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06-23-2014

Clarkson University Professors' Research on Growing Spinal Discs Published in Prestigious Stem Cell Journal

Two professors made Clarkson University history when their research on stem cells was published in a prestigious journal from Cell Press.

Professor Thomas Lufkin, the Bayard and Virginia Clarkson Endowed Chair in Biology (left); and Research Assistant Professor of Biology Petra Kraus.Professor Thomas Lufkin, the Bayard and Virginia Clarkson Endowed Chair in Biology, and Research Assistant Professor of Biology Petra Kraus published a research paper in Cell Stem Cell on transforming cells into embryonic stem cells.

Professors strive to publish in journals that have the highest impact factors which are cited many times per year, Lufkin said, and this is the first time anyone with an academic affiliation and currently working at Clarkson University has published their research at Clarkson in a top-level Cell Press journal.

Lufkin said his research focuses on growing new spinal discs to replace those that have deteriorated and cause back pain. The paper examines how cells swabbed from a patient’s mouth or scraped from a patient’s arm can be turned into embryonic stem cells, which are then programmed to become spinal discs.

“In this case, the patient is the donor,” he said. “We won’t have to get tissue from somebody else and give it to you. There are no issues of graft rejection; it’s yours.”

Spinal discs can deteriorate and cause pain due to age or injury, Lufkin said. Back pain sufferers currently can choose to have the damaged disc removed and fuse the neighboring vertebrae, causing a loss of flexibility and increase stress on the adjacent discs. With regenerative medicine, he said, the old disc can instead be swapped out for a new one that is healthier and stronger.

“We’re hoping to help anybody that suffers from lower back pain and would like the option of having their disc replaced with one of their own that we’ve made in the laboratory,” he said.

Lufkin said many patients can benefit from this research, as Americans spend at least $50 billion each year on lower back pain treatment. He said more than 400,000 spinal surgeries are performed in the United States annually.

“It’s astounding the number of people who suffer from lower back pain owing to this type of problem, and so many people live with it for such a long time,” he said.

Clarkson University launches leaders into the global economy. One in five alumni already leads as a CEO, VP or equivalent senior executive of a company. Located just outside the Adirondack Park in Potsdam, N.Y., Clarkson is a nationally recognized research university for undergraduates with select graduate programs in signature areas of academic excellence directed toward the world’s pressing issues. Through 50 rigorous programs of study in engineering, business, arts, sciences and health sciences, the entire learning-living community spans boundaries across disciplines, nations and cultures to build powers of observation, challenge the status quo, and connect discovery and engineering innovation with enterprise.

Photo caption: Two professors made Clarkson University history when their research on stem cells was published in a prestigious journal from Cell Press. Above, Professor Thomas Lufkin, the Bayard and Virginia Clarkson Endowed Chair in Biology (left); and Research Assistant Professor of Biology Petra Kraus.

[A photograph for media use is available at http://www.clarkson.edu/news/photos/lufkin-kraus.jpg .]

[News directors and editors: For more information, contact Michael P. Griffin, director of News & Digital Content Services, at 315-268-6716 or mgriffin@clarkson.edu.]

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