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Start-up Company at the U Seeks Stem-cell Solutions to Restoring Kidney Functions

February 27, 2006-Restoring kidney function with stem cells could be as easy as donating blood. Nephrogen, LLC is a new biotechnology start-up company located in Research Park at the University of Utah. Scientists at Nephrogen are exploring the therapeutic potential of adult stem cells collected from blood. The technology of Nephrogen is based on the collaboration of two physicians; one from the University of Utah, and the other from Germany (the University of Hamburg). Dr. Christof Westenfelder is a professor of medicine and physiology at the University of Utah as well as section chief of Nephrology at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Salt Lake City. Partner, Dr. Axel Zander is also a professor of medicine and the director of the Bone Marrow Transplant Unit at the University of Hamburg in Germany.

Westenfelder and Zander have worked together for many years in their studies on stem cells circulating in the blood or bone marrow of adult donors. Until now, Nephrogen lacked funding to develop its technology. The success of Dr. Westenfelder and Dr. Zander’s research attracted the attention of Gambro, an international health care company. Gambro, with headquarters in Sweden, is a world leader in renal care and blood component technology. In an alignment of interests with Nephrogen, Gambro has made a significant financial commitment to the field of regenerative medicine. Consequently, Gambro recently signed an agreement with Nephrogen to support its research to collect and work with blood stem cells. Current research focuses on restoring kidney function in patients suffering from acute renal failure. The two companies hope to begin clinical trials within the next three years.

The goal of stem cell therapy is to use living cells to regenerate injured or diseased organs. The technology licensed by Nephrogen from the University of Utah is very broad and covers the use of stem cells in treating a variety of disorders. Should early results with kidney repair prove encouraging, Nephrogen will have the opportunity to expand its research into other clinical opportunities. “There is no doubt that this novel and fully integrated international research holds enormous promise for the future treatment of patients with devastating complications such as acute kidney failure and other equally serious disorders,” said Dr. Westenfelder.

Stem cell research is currently a very controversial issue. However, at Nephrogen researchers are thinking outside the box. What many people don’t know is that stem cells don’t come solely from embryos. There is another kind of stem cell-the adult stem cell, which is where Nephrogen’s research is focused. Nephrogen scientists are studying the potential of adult stem cells, specifically those extracted from the blood. Because the cells used in Westenfelder and Zander’s studies are from blood, harvesting them is little more difficult than donating blood or platelets, which can even be collected from the patients themselves if time permits. Success for stem cell therapy holds the promise of tremendous advances in fields as diverse as cardiology, nephrology, endocrinology, neurology, and cancer just to name a few.

The University of Utah Technology Commercialization Office (TCO) has been assisting Nephrogen with its business plan and administrators there are excited about the company’s prospects for success. “Nephrogen is a great example of a company based on University of Utah technologies and research” according to TCO Director Brian Cummings. “Utah is uniquely positioned to benefit through economic growth as these new companies are established in Utah and provide new jobs, products, and services for the citizens of the state.”