In March 2018, results published by the London Project to Cure Blindness and The University of California Santa Barbara showed that two people with damaged retinas through age-related macular degeneration were slowly regaining their ability to read one year after being implanted with embryonic stem cells (ESCs).
This has been seen as a significant step forward for those working with ESCs, supporting the theory behind the scientific research, and will likely lead to further clinical trials, both in macular degeneration but also more widely. Many believe advances will next be made in Parkinson’s disease.
Development of ESCs
Researchers discovered how to get ESCs from human cells in 1998. In 2007, a way of keeping ESCs alive was developed, increasing success rates for creating new cell colonies from 1% to 27%. ESCs were first used in clinical trials in 2010 for spinal cord injuries. They have been the focus of at least twelve clinical trials since. These trials have all shown promise, though the use of ESCs was expected to be overtaken by that of Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells (iPS cells).
Alternatives to ESCs
iPS cells were first developed in 2006 when adult mouse cells were returned to their embryonic-like state. In 2007, this was done with human cells. In theory, this provides unending supplies of genetically matched pluripotent cells. It also removes any ethical concerns.
Some researchers, however, are concerned about the safety of iPS cells, fearing they could grow uncontrollably. Others believe iPS cells offer more opportunities for studying genetic conditions. These opportunities include adaptive phase 1 studies, such as those managed by http://www.richmondpharmacology.com/specialist-services/adaptive-phase-i-studies.
The Future of ESCs
Both ESCs and iPS cells have their advantages. iPS cells, for example, have the same DNA as the person who is ill so reduce the risk of a transplant being rejected. However they also carry any mutations, so need to be modified. ESCs, meanwhile, are considered crucial for the understanding of pluripotency and the medical uses of pluripotent cells.
Whether iPS or ESCs are going to be used, one question that still needs to be answered is how mature the cells should be before being transplanted. Getting this right impacts the cells chances of survival, and so, therefore, the patients. Current trials in Australia and China may help answer this question.