On January 19, 2017, Stem Pharm Inc. received a $290,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health. This funding will allow the University of Wisconsin-Madison startup company to pursue groundbreaking achievements, such as the development of sophisticated biological materials, that make it possible to manufacture stem cells for medical use. Stem Pharm’s founder, William Murphy, is a professor of biomedical engineering at UW-Madison who has completed an extensive amount of research in the stem cell realm. His company is now building on that research in order to make significant contributions to regenerative medicine applications.
Stem Pharm’s Primary Product
Murphy’s main focus through Stem Pharm is to develop efficient ways to direct stem cells into becoming adult cells and tissues. Since stem cells are eager to develop but don’t always develop in the way scientists need them to, Stem Pharm created a synthetic, customizable material similar to Jell-O that supports stem cells through their development process. As Murphy explained, “To manufacture a particular cell or tissue type, you often need to find a ‘Goldilocks’ environment” to balance traits like adhesiveness, stiffness, and responsiveness.
“We rapidly identify the conditions needed to grow cells or tissues with the desired function. In some cases, the result is a cell with unique functions that would not exist without the material.” These materials, for which Stem Pharm has obtained three patents, can be thought of as “a concierge, to maintain the cells so they function as intended and remain where they are needed,” Murphy stated.
Looking Toward the Future
The company’s product to support the development of stem cells capable of testing drugs is very significant within the regenerative medicine community, but Stem Pharm isn’t stopping there. Murphy has plans this year to participate in cell therapy, particularly for the eye condition age-related macular degeneration. This disease kills cells within the retina and makes it impossible for the brain to receive the images the eye captures. Stem Pharm is “exploring ways to generate the [retinal] tissue outside of the body and then implant it. We think the tissue can mature more precisely inside the body than outside.”
As if that wasn’t enough, Stem Pharm also plans to provide drug makers with systems they can use to test the safety and functionality of drugs that are created to treat liver tissue, nerve tissue, and blood vessels. Murphy pointed out, “we realize that our custom biomaterials are very good at controlling cell behavior and we are zeroing in on applications that really require that control.”
Thanks to Stem Pharm and other companies like it, the seemingly limitless applications of stem cells continue to be uncovered and harnessed to improve human health.