"What the study shows is that stem cells can be made that are specific to patients regardless of age or sex and that these cells are identical genetic matches to the donor," said Dr. Schatten, who also is director of the Pittsburgh Development Center (PDC) at the Magee-Womens Research Institute and a professor of cell biology and physiology at the School of Medicine. "If they can be safely used in transplant, the promise for effective treatment - perhaps even cure - of devastating diseases and injuries comes within reach."
Researchers led by Woo Suk Hwang, D.V.M., Ph.D., professor at Seoul National University, previously made history when they announced the first successful cloning of a human embryonic stem cell line in February 2004 at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Seattle. Dr. Hwang and his colleagues have since refined their techniques, making astonishing progress in just one year, said Dr. Schatten, who acted as an advisor to the Korean lab for the purposes of data analysis, interpretation and preparation of an English-language manuscript on the landmark study.
As Dr. Hwang and his colleagues report, 18 women donated 185 eggs specifically for research purposes at Hanyang University Hospital in Seoul. Of these, 125 came from 10 women under the age of 30. To obtain somatic cells, the researchers recruited 11 donors, who included males and females ranging in age from 2 to 56. In the case of minors, parental consent was obtained. A somatic cell is any cell in the body other than sperm or egg cells. Among somatic cell donors were individuals who had juvenile diabetes, spinal cord injury and a genetic immune deficiency called congenital hypogammaglobulinemia, which can lead to an increased risk of infections.
Using these resources, 11 lines of human embryonic stem cells were derived through nuclear transfer. Somatic cells used from donor patients were grown from skin biopsies. These 11 lines were established from 31 artificially engineered cell constructs created by nuclear transfer. An average of 17 eggs were used for each stem cell line.
Neither sex nor age of the nuclear donor appeared to influence success in deriving embryonic stem cell lines. However, eggs donated by younger women showed a higher rate of success than those from older women. Among egg donors under 30, an average of less than 14 eggs were used to generate a stem cell line.
"This research is doubly important because it shows that efficient patient-specific cellular models of human disease can be developed and studied with more precision than ever before," said Dr. Schatten, whose own cloning work is confined to non-human primates. "With the promise of curing devastating disease and reversing injuries that cause so much human suffering, isn't it a moral obligation for scientists to continue this avenue of research responsibly?"
Dedicated to sound and responsible medical research and collaboration, the Pittsburgh Development Center of Magee-Womens Research Institute explores the molecular biology of cell function to determine the origins of developmental diseases, the causes and prevention of adverse pregnancy outcomes and the potential of stem cells for treating human disease.
Among its other strengths, the PDC is emerging as a world center for the study of stem cells, which are precursor cells with the ability to grow into any tissue and have the capability for treating a variety of human diseases. Before stem cell treatments are developed, PDC researchers will determine the best conditions in which to grow these precious cells. PDC researchers will demonstrate their safety and effectiveness in the laboratory before patients receive stem cell treatments. For more information, visit http://www.