Twenty years after UW-Madison scientist Jamie Thomson began work to isolate human embryonic stems, research has advanced so far that the field is now poised to boom and create Wisconsin companies that could rival Epic, the Verona-based electronic healthcare records company with more than 9,000 employees.

That was the optimistic forecast by three panelists who spoke Tuesday at a Wisconsin Innovation Network luncheon in Madison.

There have been “remarkable” breakthroughs coming out of UW labs that include the creation of heart muscle, nerve, pancreas, retinal and other cells, said William Murphy, a biomedical engineering professor and co-director of the university’s Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine Center.

He was joined on the panel by Dr. David Gamm, an associate professor at the McPherson Eye Research Institute and Carter Cliff, founder of D1ASP0RA. Cliff was also headed business development at Cellular Dynamics International, a major manufacturer of human-induced pluripotent stem cell products. CDI, founded by Thomson, was sold last year to Fujifilm Holdings for $307 million.

Murphy called the university “ground zero” for its groundbreaking work in regenerative medicine. Over the past five years, he said the research focus has shifted to creating human organs and tissues outside the body using induced pluripotent stem cells – which can be made from adult tissue rather than human embryos – for testing drugs and other treatments. Read the full WisBusiness story here.