Clinical trials using embryonic stem cells to begin in China
A clinical trial scheduled to begin in the next few months will be the first in China to use human embryonic stem (ES) cells, and the first one worldwide aimed at treating Parkinson’s disease using ES cells from fertilized embryos. In a second trial starting around the same time, a different team in China will use ES cells to target vision loss caused by age-related macular degeneration.
The experiments will also represent the first clinical trials of ES cells under regulations that China adopted in 2015, in an attempt to ensure the ethical and safe use of stem cells in the clinic. China previously had no clear regulatory framework, and many companies had used that gap as an excuse to market unproven stem cell treatments.
Both studies will take place at the First Affiliated Hospital of Zhengzhou University in Henan province. In the first, surgeons will inject ES cell-derived neuronal-precursor cells into the brains of individuals with Parkinson’s disease. The only previous trial using ES cells to treat Parkinson’s began last year in Australia; participants there received stem cells from parthenogenetic embryos — unfertilized eggs that are triggered in the lab to start embryonic development.
In the other Zhengzhou trial, surgeons will take retinal cells derived from ES cells and transplant them into the eyes of people with age-related macular degeneration. The team will follow a similar procedure to that of previous ES-cell trials carried out by researchers in the United States and South Korea.
Qi Zhou, Ph.D., a stem cell specialist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute of Zoology in Beijing, is leading both efforts.