EndGenitor might hold key to repairing blood vessels: Biomedical startup researchers grow cells from umbilical cord fluid

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En d G e n i t o r Technologies Inc. is a prime example of the
type of company BioCrossroads, central Indiana’s life sciences initiative, covets.

Founded on the scientific discoveries of two Indiana University School of Medicine researchers, the venture is on the cusp of producing stem cells that someday could repair the blood vessels of heart attack victims and diabetics. Drs. Mervin Yoder, 52, and David Ingram, 39, company cofounders and professors at the Herman B Wells Center For Pediatric Research in Indianapolis, are responsible for the medical breakthrough.

“It’s the one thing every doctor
strives for-to discover something that could change the way medicine is practiced,” Yoder said. “But to be honest, we don’t know if it can be a treatment yet. We have hope, but we have no evidence.”

The two pediatric physicians began their quest three years ago to locate the progenitor cells that enable the body to create endothelial cells, which line blood vessels.

A doctor in Minnesota, whom the two had collaborated with, grew endothelial cells from the blood of adults. But because people produce fewer cells as they age, Yoder and Ingram believed they could locate larger cell amounts in the blood of umbilical cords. Their assumption proved correct.

“We just thought about it completely different than other people did,” Yoder said. “We find ourselves being experts in the field because the area is so new.”

The challenge now is to grow the progenitor stem cells extracted from umbilical cords into endothelial cells, which could be used to repair damaged blood vessels. That research will be conducted through EndGenitor.

Founded in February, the company is in the Emerging Technology Center on West 10th Street. The life sciences business incubator is owned and operated by the IU Research & Technology Corp.

EndGenitor has grown to include seven employees and two laboratories. Yoder and Ingram serve as consultants, choosing to hand daily operations to CEO Ronald Henriksen. He, along with Chief Scientific Officer Carlos Lopez and Director of Research Paul Hyslop, are former Eli Lilly and Co. executives.

EndGenitor’s aim is to manufacture and store progenitor and endothelial cells for medical use. It is currently working with several small companies to develop the technology to easier isolate the cells from the umbilical cords, grow them in large quantities, and freeze them for storage. The cells then would be sold to researchers and, later, for treating patients.

Historically, umbilical cords, which Yoder described as a renewable resource, have been disposed of. But that is changing as cord blood increasingly is sought to treat several diseases, including types of cancers and blood disorders.

EndGenitor anticipates it will have cells ready to sell by January, Yoder said. The venture is engaged in conversations with a national firm to work out an agreement in which the company would provide End-Genitor umbilical cords in exchange for the cells it isolates from the cords.

As consultants, Yoder and Ingram are focusing their research on how to diagnose a blood-vessel problem and who would benefit most from the stem-cell therapy.

Yoder received his bachelor’s degree in biology from Malone College in Canton, Ohio, his master’s degree in pharmacology and physiology from Indiana State University, and his medical degree from the IU School of Medicine. He joined the faculty in 1985.

Ingram received his bachelor’s degree in religious studies from Brown University and a master’s of theology/ethics from Vanderbilt Divinity School. He also earned his medical degree from Vanderbilt. He joined the IU School of Medicine faculty in 2002.

Dr. Mervin Yoder, left, and Dr. David Ingram may have discovered “something that could change the way medicine is practiced.”

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