Pair of Clarkson professors make history with stem cell research published in an academic journal from Cell Press
Thursday, July 10, 2014 - 6:50 am

POTSDAM -- Two professors made Clarkson University history when their research on stem cells was published in an academic journal from Cell Press, the school said in a news release.

Professor Thomas Lufkin and research assistant professor of Biology Petra Kraus published a research paper in Cell Stem Cell on transforming cells into embryonic stem cells.

This is the first time anyone with an academic affiliation and working at Clarkson University has been published in a top-level Cell Press journal, the school said.

Lufkin said his research focuses on growing new spinal discs to replace those that have deteriorated and cause back pain. The paper examines how cells swabbed from a patient’s mouth or scraped from a patient’s arm can be turned into embryonic stem cells, which are then programmed to become spinal discs, Clarkson's statement says.

“In this case, the patient is the donor,” he said. “We won’t have to get tissue from somebody else and give it to you. There are no issues of graft rejection; it’s yours.”

Spinal discs can deteriorate and cause pain due to age or injury, Lufkin said. Back pain sufferers currently can choose to have the damaged disc removed and fuse the neighboring vertebrae, causing a loss of flexibility and increase stress on the adjacent discs. With regenerative medicine, he said, the old disc can instead be swapped out for a new one that is healthier and stronger.

“We’re hoping to help anybody that suffers from lower back pain and would like the option of having their disc replaced with one of their own that we’ve made in the laboratory,” he said.

Lufkin said many patients can benefit from this research, as Americans spend at least $50 billion each year on lower back pain treatment. He said more than 400,000 spinal surgeries are performed in the United States annually.

“It’s astounding the number of people who suffer from lower back pain owing to this type of problem, and so many people live with it for such a long time,” he said.