YOKOHAMA, JAPAN—For more than a decade, stem cell therapies have been touted as offering hope for those suffering from genetic and degenerative diseases. The promise took another step toward reality last week with announcements here at the annual meeting of the International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR) that two groups are moving forward with human clinical research, one focusing on a rare genetic neurological disease and the other for the loss of vision in the elderly.
StemCells Inc. of Newark, California, reported encouraging results of an initial human trial using human neural stem cells to treat Pelizaeus-Merzbacher disease (PMD). PMD is a progressive and fatal disorder in which a genetic mutation inhibits the normal growth of myelin, a protective material that envelopes nerve fibers in the brain. Without myelin, nerve signals are lost, and the patient, usually an infant, suffers degenerating motor coordination and other neurological symptoms. In her presentation, Ann Tsukamoto, StemCells' vice president for research, said the company chose to test its neural stem cell approach on PMD because there is currently no treatment for the condition and a diagnosis can be confirmed by genetic testing and magnetic resonance imaging. "This creates an opportunity for early intervention when it can best help."
The company has created banks of highly purified neural stem cells that are isolated from adult neural tissue. Injected into rodents, the cells don't form tumors; rather, they migrate through the animals' brains, where they differentiate into various types of neural cells including the cells that create the myelin that protects nerve fibers. When neural stem stems were injected into in mice, they showed "
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