Sunday, October 09, 2011

Steady advance of stem cell therapies

Stem cell research and related therapies (including regenerative medicine and cellular therapies) is an industry with a strong possibility of having a significant near-term impact on worldwide public health. One reason is the industry’s linkage between policy, science, industry, and patient advocacy, as was clear in the attendance and programming at the 7th annual World Stem Cell Summit held in Pasadena CA, October 3-5. Other science-driven fields such as synthetic biology, nanomedicine, and aging might benefit from cultivating such a multi-disciplinary perspective. Stem cell therapies are useful not only in cell-replacement therapies, but also in disease modeling, drug discovery, and drug toxicity screening.

Disease therapeutics and clinical trial focus
Stem cell therapies are currently being applied to over 50 diseases particularly in the areas of heart, lung, neurodegenerative, and eye disease, and cancer and HIV. Dozens of companies are developing therapeutic solutions which are in different stages of clinical use and clinical trials. Some high-profile therapies include Dendreon’s Provenge for prostate cancer, Geron’s first-ever embryonic stem cell trials for spinal cord injury, Fibrocell’s laViv cellular therapy for wrinkles, and well-established commercial skin substitutes (Organogenesis’s Apligraf and Advanced BioHealing’s Dermagraft).

Stem cell policy issues under consideration include medical tourism, standards for large-scale stem cell manufacturing, and lingering ethical debates over the use of embryonic stem cells.

Contemporary stem cell science advances include a focus on techniques for the direct reprogramming of cells from one lineage to another without having to return to pluripotency as an intermediary step, improved means of generating and measuring induced pluripotent cells, and progress in approaches to neurodegenerative disease, for example establishing causal factors for early-onset Parkinson’s disease, generating neuronal cells and dopaminergic cells, and neural stem cell lumbar implantation clinical trials.

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