Scientists have hit another milestone in stem cell science and the ongoing quest for personalized medicine. Yesterday a team of researchers from Oregon Health and Science University reported that they have successfully cloned human embryonic stem cells by fusing the skin cells of a baby with donated human eggs.
The vision for the use of this technology to treat disease looks something like this: Scientists would use the technique to create stem cells ó which have the capability to become any kind of cell in our bodies ó that are genetically identical to a patient living with disease. After being coaxed into the form required to treat the patientís disease (for example, dopamine neurons in Parkinsonís disease), the cells would be delivered to the patient. There would be no worries of rejection, because the cells would be genetically identical to the patient.
Itís a scientific landmark, because while this technique has been practiced in animals for some time (including Dolly the Sheep), this is the first time itís been successful in humans. But the overall challenges of developing stem cell-based replacement therapies (for Parkinsonís and for most diseases) still remain, says Brian Fiske, PhD, VP of Research Programs at MJFF, and wonít change just because we can now create human cloned cells.
ďWe now have potentially several options for making genetically matched stem cells, but the challenge ahead will still be getting them effectively and safely into the brain, and seeing whether they provide sufficiently robust benefits over existing therapies (including whether they would address non-motor symptoms of PD) to justify the risks of brain surgery and tissue transplantation,Ē Brian told FoxFeed.
The last stem cell milestone of this caliber was the 2006/2007 discovery of induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells. They are the stem cells engineered from adult skin cells.
An interesting aside for those following the embryonic vs. induced pluripotent stem cell debate: This is only going to intensify the argument, as both sides can now claim the same advantage (genetic match to donor). iPS cells don't require destroying an egg cell or creating a cloned embryo. But embryonic stem cells are likely still closer to the real thing.