McGivern, Gundlach and Rosas are working with induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), taken from the donated skin tissue of an adult female.
“While our bodies develop in the womb, our cells learn what they will become – heart cells, brain cells, liver cells, skin cells, etc.,” McGivern explained.
“Scientists have discovered how to erase adult cells’ memories and create ‘naive’ cells, or embryonic-like cells. Once these adult cells have been re-programmed, they act very much like embryonic stem cells. We can then take those cells and develop them into any kind of cell we want.”
McGivern said Gundlach, who’s from Ripon, and Rosas, who’s from Sheboygan, are interested in eventually re-programming the donated skin cells into astrocytes – specialized cells that support neurons in the brain.
“This work will help us understand the human brain, and could have implications down the road in terms of understanding diseases and finding cures,” said McGivern, a Wausau native.
“But first, we must develop a reliable and reproducible system.”
On a recent Friday afternoon, McGivern assisted Gundlach and Rosas as they “chopped” iPSCs into smaller pieces, so they would continue to grow and replicate. The cells are kept in liquid that mimics human blood, and are stored in incubators set at the temperature of the human body with regulated concentrations of oxygen.
“This process will give us an almost unlimited supply of tissue for our ongoing experiments,” McGivern said.
“We are extremely excited to launch this research and proud to be processing the first cell line in this lab space. We are obviously grateful for Dr. Feldmann and his generous donation, which makes this important work possible.”
McGivern said the kind of work Gundlach and Rosas are doing is fairly commonplace at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Medical College of Wisconsin, but not at the nation’s smaller, liberal arts institutions.
“This lab here at Lakeland provides a tremendous opportunity for our undergraduates to delve into this fascinating field,” he said. “At the bigger universities, they primarily serve their graduate students.
“Wisconsin has a strong tradition in biotechnology, and this cell lab will give our students the opportunity to explore this rapidly developing technology right here at Lakeland.”