November 6, 2020

It’s been 25 years since University of Wisconsin-Madison scientist James Thomson, VMD, PhD, was the first in the world to isolate and culture primate embryonic stem cells. He accomplished this breakthrough with nonhuman primates (NHPs) at the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center (NPRC) in 1995, using rhesus monkey cells, and again in 1996 with marmoset cells. Thomson then published his world-changing breakthrough on human embryonic stem cell derivation in Science Nov. 6, 1998.

From these early discoveries, stem cell research has advanced to human clinical trials for treating both age-related and juvenile macular degeneration, heart disease, blood and immune system cancers, skin wounds, hearing disorders, spinal cord injury, graft-versus-host disease and more. Just as Thomson predicted in the 1990s, NHPs, which were instrumental to basic stem cell research 25 years ago, are now in demand for a wealth of preclinical studies necessary before human clinical trials can begin.

Thanks to advances in pluripotent stem cell research and also gene-editing, researchers are also making progress in understanding the underlying causes of Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, pregnancy disorders, sickle-cell anemia, autoimmune diseases, cartilage regeneration and much more. Universities and medical institutions today have well-established stem cell and regenerative medicine centers to help bring researchers and resources together to advance the field and educate the next generation of stem cell scientists, doctors, educators, business people and policy makers.

The main uses of stem cells today include basic research to understand the human body, discovering the genetic origins of disease, growing new cells and tissues for transplant medicine, and growing cells and tissues for testing pharmaceuticals in the lab before animal and human trials begin. Stem cell research is helping animals, too. Pets as well as research animals at the NPRCs naturally get cancer, diabetes, arthritis and other diseases that stem cell therapies may be able to treat.

It’s important to make sure therapies are based on well-designed and thorough clinical trials. The Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently cracked down on a number of rogue stem cell clinics that have offered untested, unapproved and even potentially dangerous medical interventions. Only a licensed physician with a patient under his or her direct care should recommend any stem cell therapy or other medical treatment.

Thanks to stem cell research breakthroughs pioneered at the NPRCs – and advanced by many researchers and doctors who have joined the field since – we are finally unraveling the mysteries of cell biology from early development through aging as never before. Read more here.

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