Heart stem cell developer tops WSJ's innovation awards

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Laboratory generation of billions of heart cells edged out other promising technological innovations this year—such as improvements in biofuel production and IBM’s supercomputer, Watson—as the healthcare entry took top honors in the Wall Street Journal’s ( WSJ) 2011 Technology Innovation Awards.

Winning researcher James A. Thomson, VMD, PhD, developed a method for accessing stem cells without destroying embryos to provide billions of heart cells to researchers and drug companies for the study of diseases and development of medicines. Cellular Dynamics (CDI) uses iPS technology—the development of induced pluripotent stem cells—to make mass quantities of heart cells, as well as neurons, liver-like cells and cells that line blood vessels, according to the WSJ.

According to CDI, the company is capable of developing more than one billion heart cells per day, as well as cells from any individual, which would be necessary for stem cell implantation for therapeutic purposes. Self-donation reduces or eliminates the risk of an individual's immune system rejecting the cells. CDI, started by Thomson and colleagues in 2004, knew that mass production of cells "would have to come from a company, because academics tend to move onto the next research question after coming up with a scientific discovery," WSJ reported.

According to WSJ, CDI has about 50 customers, most of which are pharmaceutical companies that conduct toxicology tests using CDI’s heart cells. Skin and liver cells could also be used in the future to test food and topical products for side effects, reducing the need for animal tests, according to the company.

Joule Unlimited Technologies garnered the Silver award for developing a more efficient technique for producing biofuel. And the Bronze award went to IBM for Watson, the supercomputer system that defeated two grand champions on "Jeopardy!"

WSJ received 605 award applications this year from companies, organizations and individuals in 31 countries. After review from an editorial team, 155 entries were sent to an independent panel of judges from venture capital firms, universities and other organizations, who chose 35 winners and runners-up.

More information about award recipients can be found on WSJ’s website.