(Chicago, IL) In an unimposing brick building located in the heart of Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood, lives a repository of information that could lead to the cures for Cancer, Parkinson’s Disease, Diabetes, spinal cord injury and a host of other diseases.
In early March, when President Obama cleared the way for federally funded stem cell research, he also may have launched Chicago as the world’s top supplier of valuable stem cell lines. While many laboratories, genetic and fertility centers store stem cell lines, the difference at Reproductive Genetics Institute (RGI), located at 2825 N. Halsted in Chicago, is sheer volume. This relatively small facility houses over 300 stem cell lines, more than the entire cumulative number of all of the other existing stem cell lines worldwide.
‘How can this be?’ one asks when looking at the building that would be hard pressed to hold 300 people. The answer exists in the heart and philosophy of RGI Founder and Scientific Director, Dr. Yury Verlinsky, who opened RGI in 1990 and has spent the better part of the last six years creating these scientific ‘lifelines’. “Our early discoveries of polar body biopsy and recovery are now the standard practice for Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD) which is used to help screen out genetic disease in embryos. We continue to be committed to the research and discovery that will allow us to prevent and ultimately cure disease,” says Verlinsky. “Stem Cell research is just getting underway and we hope to be able to add to this exciting technology by our existing stem cell lines, some of which represent healthy models, others which contain disease.”
Such was Verlinsky’s plan six years ago, when, as a privately funded facility, he was allowed to use discarded and diseased embryos that had been abandoned or donated by their owners, to create what he believes will contain some of the answers to the greatest dilemmas posed to science and medicine. Often published and well regarded in his fields of reproductive genetics, cytogenetics and cytology, Verlinsky holds a Ph.D. and has worked as a Laboratory Director for 45 years. And while the accomplishments of the staff at RGI, made up of molecular geneticists, embryologists and physicians have been considerable, they have been quiet in their pursuits and quieter still in heralding their success.
RGI’s groundbreaking work in the field helped Denver parents, Lisa and Jack Nash, conceive a healthy child who could donate bone marrow to an older sibling, Molly, who was dying of Fanconi’s Anemia. The Molly Nash case sparked a heated controversy, as religious leaders debated the ethics of the procedure. “Ultimately, while they argued, we saved a young girl’s life,” says Verlinsky with confidence. Since then, PGD has led to the birth of more than 250 healthy children worldwide who have saved their older siblings from effects of deadly or debilitating diseases.
Poised now to face a similar challenge in the newly re-opened stem cell controversy; Verlinsky’s lab is hoping to provide a clearinghouse for universities, clinics and institutions worldwide seeking to purchase existing stem cell lines. “We’ve done the work, the lines are ready to go and we’re excited to collaborate within the community to create more milestones,” says Verlinsky. “We can provide a running start to the research.”
All from an unlikely, yet solid starting block in the lab ‘next door’.
Reproductive Genetics Institute was established in 1990 by scientific director and CEO, Dr. Yury Verlinsky. Dr. Verlinsky, an expert in preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), pioneered the polar body biopsy and removal technology that is widely used during PGD today. With centers worldwide, RGI is recognized as a leading genetics institute for the prevention of genetic disease through PGD, whether the disease is caused by a single gene defect such as cystic fibrosis or chromosomal issues, which includes Down syndrome. With ever advancing techniques, RGI’s staff of geneticists, genetic counselors, fertility specialists and embryologists are able to counsel families and screen for numerous genetic diseases including certain cancers, early onset Alzheimer’s and other conditions that contain an inherited component.
Reproductive Genetics Institute (RGI) does not provide any general, limited or implied warranties regarding the use of stem cell lines or embryos to create donor matches or genes that are disease free. Although RGI believes that research on stem cell lines will lead to cures for diseases, RGI does not warrant or represent that any of its stem cell lines contain specific cures for such diseases. Further, RGI makes no specific claim to being the largest repository of stem cell lines in the world. The information contained in each press release was accurate at the time of issuance, and RGI assumes no responsibility for updating the information to reflect subsequent developments.