The first stem cell was isolated in 1998 by a research group led by Dr. James Thomson at the University of Wisconsin. The same group also developed a technique for growing the cells. This happened only 13 years ago, which means that stem cell research still is in an early stage. The NIH funded a basic human embryonic stem cell study in 2002. The outcome of this study has been used to begin developing different stem cell-based therapies.
Some research has come as far as clinical trials. As of March 22, 2011 there are three clinical trials registered by the NIH. First out were Geron, a biotechnology company, who are testing the safety of using human embryonic stem cells for restoration of the spinal cord. Special cells derived from human embryonic stem cells will be injected into the patient’s spinal cord, and oligodendroglia will develop from the precursor cells.
Another biotechnology company, ACT, got two clinical trials going. The first trial was announced on November 22, 2010, and will use retinal cells derived from human embryonic stem cells to treat Stargardts Macular Dystrophy (SMD). SMD causes vision loss and is the most common form of inherited weak sight. The disease is caused by the death of photoreceptors in the macula, or degeneration of the macula, and therefore decreases the sharp central vision. The other trial ACT got going is set to treat patients with age-related macula degeneration. This is also uses retinal cells derived from human embryonic stem cells. The trial was announced on January 3, 2011, and is therefore the most recent.
Stem cells have however been used in therapy for several decades. When treating blood cancer and other blood diseases, such as anemia and inherited immune system disorders, new blood cells are needed. Blood-forming stem cells (hematopoietic stem cells) are found in the bone marrow, and can give rise to all blood cell types. Another source for blood-forming stem cells is umbilical cord blood, which is also used in treatment.
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Singer, E. (2011). Patients Facing Blindness to Test Therapy with Stem Cells. Technology Review – Biomedicine. Retrieved on March 14, 2011, from http://www.technologyreview.com/biomedicine/27040/page1/