November 6, 2018

November 6, 2018 marks the 20th anniversary of the seminal paper “Embryonic stem cell lines derived from human blastocysts,” published in Science. The paper documented a breakthrough that occurred when University of Wisconsin-Madison and WiNPRC scientist James Thomson, VMD, PhD, developed a technique to successfully isolate and culture human embryonic stem cells from patient-donated, lab-fertilized embryos.

Thomson was successful again in 2007 when he became the first to grow induced pluripotent stem cells. Induced pluripotent stem cells behave similarly to embryonic stem cells with their source being genetically reprogrammed mature cells, such as skin cells. Thomson derived this type of cell with WiNPRC scientist Junying Yu, publishing again in Science.

Scientists predicted both of these cell types could someday be useful for drug discovery and transplant medicine. Today, those predictions are coming true.

Embryonic and induced pluripotent stem cells can become virtually any cell in the body. Scientists and doctors study these cells and their derivatives to learn more about basic biology and genetic origins of disease. They also use them for cell, tissue and organ transplant studies, as well as for pharmaceutical testing and studying the effects of environmental toxins on human cells and tissues.

Both types of stem cells, which Thomson and other NPRC scientists advanced from rodents to nonhuman primates and then to humans in the 1990s, are already in early clinical trials for macular degeneration, spinal cord injury, heart disease, ALS and more. There are currently 27 clinical trials around the world involving embryonic stem cells and their derivatives. Another 42 trials involve the use of induced pluripotent stem cells.

These discoveries underscore the importance of basic science and are excellent examples of how basic science can lead to applied science, clinical trials, entrepreneurship and expanding business and industry. Globally, the market for products related to stem cell discoveries is projected to reach more than $270.5 billion by 2025, according to a 2017 Transparency Market Research report.

A whole new era of science and medicine sprung from those early 1990s discoveries with nonhuman primates. The NPRCs continue to advance research in both human and nonhuman primates involving embryonic stem cells, induced pluripotent stem cells, tissue-specific (adult) stem cells and gene editing of both stem cells and mature cells. We look forward to the cell and regenerative medicine discoveries that are still to come!


Back to top