Rensselaer Magazine
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By Gabrielle DeMarco

It has been nearly 40 years since stem cells were discovered by a group of Canadian scientists and less than a decade since scientists have been able to study them outside the human body. Today, scientists around the world are studying these special cells to develop life-saving medical therapies, regenerative medicine, and new technology. A growing number of Rensselaer scientists and engineers are looking at stem cells in new and potentially revolutionary ways. Their goal is to provide new technology and a better scientific understanding of how and why the unique cells function in such special and important ways.

As public debate continues and funding grows, Rensselaer researchers forge ahead with potentially life-saving stem cell research and technology.
Their research will support and quickly hasten the progress of stem cell research around the world, says Provost Robert Palazzo, who is also a biologist and president of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology. Stem cells are the most basic type of cell. They grow, divide, and look like many other cells found in the body, but they have a potential for change unlike other known cells. Often associated with a developing embryo, stem cells are undifferentiated cells that can also be found in the adult body. Researchers believe they have endless, untapped potential. After being directed by a complex series of genes, the undifferentiated stem cells transform into mature tissue, organ, and muscle cells, supporting the development of a fetus or repairing cellular damage in the adult body. It is their seemingly endless potential that has researchers around the globe itching to use stem cells in potentially lifesaving medical therapies.

If we can tap the power of stem cells and direct their efforts in the body, we can find cures for some of the most serious ailments including diabetes, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease, and spinal injury, says Robert Linhardt (above), the Ann and John H. Broadbent Jr. ’59 Senior Constellation Professor of Biocatalysis and Metabolic Engineering and acting director of the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies. “If we can direct stem cells, we could grow new healthy tissue, even entire organs.”

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Rensselaer (ISSN 0898-1442) is published in Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter by the Office of Strategic Communications and External Relations, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY 12180-3590. Opinions expressed in these pages do not necessarily reflect the views of the editors or the policies of the Institute. ©2008 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.