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Ref: University of Georgia researcher builds portable chemical detection device


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UGA researcher creates portable chemical detection device

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 09/21/07
Steve Stice, the University of Georgia's headline-grabbing stem cell researcher, said he has discovered a new way to use cells — one that could help protect national security.

Stice is working with the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory to use his neural cell research to create a portable chemical weapons detection system that could be used for homeland security and to save soldiers' lives in the field.

It is yet another breakthrough for the scientist, who earlier this year announced he had found a way to quickly manufacture billions of neural cells from just a handful of stem cells.

The neural progenitor cells, far less controversial for research than the embryonic stem cells from which they are derived, can be used in studies of conditions like Alzheimer's, spinal cord injuries and depression.

Stice said Friday the neural cells kits can be used to detect the presence of chemical agents.

Current detection systems use nerve cells from mouse embryos. But mouse cells only last about two weeks before dying off and don't respond in the same way as human cells, Stice said. Neural cells from humans last longer than four months.

"If you're in a war zone, you're not going to be able to pull out a bunch of mouse cells every couple of weeks," he said.

The detection device, developed by Navy engineers, is about the size of carpenter's tool box. The cells sit on top of an array of electrodes that record changes in electrical activity, indicating the presence of an outside agent, like nerve gas.

"We think it's something we can fully develop within a year," Stice said. The devices could also be used at home — in places like subway systems or after an industrial waste accident.

The project has earned support from Rep. Jack Kingston, who earmarked $1 million in part for the research in a 2008 Department of Defense spending bill.

Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga), who worked closely with Stice to develop a Senate bill on stem cell research, said Friday that Stice is a "immensely gifted researcher."

Stice and his lab have three of the 21 existing human embryonic stem cell lines that were grandfathered in by the Bush administration for use in federally funded research. Bush in 2001 placed strict limits on funding for such research, saying destroying human embryos to extract stem cells crosses a moral line.

The stem cells obtained from human embryos left over from fertility clinics are highly valued by researchers for their ability to morph into any human tissue.

But the science has been a political flashpoint, raising ethical questions among political conservatives, who have likened the process of harvesting cells from embryos to abortion.

Isakson said Stice's research, which uses "naturally dead embryos," — those that are too deficient to produce a fetus if implanted — is something everyone can be comfortable with.

"Ethically when we look at the question, we realize there's a way to do it without crossing the line of embryo destruction," he said. Bush, who vetoed a stem cell bill in 2006, has shown support for Isakson's bill, which has yet to be approved by the House.

Isakson's bill would free more federal money for stem cell research using cells from naturally dead embryos.

But Democrats and some scientists have said the proposal is impractical and unlikely to help create any new treatments or cures.

Stice co-founded Aruna Biomedical, Inc., which holds an exclusive worldwide license to develop and commercialize neural cells. It is one of several incubator companies connected with his ground-breaking research.

Stice said the company has been looking for practical applications for the human neural cell kits, which are sold to labs around the world. The detection device, he said, is just that.

"We'd love to cure Parkinson's with these cells, but we understand that is going to take some time," he said. "This gives us an immediate impact."

İ 2007 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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