News archive 2003
First UK stem cell line generated at King’s13 Aug 2003, PR 58/03
A major breakthrough has been made by UK researchers at King's College London in the generation of new human embryonic stem (hES) cells.
The potential therapeutic value of hES in the treatment of many chronic debilitating diseases has captured the public and professional imagination, but these cells are rare and traditionally difficult to grow. However, King’s College London researchers based at Guy’s Hospital have reported in Reproductive Biomedicine Online* that they have generated new hES lines thanks to a different approach to hES derivation.
Dr Stephen Minger of King’s College London says; ‘We are very excited about this development. Human embryonic stem cells are found in the earliest stages of development and are capable of giving rise to all the different types of cell in the body. This means their possible therapeutic uses are almost endless and could help in the fight against diseases ranging from diabetes to Parkinson’s.’
The research has been made possible by some patients undergoing preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Assisted Conception Unit. Hospital. After genetic testing, embryos found to be unaffected by the specific serious genetic disorder for which they are at risk, are replaced into the patient in the hope of establishing a pregnancy free of the genetic disease. The remaining embryos, which may carry the disease-causing genes, are unsuitable for replacement and would normally be allowed to perish. It is cells from these early embryos (at the blastocyst stage at day five**) that were used for the generation of the stem cell lines.
From a total of 58 embryos, three stem cell populations have been derived. Although two were lost at an early stage, the remaining cell line has been growing for many months and has been substantially characterised. The team have shown it expresses two molecules unique to hES cells, as well a number of other genes commonly found in other stem cells.
Patients who donated embryos to the research went through an interview process with their doctor and discussed the specific types of research that would take place.
The group were one of the first two labs in the UK to be granted a license by Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority to generate hES cells. The license was granted in March 2002, just days after the House of Lords report recommended that embryonic stem cell research of this kind could go ahead.
The new line, derived by lead scientists Dr Susan Pickering and Dr Minger looks likely to be the first deposited in Europe’s new UK based stem cell bank, which was launched last year and eagerly awaits new hES cells from Britain.
There have been only a handful of hES cell lines generated from human embryos and it is essential for the larger goal of cellular replacement therapy for human diseases that additional hES cell lines are grown.
Professor Peter Braude of King’s College London, part of the stem cell team, said: ‘The UK stem cell bank is an idea worth supporting as it will allow maximum research by use of as few embryos as possible. We are proud of the particular way that our lines have been generated. We believe that the derivation has been wholly ethical as the blastocysts used would otherwise have been discarded.’
The researchers are part of a King’s College London stem cell consortium involved in all aspects of stem cell biology. They are the largest group in the UK and are investigating diabetes, heart disease, Parkinson’s disease, spinal cord injuries, allergy, blindness and more. This exciting new progress was funded by a research grant from the Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charitable Foundation.
Notes to editors
King's College London
King's is one of the oldest and largest colleges of the University of London with some 13,400 undergraduate students and over 5,000 postgraduates in ten schools of study. The College had 24 of its subject-areas awarded the highest rating of 5* and 5 for research quality, demonstrating excellence at an international level. It is in the top group of five universities for research earnings and has an annual turnover of over £300 million and research income from grants and contracts in excess of £90 million (2001-2002).
*Reproductive Biomedicine Online Edition
**Consisting of 60 – 100 cells.
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