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Kirk Roundtable on Stem Cell Research

Leading Northwestern researchers join discussion, lead Sen. Kirk on lab tour

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June 6, 2011 | by Marla Paul
Sen. Mark Kirk's (center) symposium included presentations by Jack Kessler, M.D. (left) and Richard Fessler, M.D. (right), leading national stem cell researchers at the Feinberg School of Medicine. Photo by Randy Belice

CHICAGO --- U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) hosted a Monday symposium on stem cell research at the Robert H. Lurie Medical Research Center of Northwestern University on the Chicago campus.

”The potential of stem cell research to cure Alzheimer’s, cancer or diabetes is limitless if we aggressively support American medical research,” Kirk said.  Recalling the death of his father from pulmonary fibrosis, Kirk said many patients with certain diseases still have few treatment options. He wants to “turbocharge” stem cell research in the United States.

“Stem cell research offers the best promise to cure juvenile diabetes and certain blood cancers,” Kirk said. “That is why I believe Republicans and Democrats should unite behind keeping the United States first in medical research.”

University President Morton Schapiro opened the symposium, stressing the importance of stem cell research. The symposium also included presentations by Jack Kessler, M.D., and Richard Fessler, M.D., leading national stem cell researchers at Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine.

Kessler, the Davee Professor of Stem Cell Biology and a neurologist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, talked about his lab’s recent breakthrough in transforming human embryonic stem cells into a critical type of neuron that dies early in Alzheimer’s disease and is a major cause of memory loss. He said the research will enable a rapid wave of drug testing for Alzheimer’s disease, allow researchers to study why the neurons die and could potentially lead to transplanting the new neurons into people with Alzheimer’s.

Fessler, a professor of neurological surgery at Feinberg and surgeon at Northwestern Memorial, spoke about his national clinical research trial of a human embryonic stem cell-based therapy for participants with subacute thoracic spinal cord injuries. He recently performed the procedure on the second participant in the trial.

The symposium also was attended by Jeffrey Glassroth, M.D., Feinberg interim dean; Dean Harrison, Northwestern Memorial HealthCare president and CEO; and researchers from the University of Chicago and Rush University. Also speaking were Jared Kuper, a 9-year-old with type 1 diabetes, and Jonny Imerman, an adult cancer survivor and founder of Imerman Angels, a non-profit cancer support organization.

Following the symposium, Kirk toured Kessler’s stem cell lab at the Lurie Medical Research Center.

Get more information on the symposium, and read more about the research of Kessler and Fessler.