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The Promise of Stem Cell Research: Recent Advancements and Setbacks

Few technologies spark as much fascination, hype, and controversy as stem cell technology. One of the most interesting medical applications of stem cell research is in regenerative medicine, where stem cells are being developed to regenerate tissue and repair failing organs. Perhaps the most befitting symbol for this emerging technology is the Greek god, Prometheus, whose immortal liver was feasted on day after day by Zeus’ eagle and day after day was able to regenerate. The leading minds in science and medicine today hope to make this legendary concept of regeneration into reality, but hurdles abound.

The excitement about stem cell research and its potentially transformative therapeutic applications is evidenced by the large investments into research that have been made by companies, governments, and universities around the world. Significant unmet needs associated with chronic diseases have catalyzed this investment. In contrast to the symptomatic-focused treatment offered by conventional therapeutics, stem cell therapies offer potentially curative treatments for many diseases that arise as a result of damage to terminally differentiated cells. High market potential for both embryonic and adult stem cell therapies has resulted in strategic partnerships between large pharmaceutical companies and stem cell research-based companies, such as the agreement between Athersys and Pfizer to develop and market MultiStem for the treatment of Inflammatory Bowel Disease. Pharmaceutical companies are also interested in exploring the various methods in which stem cells could be utilized in the drug discovery process to accelerate the discovery of novel and safe drugs. Illustrative of this interest, GlaxoSmithKline, AstraZeneca, and Roche teamed together to form a consortium with the UK government to develop stem cells for safety testing of new drugs.Continue reading…

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