Stem cell research has advanced so rapidly in the last few years that it’s easy to forget that the field as a whole is still a relatively new one, dating back just a few decades; so the progress that’s being made is all the more remarkable for that.
To illustrate how recent this area of research is Andy Coghlan at New Scientist magazine posted a stem cell timeline, charting each milestone along the path to today. In his introduction to the timeline, Coghlan wrote:
“Stem cells are the cellular putty from which all tissues of the body are made. Ever since human embryonic stem cells were first grown in the lab, researchers have dreamed of using them to repair damaged tissue or create new organs, but such medical uses have also attracted controversy. This timeline takes you through the ups and downs of the stem cell rollercoaster.”
You can see the full timeline with links to the events it refers to on the New Scientist website. But here’s a snapshot of what it documents.
1981 – Martin Evans at Cambridge University in the UK identifies embryonic stem cells in mice
1997 – Dolly the sheep made global headlines as the first artificial animal clone. Created by Ian Wilmut and researchers at the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh, Scotland, Dolly raised hopes for some, fears for others about the potential for human cloning.
1998 – Jamie Thompson at the University of Wisconsin identifies human embryonic stem cells and grows them in the lab
2001 – President George W. Bush limits federal funding of research on human embryonic stem cells because a human embryo is destroyed in the process.
2004 – California voters approve Proposition 71, creating the state’s stem cell agency, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine
2005 – Woo Suk Hwang in South Korea claims he has used the method that created Dolly the Sheep to create human embryonic stem cells genetically matched to specific people. His claims are later debunked.
2006 – Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University in Japan creates a new kind of embryonic-like cell by reprogramming ordinary skin cells into what he calls “induced pluripotent stem cells” or iPSCs.
2007 – The Nobel Prize for medicine is given to Martin Evans of the UK, and Americans Mario Capecchi and Oliver Smithies for their work on genetics and embryonic stem cells.
2009 – President Barack Obama lifts the federal restrictions on funding for human embryonic stem cell research.
2010 – CIRM funds Geron to carry out a spinal cord injury trial, the first ever to use a therapy derived from human embryonic stem cells.
2012 – Human embryonic stem cells are used in a clinical trial to treat one of the leading causes of blindness. Two patients say their vision improved as a result of the treatment.
2012 – Shinya Yamanaka wins the Nobel prize for creating iPSCs. He shares the award with John Gurdon of the UK’s Cambridge University
2013 – Shoukhrat Mitalipov at the Oregon National Primate Research Center produces human embryonic stem cells from fetal cells, using therapeutic cloning techniques.
2014 – Dieter Egli of the New York Stem Cell Foundation and Young Gie Chung from CHA University in South Korea, independently produce human embryonic stem cells from adult cells, using therapeutic cloning techniques
2014 – Masayo Takahashi at the Riken center in Japan is recruiting patients for the first ever clinical trial using iPS cells, in this case to treat one of the leading causes of blindness in the elderly.
Even just a cursory glance of the timeline shows that the breakthroughs are coming closer and closer together. We are confident that this will continue to be the case and we hope that very soon we’ll be able to add another milestone, that a stem cell treatment has helped cure a previously incurable disease.