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10 Promising Biomedical Advances in Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research

neural stem cellsSince the isolation of human embryonic stem cells, or hESCs, in 1998 (see the timeline: A Brief History of Stem Cell Research), scientists around the country have made significant strides laying the groundwork for clinical treatments. In January, the FDA approved the first clinical trial for a potential therapy, a treatment for spinal cord injuries. And today, President Obama lifted the Bush administration’s restrictions on on federal funding of research involving human embryonic stem cells.

The path from discovery to cure is long, as researchers like stem cell pioneer and Science Progress adviser John Gearhart point out. But with access to federal competitive grant money for responsible, ethical research projects, scientists can continue the work that will help us fully understand human development and fulfill the promise of regenerative medicine. With today’s change in policy, that can happen here in the United States. As we look forward a bright future of scientific discovery, here’s a glance back at some major advances in human embryonic stem cell research around the world over the past few years:

January 20th, 2009: Researchers produced massive volumes of “universal donor” type O-negative blood from human embryonic stem cells, potentially making blood donation a thing of the past.

December 5th, 2008: Harvard scientists created spinal motor neurons from hESCs, and were able to replicate the ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, process in a Petri dish.

September 8th, 2008: Neural cells derived from hESCs showed effectiveness at reducing the clinical systems of multiple sclerosis in animals.

March 15th, 2008: Scientists developed a way to convert human embryonic stem cells into dopamine-producing nerve cells, holding great promise for therapy for Parkinson’s disease.

February 21st, 2008: Scientists at Novocell, Inc. created insulin-producing islet cells from human embryonic stem cells that effectively controlled insulin levels in diabetic mice.

January 31st, 2008: Scientists coaxed hESCs into functional hepatocytes (liver cells) that may be used for treatment of liver diseases.

September 21st, 2006: Vision was improved in rats suffering from a disease similar to age-related macular degeneration with the injection of human embryonic stem cells into the retina.

July 14th, 2006: UCLA Aids Institute researchers used hESCs to create lines of mature T-cells that could fight viruses like HIV, which destroys certain types of T-cells.

October 12th, 2005: Scientists used hESCs to create cancer-killing cells.

September 24th, 2004: Scientists in Israel derived fully functional cardiomyocytes (heart cells) from human embryonic stem cells, paving the way for hESC-derived pacemakers and heart tissue repair.

For more on a responsible and ethical stem cell research policy, see the Center for American Progress report, “A Life Sciences Crucible.”

Image: Ronald Kalil, University of Wisconsin-Madison

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