Stem cells are shown to be quite promising in the world of regenerative medicine, with the potential to treat a wide array of human diseases. However, stem cell therapy isn’t exactly uncharted territory. Surgeons have been performing bone marrow stem cell transplants for decades now. But, when scientists led by James Thomson discovered how to effectively derive stem cells from human embryos in 1998, few anticipated how quickly the ethics debate would ensue.
One of the main roadblocks has been the numerous moral implications regarding the use of human embryos. Thankfully, International Stem Cell Corporation (ISCO) developed and patented a technology that successfully evaded this controversy in 2006 when they derived the first human parthenogenetic stem cells (hpSC).
While other approaches have presented various limitations, this new class of stem cells, derived from chemically stimulated unfertilized human oocytes (egg cells), does not involve the destruction of a viable human embryo. Human parthenogenetic stem cells are capable of limitless division, differentiation into all cell types and a vast array of medical applications. The parthenogenesis technology can also help immune-match more patients and avoid graft rejection after transplantation.
In fact, ISCO’s technology has been utilized by researchers around the world, opening the door to new innovative therapies.
In Israel, for example, scientists from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Columbia University Medical Center, and The New York Stem Cell Foundation Research Institute, have managed to generate a new type of human parthenogenetic stem cell that carries a sole copy of the human genome (haploid), instead of the two copies often found in normal stem cells (diploid).
The findings are significant since they are the first human cells that are known to be capable of cell division using just one copy of the parent cell’s genome, or a single set of 23 chromosomes.
One of the advantages of using haploid human cells is that it is relatively uncomplicated to edit their genes and study their direct biological implications. In diploid cells, it is more challenging to detect the biological effects of a single-copy mutation because there are two copies of a gene. The other copy is normal and serves as a “backup.”
Researchers from The Chinese Academy of Sciences have also made sizable contributions to wider research regarding the use of parthenogenesis. These scientists were the second group in the world, after ISCO, to have a human pluripotent stem cell-based clinical trial approved for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease. Interestingly, they also use differentiated derivatives from human parthenogenetic stem cells to treat this neurodegenerative disease.
ISCO’s clinical trial in Parkinson’s disease is currently advancing according to plan and generating promising results. A six-month clinical trial update of the second cohort will be announced soon and results of the study will also be presented at Neuroscience 2018.
As you can see, parthenogenesis is not only growing in popularity, but it has shown to be one of the most viable avenues for the treatment of disorders ranging from Parkinson’s disease to diabetes and everything in between.