech students. Every summer, the TNPRC mentors students who work with research technicians.

The Washington NPRC recently participated in a three-day science education event at the Pacific Science Center in Seattle. In July, WaNPRC will again host science teachers participating in the annual CURE (Collaborations to Understand Research and Ethics) tour and seminar, a program funded by an NIH Science Education Partnership Award.

Southwest NPRC is hosting “Science Teachers Day at Texas BioMed” this summer, with bus and walking tours, demonstrations, and an “Ethics of Animal Research” panel.

More than 4,000 people participated in activities at the National Primate Research Centers’ booth over the festival’s three days at the end of April.

Specific programs for life-long learners are also growing, such as Oregon’s Road Scholar Week, and Wisconsin’s Grandparents University and College Days participation, and Yerkes’ coordination of eight-week series for two university-based life-long learning programs. In addition to coordinating active speakers bureaus that reach business, patient advocacy and other civic groups, the NPRCs’ outreach specialists themselves are also sought after as invited educational speakers at national and international conferences.

As far as outreach and higher education, most of the NPRCs are located at major research and teaching universities. They have active veterinary care training programs, in addition to offering undergraduate, graduate and post-doctoral research training programs. The New England NPRC’s commitment to education is reflected in its summer programs for pre-baccalaureate and veterinary students. The Oregon, California, and Washington NPRCs host two to three dozen veterinary and vet tech students throughout the year in two-week externships.

Learn more about the National Primate Centers and other National Institutes of Health nonhuman primate resources for research starting here.

Jordana Lenon is the Public Information Officer and Outreach Specialist for the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.