Wayne State University

TechTown startup wins $200k grant for revolutionary stem cell technology developed by Wayne State University

DETROIT, May 3, 2010— MitoStem, a startup company in TechTown’s SmartStart business accelerator program, has received a $200,000 Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I grant from the National Institutes of Health to optimize its revolutionary stem cell technology developed at Wayne State University. MitoStem received double the standard amount for a Phase I SBIR grant because the award was issued under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

“This grant allows us to optimize our exciting technology and will allow researchers to develop new stem cell lines relevant for a variety of diseases,” MitoStem founder and president Jim Eliason said. “It will also enable the creation of stem cells from patient's own cells for replacement of diseased and damaged tissues.”

MitoStem (also known as TechTown Ventures) is focused on stem cell research and, more broadly, regenerative medicine. Stem cells have the ability to reproduce themselves (self-renewal) and are pluripotent, meaning they differentiate into all the cell types found in the body. Thus, in the future, pluripotent stem cells (PSC) will be able to replace diseased and damaged organs. Until recently, only stem cells derived from embryos were thought to be pluripotent. In addition, these cells can be used to study certain genetic diseases when they come from embryos with the specific genetic mutation. However, there are controversies associated with using cells from embryos and they can only be used for diseases that are diagnosed during assisted reproduction (in vitro fertilization).

Recently, it has been possible to reprogram mature adult cells to create induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), which are like embryonic stem cells with respect to their self-renewal and differentiation capacities. The initial methods for reprogramming focused on delivery of four genes using genetic transduction methods that potentially can create mutations, tumors or both. Within the past year, several laboratories have been able to reprogram cells by direct delivery of four proteins to adult cells. However, reprogramming directly with proteins suffers from two major problems: very low efficiency of iPSC generation and extremely high costs of reprogramming proteins, making it impractical for use on a routine basis.

MitoStem has obtained the rights to commercialize this novel technology developed at Wayne State University that will make generation of iPSCs more practical, simple and affordable. This protein transduction technology, which is a highly efficient method to deliver purified reprogramming proteins into the nuclei of cells, will significantly enhance the efficiency of generating iPSC.

The combination of higher transduction efficiency and low-cost proteins will make the direct protein approach to creating iPSCs accessible to many more investigators than the current protein transduction technologies. The increased safety of this method over genetic methods will have a revolutionary effect on iPSC research and regenerative medicine.


TechTown is an urban community of entrepreneurs, innovators, investors, mentors and corporate partners creating an internationally influential village in Detroit. TechTown brings the resources of Wayne State University to high-technology startup companies to diversify and strengthen Michigan’s economy in high-growth emerging industries. The SmartStart business accelerator program provides two years of intensive entrepreneurial support for innovative startups including mentoring, coaching, access to funding opportunities and more. For more information, visit www.techtownwsu.org.


Wayne State University is one of the nation’s pre-eminent public research universities in an urban setting. Through its multidisciplinary approach to research and education, and its ongoing collaboration with government, industry and other institutions, the university seeks to enhance economic growth and improve the quality of life in the city of Detroit, state of Michigan and throughout the world. For more information on research at Wayne State University, visit http://www.research.wayne.edu.


Nichole Christian, Director of Communications
(313) 879-5248

Allison Lumb, Marketing Coordinator
(313) 879-4478

Julie O’Connor, Director of Research Communications
Wayne State University
(313) 577-8845