Analysis: Stem-cell therapies advance

UPI Senior Medical Correspondent

WASHINGTON, June 28 (UPI) -- Experts said Wednesday scientists are making progress in the potential to use both embryonic and adult stem cells to treat heart disease, and clinical applications are expected soon.

Deepak Srivastava, director of the University of California at San Francisco's Gladstone institute of cardiovascular disease, told United Press International embryonic stem cells hold the greatest promise for regenerating heart tissue and could be in the clinic in the next several years.

"There's a lot more that needs to be done in animal trials first before considering clinical trials ... but maybe within the next five years is a reasonable goal," said Srivastava, who co-authored an article that appears in the June 29 issue of Nature.

He said embryonic stem cells hold "a lot of promise" for being used to treat heart disease and scientists have made great strides in understanding how to direct the cells to become heart cells. The next challenge is ensuring they integrate properly with the existing heart cells once they are transplanted into the body, he said.

"The problem with the adult stem cells is that they're very limited in number and their capacity to regenerate significant portions of tissue," he said.

It's conceivable adult stem cells could eventually prove beneficial for replacing heart tissue "but the route to that is not as clear, whereas the route to taking embryonic stem cells and encouraging them to become heart cells, that path is pretty clear," he said.

Robert Lanza, vice president of medical and scientific affairs at Advanced Cell Technology in Worcester, Mass., said his company plans to get embryonic stem cell-derived therapies for heart disease in the clinic even earlier.

"Optimistically, we plan to file an IND in 2008 for hemangioblasts derived from human embryonic stem cells," Lanza told UPI. "One of the lead applications would be cardiovascular disease," he added.

Lanza said his company's first IND for a therapy derived from embryonic stem cell therapy could be filed late next year, but that would be for macular degeneration.

His company plans to arrange a meeting with the Food and Drug Administration about their intended INDs "very soon," he said.