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Stemina, Children's Hospital of Orange County to Study Brain Cells of Autistic Children

By a GenomeWeb staff reporter

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – Stemina Biomarker Discovery today announced an agreement with Children's Hospital of Orange County to use its biomarker discovery platform to conduct a study of neural cells from autistic patients.

Stemina will study brain cells differentiated from induced pluripotent stem cells created from patients with autism, compared to the same cells from age-matched children without autism. The iPS cells are made from skin cells that have been reprogrammed to a pluripotent state and so can be differentiated into almost any cell type, including brain cells.

Elizabeth Donley, CEO of Stemina, said in a statement that this method of making neural cells from iPS cells will offer new ways of studying differences in the biochemistry of the brains of autistic children. "Our goal is to create a diagnostic tool for screening for autism, which will allow earlier intervention and therapy, which we know can make a difference in the quality of life and achievement of autistic kids," she said.

The work continues that of Gabriela Cezar, a co-founder of Stemina, on post-mortem brain tissue of autistic patients. Her work conducted at the University of Wisconsin was able to distinguish important small-molecule differences in the brains of autistic children from the brains of children without autism. Obtaining post-mortem samples in numbers that are significant enough to allow for the study of the variability among patients with autism is a challenge, however.

"The iPS cell bank at CHOC offers an opportunity to select the patients and to compare different types of patients, which is not possible in the case of post-mortem brains," Cezar said.

Stemina, based in Madison, Wis., was founded in 2007 and develops metabolomic biomarkers for disease detection and drug screening. CHOC received a five-year, $3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to generate, investigate, and store neural stems cells derived from iPS cells from skin cells donated by autistic children.

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