Grant funds creation of spinal tissue from scratch in UW-Madison - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Grant funds creation of spinal tissue from scratch in UW-Madison lab

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MADISON (WKOW) -- A UW-Madison endeavor to create spinal tissue from scratch is one step closer to changing how your doctor treats your ailments.

The lab at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery has received a grant from the National Science Foundation that will fund experiments to create spinal tissue in a dish for the next five years.

The goal is to create a blank model of spinal cells that doctors and scientists could add any type of genes and DNA to. That way, doctors could see exactly what's going on inside your body. "The imaging technologies have advanced extremely far, but we're still limited in what we can actually see in real-time,” says Randolph Ashton, assistant professor of biomedical engineering at UW-Madison. “But here if we have those tissues in a dish, then we can really probe them, we can throw all of the science that we know at them to really understand how to best treat you and how to best heal your ailments."

Doctors and scientists could also use that tissue to test medications. If it's a genetic replica of your own cells, they could see which medication works best for you. That way, you don't have to try one medication, wait to see if it works, and experience its side effects.

The “blank” cells could lead to treatment in the future. With degenerative diseases like Parkinson's, certain cells start dying. The hope is that they could use those cells made in the lab, add your DNA, and implant those new cells to replace the ones that died. It would essentially cure Parkinson's and other diseases, but it's probably decades away from becoming reality.

The money from the NSF grant will also go toward outreach, so future scientists can continue the work. "When I go to conferences, I'm one of few faculty members of my ethnic background at the conference,” says Ashton. “The same avenues that I was able to be exposed to through sort of outreach programs, explore programs... that's also part of the recent award that the program got is to expand those programs here in Madison."

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