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Invitrogen gives 'green light' to stem cell research

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A stem cell line launched Friday by Carlsbad-based Invitrogen Corp. will allow scientific researchers the ability to discern cell differences with the aid of a green glow.

Stem cell researchers have long used green fluorescent proteins, or GFPs, to identify stem cell characteristics. But Invitrogen’s (Nasdaq: IVGN) latest offering, one of about 1,200 products tailored to stem cell research, is the first to be made commercially available.

The company’s engineered stem cell line gives off a green fluorescence when the cells are in a “pluripotent” state, meaning one where the cell has the ability to develop, or differentiate. When the cells specialize, they lose their glow.

Previously, scientists could only determine pluripotency by taking samples of the cells and testing those samples, killing them in the process. Now, researchers can determine pluripotency without sacrificing the stem cells.

“The important thing here is that you can easily monitor growth conditions and environmental conditions and how that affects the pluripotent state of that stem cell,” said Karl Willert, director of the Human Stem Cell Core Facility at the University of California, San Diego.

He said the technology could one day prove useful in a therapeutic realm, where research is currently being conducted in areas such as Parkinson’s Disease and diabetes, although he cautioned that those days are a distant reality.

The stem cell line being sold by Invitrogen is considered a “variant line,” Willert said, meaning it contains an abnormal number of chromosomes compared with the 46 chromosomes contained in human embryonic stem cells.

“It’s a useful stem line to have, but, in the long run, we want to be able to test using normal stem cell lines,” he said.

Joydeep Goswami, Invitrogen’s vice president of stem cells and regenerative medicine, was attending a conference in Australia when the news was announced and could not be reached.

He said in a statement that the stem cell line is a tool with the ability to make stem cell research “faster, easier and more reliable.”

With this stem cell line, he said, researchers can quickly make determinations about stem cell development and simultaneously monitor optimal conditions for keeping the cells undifferentiated.

Priced at $1,000 a vial, the stem cell lines could prove a boon to Invitrogen, which conducts business with a large local stem cell research community as well as more than 70 countries worldwide.

With an influx of state grants pouring into the local life sciences community, Invitrogen could profit off their need for scientific research tools such as the newly introduced stem cell line.

Shares of Invitrogen closed Friday up 24 cents, or less than 1 percent, at $74.51.

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