The Atlantic(DEC 28 2012), 2013: Year of the Stem Cell
For the macular degeneration trials, the goal isn't to restore vision to the blind, but to prevent disease-related degeneration to begin with. Since they haven't seen any adverse effects in their trial patients, explained Robert Lanza, the chief scientific officer at ACT, they're moving to inject stem cells into patients at much early stages of disease who still have relatively good eyesight, with the goal of keeping it from getting any worse. In a different approach to the same condition, StemCells, Inc. has also initiated a trial that uses neural stem cells in patients with dry age-related macular degeneration.
In all future trials, ACT will also be using its patented "embryo-safe" technique, which allows them to biopsy a single cell from an embryo -- similar to what's done in pre-implantation genetic diagnosis during the IVF process -- and then replicate that cell ad infinitum. Lanza, whose accent renders him unequivocally Bostonian, was all but obligated to put it this way: "If you consider that cell to be one Red Sox fan, we can actually, from there, create enough to fill all of Fenway Park."
They're also in the process of filing with the FDA to begin trials with platelets derived from pluripotent stem cells, as an alternative to the embryonic blood transfusions currently in use. After establishing safety, the next phase, which would begin sometime in the first half of 2013, will use blood or skin cells derived directly from the patient -- who would then become his or her own blood donor, and thus eliminating the need for transfusions.