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Centre aims to become stem cell research leader

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160_superbug_050727Canadian businessman Rob McEwen believes that Canada can be at the forefront of medical research with an innovative approach to curing disease. By donating part of his fortune, he is helping to fund research in the new field of regenerative medicine.

The McEwen Centre for Regenerative Medicine in Toronto envisions a day when the standard treatment for disease is not based on invasive procedures or powerful medications, but on utilizing the body’s own stems cells to have patients literally heal themselves.

Following an original gift of $10 million in 2003, Rob and his wife Cheryl recently donated a second $10 million to support research at the Centre — the largest cumulative gift in stem cell research in Canada. The McEwen centre opened last fall, attracting worldwide attention on Canada’s initiatives in stem cell research.

The centre’s 15 top researchers and 150 lab staff are under the direction of rcher Dr. Gordon Keller. Keller, originally from Saskatchewan, was lured to the top job after a seven-year stint at New York’s Mount Sinai School of Medicine. New York Magazine has called Keller “one of the top six medical minds New York couldn’t afford to lose.”

The McEwen Centre’s ultimate goal is to accelerate the development of better and more effective treatments for life-threatening conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, respiratory disease and spinal cord injury.

It also aims to become a world-renowned centre for regenerative medicine and stem cell biology.

Keller says advancements are being made every day at the centre. The researchers there are using stem cells not just to try to regenerate damaged spinal cords or hearts but to test medications on organ cells grown from stem cells.

“We can now generate heart cells from human stem cells, we can generate also in our lab liver cells from human stem cells. These are two of the organs that are often impacted when a new drug is tested,” Keller explained.

“The thought would be that we can test these drugs in a petri dish on these human heart cells and human liver cells — long before the drugs are put into patients.

Keller says being able to test medications in vitro instead on humans will revolutionize the way we produce drugs

“One, it will expedite actually the good drugs and allow us to eliminate those that are going to have problems. And secondly, it should reduce the cost of drug development.”

Keller says there are already Biotechnology companies that are interested in “capturing and harnessing the power of these remarkable stem cells to make unlimited supplies of these various cell types to test drugs.”

“I think we are going to start seeing pilot studies within the next year or two with respect to the drug testing aspect,” Keller believes.

Keller believes that using stem cells in the field of regenerative medicine is the most exciting and fastest growing sector of medicine in Canada and around the world.

His centre predicts that within the next 10 years, regenerative medicine will be recognized as the most transformative discovery in medicine for the treatment and prevention of disease. News Staff

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