First UK human stem cell line generated

Researchers at King's College London have made a major breakthrough in the generation of new human embryonic stem (hES) cells.

The potential therapeutic value of hES in the treatment of many chronic debilitating diseases has been widely discussed, but these cells are rare and traditionally difficult to grow. However, thanks to a different approach to hES derivation, King’s College London researchers based at Guy’s Hospital have reported that they have generated new hES lines.

Dr Stephen Minger of King’s College London said: "We are very excited about this development. Human embryonic stem cells are found in the earliest stages of development and are capable of giving rise to all the different types of cell in the body. This means their possible therapeutic uses are almost endless and could help in the fight against diseases ranging from diabetes to Parkinson’s."

The research was made possible by some patients undergoing preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Assisted Conception Unit. After genetic testing, embryos found to be unaffected by the specific serious genetic disorder for which they are at risk, are replaced into the patient in the hope of establishing a pregnancy free of the genetic disease. The remaining embryos, which may carry the disease-causing genes, are unsuitable for replacement and would normally be allowed to perish. It is cells from these early embryos that were used for the generation of the stem cell lines.

From a total of 58 embryos, three stem cell populations have been derived. Although two were lost at an early stage, the remaining cell line has been growing for many months and has been substantially characterised. The team have shown it expresses two molecules unique to hES cells, as well a number of other genes commonly found in other stem cells.

The group were one of the first two labs in the UK to be granted a license by Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority to generate hES cells.

The license was granted in March 2002, just days after the House of Lords report recommended that embryonic stem cell research of this kind could go ahead.


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