At UTSA stem cell research is a current focus of study. In fact, Dr. Christopher Navara, associate professor of biology, recently had his research published in the journal Stem Cells. Dr. George Perry, dean of the college of sciences, said that Navara’s research has “huge implications for understanding biology and evolution.”

What Navara has discovered is that in human embryonic stem cells during the replication process damaged DNA is able to pass through one of the cells screening check-points. In cells there are three check points that ensure a cell is replicating correctly. Before the cell can move on to the next phase in the replication process, it must first pass through these check points. The four phases in cell replication are G1, S, G2 and M. Navara discovered that the G2/M check point is not working properly; therefore, damaged DNA is able to get through.

Navara says that his findings were both surprising and not surprising. He said that stem cells are expected to have strong check-points to ensure the cell reproduces correctly.

After all, stem cells later become specialized cells and form the rest of the body. If damaged cells get through the check-points it increases the odds of abnormalities or disease in the body. His findings were not surprising though; because other scientific research had already suggested that stem cells have leaky check-points.

Stem cell research is not limited to human embryonic stem cells. Adult stem cells, induced pluripotent stem cells and stem cells from other species are important to study (See Info Below).

For example, Navara is a member of UTSA’s San Antonio Institute for Cellular and Molecular Primatology, which does research on non-human primates to help make all stem cells safer for clinical or therapeutic use. Navara notes that, “for the safest most appropriate therapies we need to investigate all stem cells.”

It is important to remember that stem cells are new to scientific research.

It was just 1998 when Wisconsin biologist James Thomson discovered how to isolate and culture human embryonic stem cells. And not until 2003 were federally funded researchers given access to human embryonic stem cells. Currently, embryonic stem cells are not being used to treat diseases except in clinical trials.

Perry says he is happy with the progress in stem cell research at UTSA. He notes that stem cells are just one area of research UTSA is focusing on. Other areas of focus are nanotechnology, cyber-security, neuro-computation, medicinal-chemistry, math/science education, infectious disease and water resources.

As for UTSA’s goal of becoming a tier-one research university, Perry notes that in various ways UTSA is already functioning in that capacity.

In fact, during the last five years the College of Sciences has increased external funding by 80%.

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STEM CELLS

WHAT: Specialized cells that can turn into skin cells, blood cells or brain cells

 

TYPES: Embryotic (ES), adult and induced pluripotent (iPSC).

ORIGIN: Embryotic-– When a sperm fertilizes a egg, Adult– limited to becoming nerve, muscle or skin cells, iPSC– adult cells changed in the laboratory to function like embryotic stem cells.

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