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New-frontier medicine, stem cells focus of UTSA confab
February 13, 2014

John McCarrey is helping organize the stem cell research conference being held Thursday and Friday at UTSA. Courtesy UTSA

By Jennifer R. Lloyd, San Antonio Express-News

Could stem cells regenerate saliva glands or repair our aging brains?

Researchers will dig into these and other topics during the first San Antonio Conference on Stem Cell Research and Regenerative Medicine organized by the newly formed nonprofit RegenMed SA - a BioMed SA spinoff.

The conference at the University of Texas at San Antonio is set for Thursday and Friday. Though geared toward local researchers and industry leaders, it's open to the public with a $75 registration fee.

Next December the research will arrive on a grander scale when the World Stem Cell Summit comes to San Antonio.

This week's conference will help RegenMed SA identify and promote interaction among people and organizations interested in stem cell-related advances, said John McCarrey, chairman of its steering committee and UTSA's Robert and Helen Kleberg Distinguished Chair in Cellular and Molecular Biology.

It will also give students a chance to present their findings.

McCarrey said his work involves genetics and epigenetics, which is "the mechanism by which a cell decides what it's going to do."

"You have the same genetic information in every cell in your body and yet you have toe cells in your toes and eye cells in your eyes," he said. "That's because, although you have a complete set of the genetic information in every cell, each different type of cell uses a different subset of the genes."

Scientists have discovered that they can "take a regular cell that we find in the adult body, like a skin cell or a white blood cell . . . and you could add some special genes to that cell and cause it to revert back to an embryonic-like state that is essentially the same state as an embryonic stem cell," McCarrey said.

Those stem cells "can be turned into almost any cell type in the body," he said.

These advances are laying the groundwork for future cell-based approaches to treatment, which may include heart disease, Alzheimer's or even battlefield wounds, he said.

"Most of what we do in medicine today involves things like surgery . . . or a whole variety of different drug-based approaches," said McCarrey, adding that one of the few cell-based approaches used now is the bone marrow transplant.

"In a cell-based approach, the idea is you will put in good cells that will restore function where you have otherwise lost cells."

 

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