A recent article in Review of Ophthalmology, by Senior Editor Christopher Kent, centers on the stem cell revolution and how it's in the process of fundamentally changing the treatment of eye disease. Parts of the article point specifically to International Stem Cell Corporation, and how the company is using human parthenogenetic stem cells, derived from unfertilized human eggs, to generate corneal tissue. In particular, the article quotes Jeffrey Janus, Sr. Vice President at ISCO, and Rusian Semechkin, PhD and Vice President of Research & Development for the company.
Dr. Semechkin points out that ISCO is approaching the development of corneal tissue from two different directions. In addition to deriving corneal tissue from stem cells, the company is directly deriving corneal endothelial-like cells from stem cells using a new differentiation method they've just developed. Dr. Semechkin heads the second approach and uses protocols developed by ISCO that can specify how stem cells behave. Dr. Semechkin indicates that they hope to ultimately generate a complete cornea, and notes that the company's parthenogenetic stem cells have several advantages over embryonic stem cells, one of which is immune-matching. Parthenogenetic stem cells created from individuals who carry a common immune type, or haplotype, can be made to match millions of people. Another advantage is that such cells do not involve the destruction of a human embryo, avoiding the associated ethical issue. Also, parthenogenetic stem cells can be genetically screened to ensure that they don't carry the genetic disorder that is being treated. For these reasons, Dr. Semechkin believes, importantly, that parthenogenetic stem cells will someday become the principal type of stem cells used.
Besides corneal tissue, Mr. Janus states that the company is also working on producing retinal tissue from parthenogenetic stem cells. The cornea is in the front of the eye, an area that is immune-privileged, meaning that it can tolerate the introduction of antigens without eliciting a harmful immune response. But the retina is in the back of the eye, an area of more vascularization, where there is a greater chance of immune rejection. It's possible that parthenogenetic stem cells, which can be immune-matched, may have an advantage in this area over embryonic stem cells that are not immune-matched.
For additional information on ISCO, visit the company's website at InternationalStemCell.com
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