Top stem cell scientist joins Stemedica

Posted: April 17, 2014 at 8:41 am

Stem cell scientist Mahendra Rao, former director of the now-defunct Center For Regenerative Medicine at the National Institutes of Health. Photo taken in December, 2013 during a speech by Rao at the World Stem Cell Summit in San Diego.

One of the nation's top stem cell scientists has become an adviser to San Diego's Stemedica, a developer of stem cell-based therapies.

Dr. Mahendra Rao joined Stemedica's scientific and medical advisory board, and will help guide the company's strategy, said Maynard Howe, chief executive of the privately held company. Rao's career as a scientist who has also worked for companies and federal agencies makes him particularly useful, Howe said.

Rao is a medical doctor with a PhD in developmental neurobiology from CalTech. He headed the neurosciences division of the National Institute on Aging. He also led the stem cell division of Carlsbad-based Life Technologies, now a unit of Thermo Fisher Scientific. The two companies are on good terms: Life Technologies sells two kinds of stem cells made by Stemedica, used for research purposes, Howe said.

Rao was most recently founding director of the Center for Regenerative Medicine at the National Institutes of Health, which has been shut down. Rao, who resigned at the end of March, said he was disappointed at the slow pace of funding studies with artificial embryonic stem cells, called induced pluripotent stem cells. Stemedica announced his appointment April 8.

Rao said Wednesday that his goal now is to advance stem cell therapies through the private sector. Stemedica drew his attention because it had developed a method of reliably generating "clinically compliant" stem cells suitable for use in therapy.

In addition, Rao said he likes that Stemedica is developing combination stem cell therapies, using a variety called mesenchymal stem cells. This variety of stem cell generates chemicals that promote short-term regrowth and seems to enhance the survival of other transplanted stem cells. For example, mesenchymal stem cells could help transplanted neural stem cells integrate into the brain.

"That's a high-risk process and it's a much more difficult road, but they seem to be willing to do that," Rao said.

He has also rejoined the board of Q Therapeutics, a Salt Lake City company developing treatments for spinal cord injuries and other neurological disorders. Rao is the company's scientific founder, but had to leave the company when he joined the NIH.

Stemedica and its affiliated companies are undertaking multiple clinical trials of stem cell therapies. One of the most advanced is for stroke, Howe said. See utsandiego.com/stemedicastroke1 for detailed information.

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Top stem cell scientist joins Stemedica

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