In the wake of the loosening of Michigan’s stem cell research regulations, the University’s Taubman Institute brought in Dr. Benjamin Reubinoff, a leading embryonic stem cell researcher from Israel, to discuss his cutting-edge research methods.
With the auditorium of the Biomedical Science Research Building full of doctors and researchers, including University President Mary Sue Coleman, Reubinoff gave the 2nd Annual Alfred A. Taubman Lectureship on how therapies discovered through embryonic stem research could one day treat neurological disorders.
During the lecture, Reubinoff discussed how he and his team of researchers developed new stem cell lines that are derived from human embryos. In the wake of the passage of Proposal 2, a constitutional amendment to loosen restrictions on embryonic stem cell research, University researchers will be able to use method’s like Reubinoff’s to conduct stem cell research.
Reubinoff said with more than 16 million people suffering from neurological diseases, researchers need to create new stem cell lines for further testing.
“Most of the current lines are not suitable for current applications because they are used from animals,” he said.
The lines extracted from animals are contaminated with pathogens that can cause damage if they are inserted into humans.
To solve this problem, Reubinoff developed a laser system to create new lines using “human feeders,” which allows researchers to avoid having to employ animal products.
Reubinoff talked about applying stem cell therapy to cure multiple sclerosis — the leading cause of neurological disability in young adults — and age-related macular degeneration — the leading cause of blindness in the Western world.
“The idea is to use human embryonic stem cells as a renewable source of pigmented cells to replenish the malfunctioning and dying pigmented cells,” Reubinoff said about curing macular degeneration.
Before becoming a top stem cell researcher, Reubinoff served as a lieutenant in the Israel Defense Forces. He graduated from Hebrew University with a master’s degree in 1989. Interested in developmental biology, he took a one-year sabbatical at Monash University in Australia. There, he discovered his passion for stem cell research, and his one-year sabbatical soon turned into a Ph.D.
Today, Reubinoff is director of the Human Embryonic Research Center at the Hadassah University Medical Center in Jerusalem. He has received numerous awards for his work on human embryonic stem cells and fertility research.
In his own research, Reubinoff said he has found a way to expand the number of pigmented cells — which protect a person’s retina from damage by light and excess oxidation — in a culture.
“This is very important if we think we will need to develop a large number of cells for cell therapy,” he said.
So far, Reubinoff has only tested his research on laboratory rats. One concerned audience member questioned whether it’s safe to compare test results in rats with possible results in humans.
“I agree that these animal models have limitations, and they are not really an authentic model, but they are the best models and most used ones,” Reubinoff said. “We can’t know if therapeutic effects obtained in these models will happen in humans as well.”
Reubinoff added there is a heavy load of experimental work that needs to be done with larger animals before making any conclusions.
Coleman — a strong supporter of Michigan’s recently passed constitutional amendment to loosen restrictions on embryonic stem cell testing in Michigan — engaged in the discussion and asked Reubinoff about his future plans.
“Our aim is to approach the (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) here and obtain approval, and to approach the bodies in Israel under the Ministry of Health,” he said.
Reubinoff said health administrations in Israel tend to rely on the decisions made by the FDA to determine what clinical trials to approve.
After the lecture, Alfred Taubman, founder and chair of the A. Alfred Taubman Medical Research Institute, presented Reubinoff with a plaque to commemorate his work.
Taubman joked with the audience about coming from across campus despite the treacherous snow and thanked Reubinoff for traveling halfway across the world to come speak at the University.
“It makes it abundantly clear how critical stem cell research is for science,” he said.