Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Dear friends of International Stem Cell Corporation (ISCO):
Since the press release of October 27, 2009 announcing that ISCO had collaborated with Reproductive Medicine Associates of New York to demonstrate that immature human eggs (oocytes) could be used in place of mature eggs to create the parthenotes that are the starting point for our stem cell lines, I have been swamped with questions.
They all boil down to the same question: “What does this mean?” That is a very fair question, so let me try to explain. Obtaining the unfertilized eggs that are needed to create parthenogenetic stem cell lines has been a problem, particularly in the US, for a simple reason. Even though only a few of the 10-20 eggs that are harvested as part of a typical IVF procedure are ever used, common practice, particularly in the US, has been to fertilize all the eggs the woman produces and freeze the excess. That can result in 10 or 15 frozen embryos that are never used, but the physicians running IVF clinics are reluctant to recommend to their patients that they withhold eggs from fertilization because they want to maximize the chance of obtaining successful implantation. That has made it difficult for ISCO and other researchers to obtain unfertilized eggs.
But there is another by-product of the IVF procedure. Among the mature eggs that are fertilized for use in the IVF procedure are a number of immature eggs that are unsuitable for transplant and could not be fertilized successfully to become babies. Until now, those were just medical waste, of no value to anyone. What our discovery means is that we may now be able to use these waste and immature eggs to produce cell lines that could result in cures for millions of people.
As you may recall if you have been following our company, one of our most important goals is to create a “bank” of stem cell lines that will match the immune systems of almost anyone on the globe. This is not like banking of umbilical cord blood, which benefits only the donor and her immediate family; it is instead analogous to a blood bank from which anyone can withdraw blood that his or her body will not reject. To create such a bank, we need donations of unfertilized eggs from women of widely diverse genetic backgrounds. Those are hard to obtain when physicians routinely fertilize all of a woman’s mature eggs. However, when all that is asked for is what is now considered waste tissue, it is very easy for both the physician and the mother-to-be to donate. Not only are they helping science and other people, they may get a stem cell line that is a perfect genetic match for themselves.
With that advantage, we at ISCO believe we have made a giant leap forward in our quest to make regenerative medicine available and affordable for everyone.