2014 in cell therapy: Highs, Lows and a look ahead

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If 2014 is anything to go by, 2015 is set to be an exciting, potentially tumultuous year for the cell therapy field.

There are many ways the past year could be described – depending on what perspective one takes. For one, MoneyWeek called 2014 “a breakthrough” year for gene therapy. The Scientist also highlighted the biggest scientific successes of the past year in a news entry, as did the Scientific American in more general tones.

On the other end of the spectrum, in a post published at the end of last year highlighting what they considered to be the scientific setbacks of the past year, The Scientist singled out funding cuts and unclear regulations as main hurdles to the advancements of the stem cell therapy field.

And while funding cuts are unfortunate realities of the current research landscape across a number of fields, the FDA has in the past been criticized for poor regulation of clinics administering unregulated stem cell transplants, something that has been reported extensively on media as well as this blog. This has gone as far as to give rise to so-called “stem cell tourism.”

And while the biggest scandal of 2014, that of STAP cells all but confirmed as nonexistent, dominated the headlines, there have been significant new discoveries which are poised to propel the cell therapy field to new heights in the coming year.

One such breakthrough was brought to us as the very end of last year: F class cells. Pluripotency has dominated much of the research field in 2014, something we have also tried to keep up with on this blog. Now, a group of scientists claimed, in a series of 5 papers published in Nature and Nature Communications, to have discovered a new class of pluripotent cells, called F class cells. The group, led by Dr. Andras Nagy at Mount Sinai Hospital Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute in Toronto reported the reprogramming of mouse embryonic fibroblasts into pluripotent cells by delivering reprogramming genes via transposons. They also showed that by simply using the antibiotic doxycycline could turn these genes on or off. While the use of transposons is considered controversial, these studies were welcome arrivals at the tail end of a year that was marked with grand disappointments such as that of STAP.

In 2015, we will be closely monitoring the further development of this story, and high expectations will be placed on further regulatory developments, as well as the FDA and Big Pharma’s hopefully growing interest in supporting, funding and facilitating cell therapy treatments.

No matter how 2015 is going to shape up – we’ll no doubt be closely watching.

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