June 10, 2005 Czech scientists have made significant new breakthroughs in stem cell research. Dr. Petr Dvorak, scientist with the Institute of Experimental Medicine at the Czech Academy of Sciences, says his research suggests embryonic stem cells maintained in a universal or 'totipotent' status can, under certain conditions, be used to develop any type of cells in the human body, a key component to realising the full potential of stem cell therapies. The Institute has also seen several other stem cell research breakthroughs, most notably developing a procedure that uses stem cells to repair the brain and spinal cord employing nanotechnologies as a labeling-and-delivery mechanism.

Dvorak will detail the discovery of a potential mechanism that would sustain human stem cells in their original "blank" state in an upcoming issue of leading international scientific journal, Stem Cells.

"We conducted some experiments with our cells, and we think we have discovered some critical mechanism which can be involved in maintaining the cell type in undifferentiated status -- in the status when the cells are really totipotent," Dvorak said.

Other recent Czech breakthroughs in stem cell research include a procedure that uses stem cells to repair the brain and spinal cord. The technique employs nanotechnologies as a labeling-and-delivery mechanism. Credit for this research goes to Professor Eva Sykova, who heads the Czech-based Institute of Experimental Medicine.

Says Sykova: "We have various experiments on animals where we use these stem cells, and we also use biomaterials, like hydrogels, and nanofibers to make scaffolds and all sorts of bridges for the injury in the spinal cord. We also use nanotechnologies. We use them particularly for labeling the stem cells and for following their migration in the tissue and their fate. Also, nanoparticles can be used for the delivery of factors which enhance regeneration."

Dvorak and his team of scientists first gained international recognition in 2003 after they successfully isolated a new line of human embryonic stem cells -- a feat accomplished by only a handful of elite, world-renowned researchers.

The end result of this type of research could evolve into future stem cell therapy that would treat, or even cure, degenerative neurological illnesses such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease, Dvorak said.

According to CzechInvest, Czech scientists are on the cutting edge of stem cell research because their country currently has no laws limiting or restricting human stem cell research. However, all Czech research complies with the Council of Europe's Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine.

Legislation now under consideration by the Czech Republic's parliament would allow scientists to use stem cells extracted from embryos leftover from fertility treatments. These embryos would otherwise be discarded. Consent from donating couples would be required, and the proposed bill prohibits scientists from creating human embryos specifically to harvest stem cells for research or for cloning.

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