The Guardian ran a story about stem cell research that could be more or less summed up as follows: It’s started.
They profiled Marcus Hilton, who was the first person in the UK to receive a transplant of cells created from human embryonic stem cells. In his case, he received the transplant in his eye as part of a clinical trial for a form of blindness.
The story explains why the eye is such a good target for early trials (the immune system is unlikely to enter the eye and reject the stem cells). In the U.S. two forms of blindness are also under investigation in clinical trials involving embryonic stem cells.
The story goes on to quote Peter Coffey, who has a Research Leadership Award from CIRM to work on another possible stem cell-based therapy for blindness. The story quotes him talking about the pace of research:
To an excitable public and to patients hoping for cures, it may seem that the talk has been going on for a long time and there ought to be treatments on the shelves pretty soon. In fact, experts say, the field has moved at a spectacular speed.
“To go from what was zero back in 1989 when the first human embryonic stem cell was derived – and not even for human use – to human trials is immensely fast,” says Coffey.
[Editor’s note: James Thomson first isolated human embryonic stem cells in 1998 not 1989.]
The story is worth a read for its insights on the challenges ahead for stem cell-based therapies and for an update on the most likely targets for those therapies.