Human embryonic stem cells will be tested in clinical trials as a treatment for two major devastating diseases: heart failure and type 1 diabetes. The research and development of treatments based on embryonic stem cells have been progressing very slowly over the past two decades because of their ethical controversy and fears that they may cause tumors after implantation. At the same time, these cells have enormous potential to become any body cell type and form any cell tissue.
Six patients with heart failure will receive treatments based on embryonic stem cells in France, while 40 people with type 1 diabetes in the US. The former will receive a patch of immature heart cells, while the latter – pouches of immature pancreatic cells.
The researchers hope that implanting heart patches will help regenerate heart muscle damaged after the heart attack. Monkey studies demonstrate the procedure might regenerate up to 20% of the damaged muscle within two months after the treatment. The pancreatic cells are expected to turn into insulin-producing beta-cells that are destroyed by the disease.
In recent trials, some patients with heart failure and diabetes have received experimental treatments with adult (often bone marrow) stem cells, some of them showing promising results. A recent review of 23 clinical trials with 1255 participants with heart diseases showed that the patients are less likely to die or have their condition worsening within one year after the stem cell treatments.
The researchers hope that treatments based on embryonic stem cells will be more effective than mesenchymal stem cells. And, although the above mentioned trials are designed mostly to check the safety, the researchers will also study any improvements in the participants due to the therapy.