'Safe' stem cell discovery unveiled in Calgary

Scientists in Calgary say they have discovered a way to create stem cells by the millions more quickly and safely than ever before.

U of C researchers say they can create cancer-free cells quickly by the millions

Researchers at the University of Calgary have discovered a way to cultivate cancer-free stem cells in vast quantities. (CBC)

Scientists in Calgary say they discovered a way to create stem cells by the millions more quickly and safely than ever before.

The University of Calgary researchers created new bioreactor technology that allows them to reprogram adult cells into stem cells that do not become cancerous, a problem that has until now frustrated scientists.

The findings by Derrick Rancourt and Roman Krawetz were published in the May issue of Nature Methods.

Rancourt said the discovery of a plentiful and reliable source of stem cells represents a great alternative to embryonic cells, the use of which is hotly debated.

With current methods, it takes one million adult cells to create one stem cell.

"In this new, finely tuned bioreactor, we are able to make 10 million ‘safe’ stem cells from 800,000 adult cells in 12 days," said professor Rancourt, who is also deputy director of the McCaig Institute for Bone and Joint Health.

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The researchers create the low risk stem cells by cultivating adult cells without the cancer gene 'cMyc', they said in a release.

"We are the first team to prove that we can use the bioreactor to efficiently make stem cells that then become mice without cancer," said Krawetz.

The next stage will be to use the discovery to put human cells into the new bioreactors to design treatments for arthritis, Rancourt said.

"We can use these cells to make bone and cartilage. Currently, we are working with our colleagues in biomedical engineering, and with industry, to shift our focus into regenerative medicine."

Alberta Innovates-Health Solutions — the province’s health research agency — along with Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Arthritis Society paid for the research.

"We are very pleased to fund research that is taking great strides towards the future improved treatments for people living with arthritis," said Joanne Simons, interim president and CEO of the Arthritis Society in a statement. "Thanks to the generosity of our donors, we are able to participate in the very exciting area of regenerative medicine research."