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01/24/2000 08:00:00

The potential of stem cells to be the focus of 2000 Biology Forum

PASADENA-Stem cells and their promise for novel treatments of human disease will be the focus of the 2000 Biology Forum at the California Institute of Technology.

"Stem Cells: The Science of Regeneration" will be held at 8 p.m. Thursday, February 24, in Caltech's Beckman Auditorium. Free and open to the public, the forum is sponsored by Caltech and cosponsored by the San Gabriel Newspaper Group and Huntington Memorial Hospital. The event will focus particularly on breakthroughs of the last year in stem cell research.

Voted as the No. 1 science story of the year by the journal Science, stem cell research is thought to be especially promising because the cells themselves are immature and undifferentiated and can become specific kinds of cells in different kinds of tissue. Thus, the hope is that stem cells can be harvested and coerced to form differentiated cells to replace defective or absent cells in a variety of human organs, from the brain to the heart.

Stem cell research has been controversial in the past because the most obvious source of cells was harvested fetal tissue. But according to Science, research of the past year has shown that "stem cells from adults retain the youthful ability to become several different kinds of tissues."

"Brain cells can become blood cells, and cells from bone marrow can become liver," according to the journal. "Thus, 1999 marks a turning point for this young field, as both science and society recognized-and wrestled with-our newfound power to manipulate a cell's destiny."

The Caltech forum speakers will address the various kinds of stem cells that have been used to generate heart, bone, fat, liver, muscle, and brain cell types, as well as possible future protocols for the testing of new drugs. Also, the speakers will address how stem cell research can shed light on one of the great puzzles of biology: how a single cell, the egg, gives rise to the thousands of different cell types in the adult organism.

The forum will be moderated by Robert Lee Hotz, award-winning science writer at the Los Angeles Times and author of several books on biological topics.

Panelists will be David Anderson, a Caltech professor of biology and an investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute; Jeremy Brockes, a professor of biology at University College, London; Alexander M. Capron, a law professor at the University of Southern California; and Barbara Wold, a professor of biology at Caltech.

For more information, please call (626) 395-4652 or (800) 423-8849. Persons with disabilities may make arrangements by calling (626) 395-4688 (voice) or (626) 395-3700 (TDD).

Written by Robert Tindol