World’s top stem cell researchers in Pasadena for conference

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Jessica Dias, associate research specialist, at the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center at University Wisconsin-Madison removes a new batch of Embryonic Stem Cells from deep freeze to be thawed before being worked on March 10, 2009 in Madison, Wisconsin.

Hundreds of pioneers and leaders in stem cell research are in Pasadena this week for the World Stem Cell Summit.

They're discussing stem cell breakthroughs – and roadblocks.

Among the cutting-edge discoveries for discussion are “induced pluri potent cells”. Clive Svendsen at the Cedars-Sinai Regenerative Medicine Institute says those cells let scientists do “disease in a dish” research.

"For instance, we’ll take cells from a patient with a serious disease — spinal muscular atrophy, which is a disease that kills young babies at the age of six months," Svendsen says. "They become paralyzed. We can take cells from babies with that disease, reprogram them and push them forward again, and they actually show the same signs of the disease the patient did, in the dish, in the Petri dish."

Along with the breakthroughs in research, scientists and policymakers are taking on the hurdles facing stem cell research.

Neuroscientist Lawrence Goldstein directs UC San Diego’s stem cell program. He says the federal government is investing less in research for medical therapies, "And that’s terrible because when you look at what health care costs of degenerative chronic disease cost us as a nation, they’re bankrupting us. And what we spend is dwarfed by the cost of disease."

Or accidents. Don Reed knows about that. His son was paralyzed during a college football game 17 years ago. Reed is the vice president of the nonprofit Americans For Cures Foundation.

He says the U.S. spends more money annually to treat chronic diseases or conditions than it collects in federal income tax. "Do we go forward and find cures for disease which are wiping out our country financially, or do we step back because some people have ideological opposition to it?" Reed says. "One in three Americans has an incurable disease. These are not statistics. These are members of your family and mine; we’re fighting for them."

The Stem Cell World Summit lasts though Wednesday in Pasadena.

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