BU student-researchers make stem cell discovery

By WEEK Producer

October 3, 2013 Updated Oct 3, 2013 at 7:04 PM CDT

PEORIA, Ill. -- Ryan Niemeier is part of a team of Bradley undergraduate students doing groundbreaking research in the school's biology department.

"Its really hard to describe how good it feels to put two or three years into something and then finally get that positive result," Niemeier said.

Especially when those results are historic.

Under the direction of Bradley University professor Dr. Craig Cady, students recently conducted non-embryonic stem cell research that produced actual beating heart cells.

"We had been working with our stem cells to make them into heart cells for about 20 days," explained Dr. Cady. "My student came in one day, looked at them in the laboratory and they were beating. They started to contract and beat. In my career I've seen some pretty exciting things, but to walk in a laboratory and see stem cells converting to human beating heart cells was an incredibly exciting, very passionate experience for all of us."

And a great motivator to keep searching for answers.

In April, the students in Dr. Cady's lab had a small role in assisting doctors at Children's Hospital who were performing a stem cell transplant on a young girl. It was the students' job to verify some information needed by the doctors. The surgery didn't save the girl, but might ultimately save other patients.

"We're really on a threshold in regenerative medicine," said Dr. Cady. "We're very close to making a tremendously big difference clinically, in a lot of diseases, from Parkinson's to heart disease. I think our efforts here, we hope, are going to contribute to moving it forward."

In some ways they already have.