The emerging field of treatment called “regenerative medicine” or “cell therapy” refers to treatments that are founded on the concept of producing new cells to replace malfunctioning or damaged cells as a vehicle to treat disease and injury. Our focus is the development of effective methods to generate replacement cells from stem cells. Many significant and currently untreatable human diseases arise from the loss or malfunction of specific cell types in the body. This is especially true of diseases associated with aging such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, type II diabetes, heart failure, osteoarthritis, and aging of the immune system, known as immunosencence. This is also true for medical conditions resulting from damage to cells due to acute disease, such as trauma, infarction and burns. We believe that replacing damaged or malfunctioning cells with fully functional ones may be a useful therapeutic strategy in treating many of these diseases and conditions.
A stem cell is a cell that has the ability to branch out and change, or differentiate, into two or more different cell types. Stem cells are self-renewing primitive cells that have the ability to develop into functional, differentiated cells. In general, there are two broad categories of stem cells: adult stem cells and embryonic stem cells. Adult stem cells are derived from various tissues in the human body. Because they can branch out into many different cell types, they are referred to as “multipotent.” Multipotent means these cells develop into multiple, but not all, types of cells in the body. Embryonic stem cells, referred to as ES cells, which are derived from pre-implantation embryos, are unique because they are “pluripotent,” which means that they can develop into all cells and tissues in the body, and they self-renew indefinitely in their undifferentiated state. The ability of ES cells to divide indefinitely in the undifferentiated state without losing pluripotency is a unique characteristic that distinguishes them from all other stem cells discovered to date in humans. Because of the potential of ES cells, one of our primary efforts is the development and commercialization of ES cell based technologies.
Since the discovery of the human ES cell, medical researchers worldwide have generally recognized the significance of this new technology and have begun to focus research on the translation of this discovery into important new therapies. Specifically, researchers have focused on several key challenges including:
- isolating and purifying cell lines;
- growing stable cell lines in culture for long periods without mutations;
- manufacturing cell lines in numbers sufficient for therapy;
- differentiating ES cells into all of the cell types desired for therapies; and
- solving the potential rejection of ES cells used in therapies due to immuno-incompatibility with the patient.
We believe that solving the potential rejection of ES cells in patients is the greatest scientific obstacle to developing successful therapeutics. Our research and technologies are focused on solving this obstacle by creating stem cell therapeutics with compatible tissues. Compatible tissues are referred to as being histocompatible.