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First UK human embryo stem cell success

14 August 2003
By BioNews
Appeared in BioNews 221

Researchers at King's College in London have succeeded in growing the UK's first human embryo stem cell-line, it was reported last week. 'We are very excited about this development' said team leader Stephen Minger, adding that human embryonic stem cells 'are capable of giving rise to all the different types of cell in the body' and so their possible therapeutic uses are 'almost endless'. The researchers plan to deposit the cell-line in Europe's new stem cell bank, which is based in the UK.

The cell-line was created using stem cells taken from embryos donated by couples undergoing PGD (preimplantation genetic diagnosis ) - an embryo screening technique used to select embryos free from a specific serious genetic disease. The researchers used affected embryos at the blastocyst stage (five days old), which would otherwise have been discarded, as a source of stem cells. From a total of 58 embryos, they initially managed to establish three stem cell-lines. Two of these were lost at an early stage, but the third has now been growing for many months. The researchers have also shown that two crucial genes, called Oct-4 and Nanog, are active in the cells. Both these genes are only usually switched on in embryo stem cells, and not in other, more specialised types of cell. Details of the research will appear in the journal Reproductive Biomedicine Online.

Team member Peter Braude said he was proud of the way the cells had been obtained, saying he believes that 'the derivation has been wholly ethical as the blastocysts used would have been destroyed anyway'. It is also thought that the use of embryos left over from PGD treatment, rather than IVF treatment as in other attempts, increased the likelihood of the procedure succeeding. Minger says that the group are now interested in using the cells to develop new treatments for Type 1 diabetes and Parkinson's disease. He hopes to change the embryo stem cells into cells that produce insulin or dopamine respectively, to create therapeutic cells to transplant into patients.

The first embryo stem cell-line was created in the US in 1999. Since then researchers in several other countries, including Australia, India, Sweden and - reported Nature earlier this month - the Czech Republic, have also grown the elusive cells. After a lengthy regulatory process, UK scientists were given the go-ahead to derive embryo stem cells for research into disease treatments in March 2002. The King's College laboratory received one of the first two licences to carry out such research, which are granted by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA).

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Nature |  7 August 2003
First UK stem cell line generated at King's
King's College London |  13 August 2003
Human embryonic stem cells grown in UK
New Scientist |  13 August 2003
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