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Boston, MA.  Minerva Biotechnologies, a leading nanotechnology, cancer and stem cell development company today announced a major breakthrough in stem cell research. Minerva and collaborators at the University of California at Santa Barbara discovered that a single, new growth factor can not only support massive growth of human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) in vitro, but also maintains them in a nearly 100% undifferentiated state without the need for fibroblast “feeder cells”. This represents a major step forward for potential stem cell therapies as well as in the basic understanding of the mechanisms that regulate stem cell growth and differentiation.

Their study, MUC1* Mediates the Growth of Human Pluripotent Stem Cells” (https://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0003312), will be published tomorrow, October 3, 2008, in the journal PLoS ONE. The bi-coastal research team, led by Minerva’s Chief Scientific Officer Dr. Cynthia Bamdad, discovered that a cell surface protein, MUC1, is in an altered form, MUC1*, on pluripotent embryonic stem cells but returns to its normal form when the stem cells begin to differentiate. This suggests that this receptor may be a pivotal switch in the process of differentiation. The investigators showed that by adding the growth factor that binds to MUC1* they could expand the hESCs and maintain pluripotency essentially indefinitely, yet commence differentiation upon removal of the factor. Kenneth S. Kosik, M.D., the Harriman Professor of Neuroscience and Co-Director of the UC Santa Barbara Neuroscience Research Institute, as well as a co-author on the paper said, “Given the extreme difficulty of isolating pure primitive human stem cells and amplifying them, these studies represent a big step forward for human stem cell research and the future of stem cell transplantation.”

Remarkably, in a research article that published earlier this year, A Minimal Fragment of MUC1 Mediates Growth of Cancer Cells”, PLoS ONE 3(4): https://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0002054, Minerva reported that MUC1 exists in the same altered form, MUC1*, on over 75% of human cancers. An emerging theory in cancer research is that cancer may be caused by a stem cell mechanism that has gone awry. Until now, parallels between stem cell growth and cancer growth have largely been speculative. The present study provides evidence of a fundamental growth mechanism that mediates the growth of both cancer cells and embryonic stem cells. The hunt for a stem cell mechanism that is “hijacked by cancer cells” was a challenge because it involved a molecular change that was only apparent when “viewed” using Minerva’s proprietary nanoparticles.

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