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Hopkins Research Team Cultures Long-Awaited Human Embryonic Stem Cells

"The potential of these unique, versatile cells for human biologic studies and medicine is enormous"

A team of scientists has isolated and identified human stem cells and proved them capable of forming the fundamental tissues that give rise to distinct human cells such as muscle, bone and nerve. This feat has for decades been one of basic science's holy grails, and while scientists have found stem cells in mice and higher animals, this is believed to be the first time researchers have cultured human embryonic stem cells.

"The potential of these unique, versatile cells for human biologic studies and medicine is enormous," says John Gearhart, Ph.D., a professor of obstetrics/gynecology and of physiology who led the mostly Johns Hopkins research team. "These cells will rapidly let us study human processes in a way we couldn't before. Instead of having to rely on mice or other substitutes for human tissues, we'll have a unique resource that we can start applying to medicine."

The Hopkins research is reported in this month's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. A related success, but one reached by a different path, is described by a University of Wisconsin team in a study in this week's Science. (The Science issue includes a commentary by Gearhart.)

The key to stem cells' importance rests in their lack of specialization. They're basic cells present in the earliest stages of developing embryos. They spark all the types of cells in a developing organism, while they themselves keep the ability to reproduce continuously.

"Not only should scientists be able to generate specific nerve, muscle, skin or other cells for transplantation, but we should also be able to alter these cells, as has been done in mouse studies, to reduce the likelihood of rejection. We could make universal donors. More specific cells could become transplant therapies for diabetes, spinal cord injury, neurodege
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Contact: Marjorie Centofanti
mcentofanti@jhmi.edu
410-955-8725
Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions
6-Nov-1998


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