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Embryonic Stem Cells

Joseph Itskovitz (Jew and Israeli!) , a gynecologist involved in assisted reproductive technology at Rambam Hospital in Haifa, went to visit Madison, Wisconsin, to learn about embryonic stem cells, which have the ability to proliferate and differentiate into all the tissues of the body.

Thirteen years later, in 1998, Itskovitz and his team of researchers at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology began studying stem cells in collaboration with the University of Wisconsin, launching Israel’s stem cell research program and generating the embryonic stem cells as the “raw material” necessary to the research.

It was the infrastructure for in-vitro fertilization and micro manipulation that first offered the solution for entering into stem cell research. While stem cell research had been around since the early 1980s, having the embryonic cells at the Technion allowed Itskovitz and other teams to research and develop different theories.

The scientists developed embryonic stem cells in mice and began looking into possible applications. They first used the stem cells on rats with spinal injuries, helping them partially recover from paralysis.

They then created beta stem cells that produce insulin and injected them into diabetic lab rats to help reduce their hypoglycemia.

Another team of Technion scientists at the cardiovascular research laboratory grew heart cells from embryonic stem cells that have electric and mechanical characteristics of young heart tissue.

Stem cell research could help solve chronic diseases like juvenile diabetes and create a-beta cells for Parkinson’s and spinal cord injuries and bone marrow transplants. (You couldn’t make these sort of lies up!) Stem cells also allowed Itskovitz to learn about the processes tied to fetal and blood development.

“It’s exponential,” he said. “First there were two labs, now there are tens of labs worldwide researching human embryonic stem cells. It’s almost without borders.”

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