Posted on October 4, 2017

Embryonic Stem Cell Research: China Starts First Clinical Trials 

Science has shown that embryonic stem cells hold the potential keys to unlock cures for disease states. China has started their first clinical trials using these stem cells as a way to address Parkinson’s disease.  

 China has initiated what may be a new beginning in research using embryonic stem cells. They are undertaking two clinical trials to address some of the most serious medical conditions. The first will involve injecting ESCs (embryonic stem cells) into the brains of Parkinson’s patients in Zhengzhou, China, with a goal to monitor the approximate four million ESCs as a treatment for Parkinson’s symptoms.   

A second trial in Zhengzhou, is making use of ESCs to target age-related blindness that is caused by macular degeneration. The hope is that the ESCs will replace those retinal cells that have been lost due to age.  

The introduction of both of these clinical trials is due to the opening of regulations in China in using ESCs, which were very vague regarding the use of ESC studies. In an interview with ‘Nature’, Pei Xuetao, stem-cell scientist at the Beijing Institute of Transfusion Medicine indicated his opinion for ESC’s: “It will be a major new direction for China”. Xuetao is a member of the central-government committee responsible for ESC trial approval.  

But not everyone is in support of ESC trials nor are they convinced that they will show any level of success. Jeanne Loring, stem cell biologist at Scripps Research Institute indicated that she is not sure that the selection of cell in the trial for Parkinson’s disease is specialized enough for the results that the scientists want to achieve. In an interview with ‘Nature’, Loring stated: “Not knowing what the cells will become is troubling.”  Lorenz Studer is another stem-cell biologist and his experience at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center has allowed him years in characterizing the types of neurons to assist in preparing for his own clinical trials. Studer also interviewed with ‘Nature’ and his indication on the ESC precursor cells is “support is not very strong”…..” I am somewhat surprised and concerned, as I have not seen any peer-reviewed preclinical data on this approach.” 

However, these attitudes are not shared by the research teams in China who are confident about their approach and plans. Qi Zhou, stem cell specialist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute of Zoology, has led both of the trials involving ESCs and indicated that their trials using animals have thus far been promising. He contributed his opinion to “Nature” by saying “We have all of the imaging data, behavioral data, and molecular data to support efficacy.”  

Western medicine has thus far veered away from ESC research and this has been due to a number of ethical and religious reasons. It may take a country such as China to embark on this particular journey and if their results prove positive, it could be an entirely new topic that will be required to be addressed in Western medicine. Stem cell research may be the next step to dealing with and even curing some of the disease states that affect the world and these trials may be an introduction into another entire realm.  

 

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