Stem cells – progress on all fronts

Stem cell research has had another eventful week, with interesting developments on the regulatory and corporate fronts, as well as in the lab.

On Monday the Obama administration released the final version of the rules under which federal funding can be released through the National Institutes of Health to support embryonic stem cell research.

As expected, lobbying by the US scientific community has paid off. The rules are more permissive than the surprisingly restrictive version that the administration originally proposed in April, following President Obama’s pledge to loosen his predecessor’s harsh limits on NIH funding.

US researchers will be able to work with hundreds of stem cell lines derived from surplus IVF embryos, rather than the 21 approved by the Bush administration. But there is still a lot that NIH will not be allowed to fund, including the creation of new embryos specifically for research – for example through therapeutic cloning. Such work will have to rely on private, charitable or state funding.

A potentially important new company emerged this week: iPierian. It is a combination of two stem cell start-ups, iZumi and Pierian, lubricated with an additional $11.5m in new venture funding.

iPierian will focus on induced pluripotent stem cells – iPSCs – the embryonic-like cells produced by reprogramming adult cells, which have been the focus of much stem cell research over the past couple of years. The company aims to produce “disease-specific” cells from patients with neurodegenerative diseases, which can then be used to develop drugs to treat these diseases.

A powerful positive for iPierian is the reputation of its scientific founders and advisors, who include some of Harvard’s top stem cell scientists such as George Daley, Douglas Melton and Lee Rubin.

Sperm made from embryonic stem cell

Sperm made from embryonic stem cell

The week’s most striking scientific news was released in the UK, where Karim Nayernia and colleagues at Newcastle University announced the creation of human sperm from embryonic stem cells. Although other researchers cast some doubt on whether the sperm were as mature and functional as Nayernia claimed, the work undoubtedly has great potential for the study – and eventually the treatment – of male infertility.

The world of research

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Clive Cookson, the FT's science editor, picks out the research that everyone should know about, in fields from astronomy to zoology. He also discusses key policy issues, from R&D funding to science education. He'll cover the weird and wonderful, as well as the serious side of science.