History of Cell Therapy

History of Stem Cell Therapy

Cell Therapy is the transplantation of human cells to replace or repair damaged tissue and/or cells. With new technologies, innovative products, and limitless imagination, different cell types e.g., hematopoietic (blood-forming) stem cells, mesenchymal cellsMesenchymal stem cells are rare cells mainly found in the bone marrow or in adipose (fat) tissue that can give rise to a large number of tissue types such as bone, cartilage (the lining of joints), fat tissue and connective tissue (tissue that is in between organs and structures in the body). from adipose (fat) or bone marrow tissue etc  are being used in therapies or researched for their potential to treat a variety of diseases and medical conditions.

Potential cell therapy applications currently subject to research and clinical use include:

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Cancers
  • Wound healing
  • Autoimmune disease
  • Orthopedic
  • Neurologic disorders, etc

Stem cell research began in the 1800’s with the discovery that some cells can generate other cell types and by the early 1900’s the first real stem cells were discovered when it was found that there were cells that generated different types of blood cells.

1959: The First Bone Marrow Transplant

In 1959, the first bone marrow transplant was done in an attempt to treat victims of irradiation. While that first transplant was not successful, the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center led by E. Donnall Thomas, followed this with pioneering work using bone marrow cells to treat leukemia and other blood disorders.  The first successful bone marrow cell transplant was done in 1968 and since then has become the standard of care for the treatment of leukemia and other blood disorders.

A bone marrow transplant is actually a stem cell treatment because the stem cells are separated from the bone marrow tissue.  There are two types of stem cells in bone marrow, hematopoetic, which produce new blood cells and mesenchymel, which differentiate into many different tissues of the body including bone, skin and adipose. Both types of cells have shown substantial therapeutic benefit for the appropriate medical condition.

1970’s: Limbal Cells Used for Corneal Transplants

In the 1970’s, limbal cells, which are stem cells harvested from an area of the eye near the cornea, were taken from a healthy patient or donor eye, to assist in corneal transplants. Since that time it is estimated 500,000 limbal cell treatments have been done.

1978: In Vitro Fertilization

Over the years, innovative stem cell solutions continued with in vitro fertilization. This is the most basic stem cell treatment with the first baby conceived by this method being born in 1978.

1997: Autologous Stem Cell for Repairing Knee Cartilage Damage

In 1997, Genzyme received the first approval for an autologous (from oneself) stem cell product, Carticel®, used to repair certain types of knee cartilage damage. Over 10,000 procedures have been done with Carticel® and 1500-3000 are now, reportedly, done annually.

In 1998, James Thompson isolated stem cells from embryos. Embryonic stem cells have controversial issues coming from a fetus as well as medical issues i.e. they have been found to grow tumors in some instances, thus their use can be challenging on several levels.

2001: UCLA Researcher Discovers that Adipose (Fat) Tissue Contains Abundant Stem Cells

In 2001, UCLA researcher Dr. Marc Hedrick discovered that adipose (fat) tissue contains the most abundant and accessible source of stem cells in the body.  Adipose tissue, like bone marrow, contains a mixed population of stem and regenerative cells. These cells have shown the potential to solve a wide variety of unmet medical needs, particularly ischemic conditions. Over 4,000 patients have been treated for a variety of conditions using adipose-derived cells.

2006: Induced Pluripotent Cells Are First Produced

Induced Pluripotent Cells (IPSCs) are adult stem cells that have been physically modified to behave like embryonic stem cells.  These cells were first produced in 2006 with mice and by 2007 human cells were created.  If these cells can be shown to have the safety of adult stem cells with the potential to differentiate into any kind of cell in the body like embryonic cells do they could have an enormous impact on the cell therapy field.  As of this writing that looks to be many years away.

2011: FDA Approval of Allogeneic Hematopoietic Stem Cell Product for Transplantation

In November 2011, HEMACORD™ gained the first ever FDA approval of an allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell product for transplantation. (Hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) are multipotent stem cells that give rise to all the blood cell types.)  HEMACORD™ was developed by the New York Blood Center.  According to the Food and Drug Administration’s notification to New York Blood Center, HEMACORD™ is “indicated for use in unrelated donor hematopoietic progenitor cell transplantation procedures in patients with disorders affecting the hematopoietic system that are inherited, acquired, or result from treatment.”


Comparison of Allogeneic vs Autologous Bone Marrow–Derived Mesenchymal Stem Cells Delivered by Transendocardial Injection in Patients With Ischemic Cardiomyopathy: The POSEIDON Randomized Trial

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