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Top-grade stem cells boosting research trials

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British scientists have made the first human embryonic stem cells of a high enough grade to use in patients and deposited them in a public stem cell bank for development in human trials by drug companies and researchers by 2014.

A team from King’s College London said on Monday they were submitting two clinicalgrade stem cell lines to the UK Stem Cell Bank (UKSBC), which will test and validate them before offering them to researchers.

This could speed the path towards new stem-cell treatments for conditions like blindness, severe injury or heart disease.

“This first batch of cells is the culmination of nearly 10 years of research. This is a significant milestone,” said Peter Braude, who led the King’s team.

The cells are the first to be grown completely free from animal-derived products, known as “xeno-free,” and developed specifically to be of clinical grade and for public use.

The hope is that the cells will be grown and processed by the bank to feed cell stocks for human trials and, beyond that, patient treatments.

The cells have the potential to become the “gold standard” lines for developing new stem cell based therapies for use in regenerative medicine trials in patients, Braude told reporters at a briefing.

It is likely to be many years before treatments are fully developed and licensed, but the cells could be used in human trials of potential therapies by 2014, the team said.

Stem cells are the body’s master cells, the source for all other cells. Scientists say they could transform medicine, providing treatments for blindness, spinal cord and other severe injuries, as well as generating cells for damaged organs.

By Kate Kelland, Reuters
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