Heroes Season 2 Episode Two: "Lizards"

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A Leader in Regenerative Medicine

Specializing in regenerative medicine, Advanced Cell Technology (ACT) is focused on producing human cell lines from stem cells for use in treating numerous diseases. This publicly-owned company has experienced a wide range of highs and lows in the recent past, from being on the cutting edge of the field of stem cell research, to facing critical cutbacks after the Korean scandal.

However, the company is recovering and again emerging as a forerunner in the development and commercialization of stem cell technology.

Showing Vast Potential

ACT is still in the research and early trial (pre-clinical) stages of development and employs a staff of approximately 35. The company holds 30 issued patents or license agreements, the result of worldwide collaborative efforts. Add to that a list of over 200 patent applications in various areas of stem cell and cloning technology, and this company appears to have huge potential as a biotech startup. In fact, ACT was cited as an excellent investment in January 2007, in a report by Scimitar Equity Research. ACT has also formed strategic partnerships with a number of major players in the Biotech industry, including Merck, Glaxo, Pfizer and Hoffman La Roche and others.

Location is Everything

ACT has research facilities in both Alameda, CA and Worchester, MA. A very recent move (February 2006) of its head office to California was spurred by the passing of Proposition 71, or The Stem Cell Initiative, which provides for $3 billion US in funding for stem cell research in California, over the next 10 years.

Dealing with the Debate

Amid the currently volatile climate of political policies regarding the ethics of stem cell research, ACT is attempting to find new sources of stem cells that will meet the approval of the government and public. Recent developments have led to the use of amniotic-fluid-derived stem cells, which appear to be more potent (greater ability to regenerate) that those from adults, but not as potent as those from embryos. ACT has also developed a means of removing stem cells from embryos without causing damage to the embryo and is deeply involved in research on cellular reprogramming which would allow use of stem cells derived from adult cells, thus bypassing the controversy over the use or creation of embryos for research purposes.

On the Road to Commercialization

Among its many areas of research, ACT is focused on generating cells for the treatment of skin, heart and vascular system diseases. In particular, projects are underway to generate stable cell lines including retinal pigment epithelium (“RPE”) cells, skin cells, and hemangioblast cells. Researchers at the company were the first to report the successful generation of several stable lines of RPE cells from human ES cells. The company has since refined the steps to purify and preserve these cell lines, and are currently engaged in pre-clinical research using small animal models, to evaluate the potential of these cells to treat disorders such as macular degeneration and retinitis pigmentosa.

In other research, ACT is focused on development and maintenance of skin cells in which gene expression analogous to early embryonic skin enables healing of wounds without scar formation. If successful, these skin cells have potential for effective wound repair in surgery, burns, and chronic skin ulcers. ACT is also aiming at utilizing hemangioblasts (stem cells capable of differentiating into both hematopoietic (blood cell forming) and angiogenic (blood vessel endothelium forming) cells) for grafts to repair age-related endothelial damage that can result in cardiovascular disease and stroke.

According to the Scimitar report, ACT is finalizing pre-clinical tests in their RPE program and initiating the process of submitting their first Investigational New Drug (IND) application to the FDA. If the application is approved, their treatment for an eye disease known as macular degeneration will soon be subjected to clinical testing on human subjects.
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