The field of stem cell research has seen a lot of progress this year. It’s hard to keep up with all the announcements and publications. Thirty years from now, some more saps are going to have a hard time choosing who gets the Nobel Prize.
On May 4, 2010, University of Georgia introduced the world to 4 pigs (out of 34). Yes, pigs! No, not Babe. Much cooler! They discovered a way to incorporate induced pluripotent stem cells (IPS; capable of becoming any cell type) into embryos that would grow into a pigs. What?!?!?! I smell Nobel Prize. They have some kinks to work out, but all in all a phenomenal progression in the field of stem cell research. Read about their accomplishment here and here.
In September, a research team at National Cheng Kung University, published the results of another amazing study. This research team used stem cell therapy to reduce cardiac muscle cell damage and form new cardiovascular vessels in pigs. Go pigs! The researchers did stress they were unable to regenerate heart tissue. You know what I say to that? “Don’t be so hard on yourselves researchers. It took Harry Potter and friends 7 books to defeat You-Know-Who. You will do it, eventually.” You can read about this here.
In July, researchers from Russia (collaborating with a team from Harvard) released their findings. This group used a 2 step process in which they first removed the plaque from arteries and then inserted stem cells to promote healing of those arteries. Can you guess the animal model? Yep, pigs! The news article for this group is here.
Three days ago, the Geron Corporatin announced that they had started the first human clinical trial involving embryonic stem cells at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta. HAZAA! Currently, they have enrolled 1 person, but the study will have a total of 10 people with spinal cord injuries. For the record this is a Phase I Clinical Trail, which means the study is primarily concerned with safety. If you are so inclined, read about this here and here. USA Today, had a Q&A session with a stem cell expert from Johns Hopkins University. It is very informative and gives information that the news articles do not delve into.
The last point I will touch on is the repeal of the meta-ban on federal funding for human embryonic stem cell research. So back story: Obama signed an executive order in 2009 overturning Bush’s ban on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. Scientists rejoiced! Then, in August, US District Judge Royce Lamberth ruled that funding from the federal government should be suspended while the court decides if federal funding is legal. Researchers entered a state of scientific depression. But an appeals court overruled that decision and now funding continues until the court reaches a final decision. Scientists aren’t sure how to feel and are seeking therapy. Read about it!
There was too much progress for one post! I will highlight other achievements in the field of stem cells in a later post.