The first embryonic stem cells made for use in the clinic rather than for laboratory research have been deposited in the UK Stem Cell Bank.
The cells, produced at King’s College London, are entirely free of the animal-derived products such as serum, enzymes and “feeder cells” used to nourish earlier generations of embryonic cells.
The researchers and UK Stem Cell Bank say this is a milestone. “This first batch of cells is the culmination of nearly ten years of research funded strategically by the Medical Research Council that will keep the UK at the forefront of regenerative medicine”, Professor Peter Braude of King’s said.
The stem cell bank, based at the National Institute for Biological Standards and Control at Potter’s Bar in Hertfordshire, will carry out its own tests on the King’s cells to make sure that they are safe for use in patients. They will then be made freely available to researchers in the private and public sectors to develop stem cell treatments.
Embryonic stem cells – derived from unwanted embryos donated by patients who have completed IVF treatment – can be grown in the laboratory indefinitely, while retaining their capacity to develop into specialised cell types, such as nerve or heart muscle cells, for use in clinical trials. The stem cell bank already contains more than 90 ‘research grade’ stem cell lines.
Although early clinical trials have been carried out with embryonic stem cells, to treat spinal cord injury and blindness, the cells used were reclassified from ‘research grade’ to ‘clinical grade’ as a matter of expediency, Prof Braude said. “This route is not considered appropriate for the future of cell therapy. While it might be reasonable to incur additional risks for these early pioneering studies, it is not reasonable to accept these risks for the long-term future of cell therapy.”
Manchester University has also derived clinical-grade embryonic stem cells which it intends to deposit in the UK Stem Cell bank soon. Other UK universities, including Sheffield and Edinburgh, are believed to be doing the same, though Glyn Stacey, head of the stem cell bank, said he could not comment on their submissions, which are still confidential.