U of S teams up with Harvard affiliate

SASKATOON - Scientists at the University of Saskatchewan are teaming up with colleagues at a Harvard-affiliated Boston research centre to advance the cutting-edge field of using stem cells for brain repair.

Under an agreement signed today, researchers at the Saskatchewan Brain Repair Program at the University of Saskatchewan and the Center for Neuroregeneration Research at McLean Hospital in Boston, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School, will collaborate on basic research and explore opportunities for clinical programs and trials in areas such as surgery and nerve cell transplantation—work that could prove beneficial to patients with brain diseases ranging from Parkinson's to Alzheimer's.

This research collaboration is expected to lead to a clinical trial that will involve using stem cells as raw material to provide dopamine neurons to repair the brain circuitry damaged by Parkinson's disease.

The agreement is the culmination of a decade-long collaboration between Dr. Ivar Mendez, who leads the Saskatchewan Brain Repair Program at the U of S, and Harvard Professor and neurobiologist Dr. Ole Isacson. They have been working on a cell-based therapy for Parkinson's that aims to directly restore the cells lost in the disease process.

"We have the experience and expertise in the surgical technique of safely being able to implant these cells into the human brain," said Mendez, who began transplanting cells that produce the neurotransmitter dopamine into patients in the late 1990s while he was at Dalhousie University. All 10 patients implanted with these cells improved significantly.

The new approach that will be jointly investigated involves using stem cells generated from an adult's own tissues, rather than from fetal cells. The adult cells are extracted from the patient's blood or skin and converted first into stem cells and subsequently into specific dopamine neurons, which are the cells transplanted into the brain.

"I am thrilled to continue this work with Dr. Mendez and his talented colleagues at University of Saskatchewan," said Isacson, professor of neurology (neuroscience) at Harvard and Director of the Center for Neuroregeneration Research at McLean Hospital in the Boston area.

"This alliance will provide knowledge in stem cell biology and transplantation and will contribute to development and application of advanced clinical programs and technologies that will advance cell therapy as a promising treatment for Parkinson's disease," Isacson said.

The two research groups will also develop co-operative training programs and exchanges of faculty and students, promote the development and sharing of life sciences technologies, and explore new opportunities for commercial developments.


About the Saskatchewan Brain Repair Program 
The focus of the program, a multidisciplinary research and clinical team involving both the U of S and the Saskatoon Health Region, is restoration of brain and central nervous system function following injury or disease by optimizing regeneration, cell survival and protection, and functional recovery. Core activities include research, training highly qualified personnel, education, collaboration and commercialization.

The program involves collaborations linking world-class researchers and physicians specializing in groundbreaking treatments and technologies in the field of brain repair. These range from surgeons who replace tissue in the human brain to recover lost capability, to scientists in the field of imaging and stem cell neurobiology. The team is led by Dr. Ivar Mendez, who is the Unified Head of the Department of Surgery at the U of S and the Saskatoon Health Region.


About the Center for Neuroregeneration Research at McLean Hospital
The center provides cutting-edge research for clinicians and scientists, training opportunities for students and fellows, and an advanced technical capacity to investigate new leads for discoveries. The goal is to advance therapies for Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, Huntington's disease, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis and related disorders. The center interacts with other research teams and centers, universities, patient groups and governmental agencies, as well as the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industry, to maximize the therapeutic benefits of this research. 


For more information, contact:

James Shewaga
Media Relations Specialist
University of Saskatchewan
Phone: (306) 966-1851
Cell: (306) 270-5583

Adriana Bobinchock
Director, Media Relations
McLean Hospital
Belmont, Mass.
Phone: (617) 855-2110

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