Canada spends more on stem cell research

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Canadian Justice Minister Irwin Cotler gave Canadian stem cell research an extra boost with the announcement of $5.3 million in annual funding.

The research funding for the Stem Cell Network will support a number of national projects, including an effort led by Dr. Jacques Galipeau of the Montreal-based Jewish General Hospital to study the use of adult stem cells as repair material to help patients with cardiovascular and respiratory diseases.

Researchers are optimistic that stem cells, which can be found in fat, blood, bone and cells themselves, will eventually be used to repair damaged hearts, lungs and blood vessels.

Stem cells are like "seeds" and can be used "to grow a crop of new tissue," says Galipeau, which could be used to repair and restore damaged tissue. He wants to bring these technologies to real people. Scientists in Canada can use adult and embryonic stem cells for research but can't legally push the limits any further. Referring to the production and then destruction of week-old embryos to harvest stem cells, Galipeau says there is no therapeutic cloning allowed in Canada.

Later this spring, Galipeau and Toronto-based Dr. Duncan Stewart of St. Michael's Hospital will have patients in the late stages of the pulmonary arterial hypertension disease, who are awaiting life-saving transplants, take part in a trial that will attempt to combine stem cells and gene therapy to treat it.

Scientists from Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver and Ottawa would like to have clinical trials within the next two to five years with patients using their own stem cells to repair damaged hearts and lungs.

Cotler called it a "landmark day" for medical research and medical care, noting that Canada is among the leaders in stem cell research.

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