Over the past 20 years, embryonic stem cell (ESC) research has evolved from a brand new field with lots of promise to one that is actively helping uncover the mysteries of devastating diseases and develop treatments. A recent article in Nature featuring NYSCF – Robertson Investigator Alumnus Dr. Dieter Egli of Columbia University, inaugural NYSCF – Robertson Stem Cell Prize recipient Dr. Pete Coffey of the University of California, Santa Barbara, NYSCF – Robertson Investigator Dr. Malin Parmar of Lund University, and NYSCF Scientific Advisor Dr. Kevin Eggan of Harvard University explores how the field has evolved and what researchers are planning for the future.
ESCs first hit the scene back in 1998 when Dr. Egli was beginning graduate school. He quickly realized their potential, and has since used them to investigate how adult cells can be reprogrammed into an embryonic state and how cell replacement therapies may work to combat diabetes.
Dr. Parmar recalls how researchers developed a number of technical tools to increase ESC’s life spans and efficiency. Advances such as ROCK inhibitor—a molecule that keeps ESCs alive when removed from their colonies—vastly improved the research process, better allowing her to use ESCs to study Parkinson’s disease.
Dr. Eggan’s past work with ESCs helped him discover that an anti-seizure medication might serve as an effective treatment for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, also called Lou Gehrig’s disease). His lab generated induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) lines from ALS patients and reprogrammed these cells into motor neurons using a technique he had previously used on ESCs. He found that the motor neurons from ALS patients showed increased activity, similarly to neurons in epilepsy patients, and an anti-seizure medication helped calm them down. This drug is now being tested in human patients.
Dr. Coffey is putting ESCs into practice by conducting a clinical trial in which a patch containing ESCs is implanted into the eye of patients with age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a condition that causes loss of central vision. In exciting results, this patch has restored sight in both patients who have received the treatment, and it is Dr. Coffey’s hope that it will one day be available to AMD patients everywhere.
For more information on the past, present, and future of ESC research, check out the full article here.
Source: New York Stem Cell Foundation website