Quest to replace embryonic stem cells continues


By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger

Stem cell therapy holds great promise for repairing, treating and curing a variety of conditions and diseases that currently have limited or no treatment options, says Jay Kamath, CEO of the John Paul II Medical Research Institute (JP2MRI) in Iowa City. 

The Catholic Church teaches that each human being is a person from the moment of conception and recognizes each individual’s rights, including at the embryonic stage. “Unfortunately, embryonic stem cell research using cells obtained from aborted fetuses continues to be conducted at many academic and biotechnology research organizations and treatments using these cells have already entered the market,” Kamath said.

For more than two decades, JP2MRI and Cellular Engineering Technologies, Inc. (CET), a biotechnology company based in Coralville, have been working to advance ethical technology that does not use embryonic stem cells.


While working against the industry standard can seem like an uphill battle at times, the companies have made strides in their quest to create safer and more effective alternatives to medical research and treatments that use embryonic stem cells, Kamath said.

JP2MRI has developed an immortalized stem cell line it hopes can compete with and replace the HEK293 cell line, which derived from immortalized embryonic kidney cells about 50 years ago. Immortalized stem cells are used in bio-production and manufacturing of proteins, vaccines and gene therapies. “It’s an endeavor that has taken well over two years’ worth of research time and effort,” Kamath said.

The creation of this cell line is a breakthrough for JP2MRI. “Once a stem cell line is created, it needs to be kept alive by having the media that it grows in replaced periodically and having the cells passaged to new plates so that they have room to grow. As these lines age, the stem cells will typically get weaker and start to slow down in growth and eventually die off, thereby reducing the quality of the cells for purposes of developing treatments,” Kamath said. “The immortalized cell lines that we have created will continue to grow, virtually indefinitely… and still maintain their quality.”

JP2MRI works in collaboration with CET to advance their research and translate CET’s research findings into the clinic by establishing clinical trials and eventually new therapies and treatments. Both CET and JP2MRI follow pro-life guidelines in their operations, Kamath said. In March, JP2MRI gave CET exclusive rights to use its immortalized stem cells for commercial bio-production applications. In April, JP2MRI  planned to file a Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) Patent Application for its immortalized cell line. A PCT is a “placeholder” that protects a new method or technology until the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) approves a patent.

Earlier this year, CET received a USPTO patent for its virus-free and oncogene-free induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) technology. CET developed this technology in collaboration with JP2MRI to facilitate the development of cell replacement therapy for a variety of diseases. In a joint press release, the organizations said critical hurdles must be addressed before iPSC therapies can be fully realized including quality control, cost, reproducibility and genetic instability.

Kamath believes the patents will help JP2MRI and other collaborators to develop treatments and cures that are free of moral and ethical limitations. “Additionally, licensing this technology to the pharmaceutical industry will allow (JP2MRI and CET) to scale-up their operations and infrastructure in order to more rapidly enter the clinical market and help those in need.”

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