Stem Cells: potential and great challenges – University of Copenhagen

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08 September 2016

Stem Cells: potential and great challenges

Interview

In an interview to the Danish Medical Doctors’ Weekly Magazine, ‘Ugeskrift for Læger’, (http://ugeskriftet.dk/), DanStem Executive Director, Professor Henrik Semb is commenting on the potential of stem cell research and the great challenges for future treatment.

In this interview, DanStem Executive Director, Professor Henrik Semb is commenting on the potential of stem cell research and the great challenges for future treatment. 

The journey began with a breakthrough made by James Thomson back in 1989 when deriving the first human embryonic stem cell (SC) line, and continued in 2006, where Japanese researchers developed a method to reprogram any adult cell into a pluripotent stem cell; called iPSC (induced Pluripotent Stem Cell). The discoveries gave rise to the hope for repairing and treating diseases by regenerating or replacing missing or non-functional cells e.g. in diabetes or Parkinson’s disease.

Currently there are promising results of medical applications in regenerative medicine. Researchers are now getting closer to the first human trials, although the way from the initial clinical trials for approved treatment is expected to be long.

Henrik Semb, who is specialized in basic stem cell research, says that stem cells are important for treating diseases like cancer and diabetes and he explains why it takes so long to start medical trial:

“We have underestimated how hard it is to get the pluripotent cells to specialize. Instructing the cell and adding the appropriate growth factors at the right time and in the correct doses to control the process, is very complicated and we do not yet know quite how it happens naturally in the embryo”, explains Professor Semb.

“In the case of diabetes the current challenge is to get large amounts of stem-cell derived insulin-producing beta cells, so we will have sufficient functional cells to transplant into patients.”

Henrik Semb’s vision is that now, after 20 years of basic research, scientists are ready to move into clinical trials and develop therapies for type one diabetes patients. “It will take at least two years, until we can test it in humans, and we predict that new questions will arise afterwards where we shall go back to the lab until all problems will be solved.”

“Stem cells have great potential, but they will not solve all medical problems,” summarizes Professor Henrik Semb.

The article was published on the ‘Ugeskrift for Læger’ magazine, Nr. 18/2016, September 6, 2016


Read more about: Stem Cells and Diabetes