Although stem cell therapy has been used for over 40 years, it still holds enormous untapped potential for both science and medicine. Adult stem cell therapies already exist, notably in the form of bone marrow transplants used to treat leukaemia. In the future, medical researchers anticipate being able to use technologies derived from stem cell research to treat serious debilitating diseases for which no treatments are currently available, including Parkinson's disease and spinal cord injuries. Standing still is not an option for the EU in this hugely promising and increasingly competitive field.
Stem cells have two fundamental properties that make them particularly interesting for medical research: They can divide indefinitely and produce identical copies of themselves. They can also differentiate and produce more specialised cell types. Stem cell therapy is already proving its therapeutic potential with the first European-developed therapy based on human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) approved in 2012 by the European Medicines Agency for a treatment for age-related macular degeneration, a cause of sight loss and blindness. The European Pharmaceutical industry is supporting medical progress with the creation of a stem cell bank by the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI), the world’s largest public-private partnership.
Stem cell research remains a controversial issue, especially in relation to human embryonic stem cells. These are particularly promising because they bear unlimited potential to produce specialised cells, which suggests enormous possibilities for disease research and for providing new therapies. No other type of stem cell can currently entirely replace embryonic stem cells. Despite these benefits, there are strong lines of divisions throughout EU Member States on the issue of stem cell research. Currently, not all EU Member States allow embryonic stem cell research and many of these countries are pushing for its exclusion from EU budget lines. EFPIA believes that these concerns should be balanced with the needs of patients for new medicines and vaccines.
To leave the situation as it currently stands is not viable in the long-term, as future research in this area holds the promise of treating serious debilitating diseases for which currently no treatments are available – such as Parkinson’s or heart disease. Additionally, to close down such a vital avenue of research would be a massive blow to European science and innovation. In the case of stem cells, we are no longer talking about nebulous promises for the future, but about therapies within tangible reach. Relocation of this research will not make it disappear; it will just slow access for European patients to the fruits of this research.
Sir John Gurdon and Shinya Yamanaka won the 2012 Nobel Prize of medicine for their work on the reprogramming of adult cells back into embryo-like stem cells that can be used as replacement tissue for damaged brain or heart cells. In the long-term, the discovery could lead to the creation of replacement tissues for treating diseases like Parkinson’s or diabetes.
""The discoveries have shown that specialized cells can turn back the developmental clock under certain circumstances. These discoveries have also provided new tools for scientists around the world and led to remarkable progress in many areas of medicine." "
The prize committee at Stockholm's Karolinska Institute stated.