Steve Stice, who has dedicated his research using embryonic stem cells to improving the lives of people with degenerative diseases and debilitating injuries, newly has discovered the process to produce billions of neural cells from a few stem cells, could now aid in national security.

In collaboration with the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, Stice hopes to use his recently developed neural cell kits to detect chemical threats.

Steve Stice, a University of Georgia animal science professor and Georgia Research Alliance eminent scholar in the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences said that they have a device that looks like a small tool box that contains neural cells and can detect changes in their electrical activity, when these cells’ activity is altered, there’s something present that shouldn’t be and they don’t like it.

Stice’s neural cell kits created from human embryonic stem cell lines last up to six months. “We’ve never tested to see how far beyond that they’re viable,” he said. “It could be much longer.”

He has contacted researchers at NRL who had published a paper on the detection system. He said that they’ve developed the recording device, and they have the cells they need. So working together, they can vastly improve that project.

Stice explained the device. “The monitoring system records electrical activity in the neural cells, which are usually in a set, rhythmic pattern,” he said, drawing a chart that looks like a pattern on a heart monitor.

The researchers got support for the project from several congressmen, including Sen. Johnny Isakson and Georgia Rep. Jack Kingston.

The current system can detect an agent but it can’t identify it. “We may be able to further develop the system so that for some chemicals there are signatures that will lead to a future way to rapidly identify exactly what the chemical is,” Stice said.

“Noncell systems available now can detect specified chemicals,” he said. “But this is a broader detection system that will be more valuable because we don’t know what terrorists will hit us with.”

Stice feels this detection system is important to troops and civilians. “There’s always a concern for nerve agents and unintentional effects of warfare where troops are in the way of chemical agents,” he said.

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