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History of Stem Cell Research

Author: Ian Murnaghan BSc (hons), MSc - Updated: 22 October 2014 | commentsComment
Stem Cells Research History Organs Power

Stem cells have an interesting history that has been somewhat tainted with debate and controversy. In the mid 1800s it was discovered that cells were basically the building blocks of life and that some cells had the ability to produce other cells.

Attempts were made to fertilise mammalian eggs outside of the human body and in the early 1900s, it was discovered that some cells had the ability to generate blood cells.

In 1968, the first bone marrow transplant was performed to successfully treat two siblings with severe combined immunodeficiency. Other key events in stem cell research include:20px break

  • 1978: Stem cells were discovered in human cord blood
  • 1981: First in vitro stem cell line developed from mice
  • 1988: Embryonic stem cell lines created from a hamster
  • 1995: First embryonic stem cell line derived from a primate
  • 1997: Cloned lamb from stem cells
  • 1997: Leukaemia origin found as haematopoietic stem cell, indicating possible proof of cancer stem cells
In 1998, Thompson, from the University of Wisconsin, isolated cells from the inner cell mass of early embryos and developed the first embryonic stem cell lines. During that exact same year, Gearhart, from Johns Hopkins University, derived germ cells from cells in foetal gonad tissue; pluripotent stem cell lines were developed from both sources. Then, in 1999 and 2000, scientists discovered that manipulating adult mouse tissues could produce different cell types. This meant that cells from bone marrow could produce nerve or liver cells and cells in the brain could also yield other cell types. These discoveries were exciting for the field of stem cell research, with the promise of greater scientific control over stem cell differentiation and proliferation.

Bogus Findings

The unfortunate reality of this enormous breadth of information, however, is that scientists may fabricate studies and findings. This was the case in 2004 to 2005, when Hwang Woo-Suk, a Korean researcher, claimed to have produced human embryonic stem cell lines from unfertilised human eggs. The lines were eventually shown to be completely false and therefore fabricated, but the huge international scandal left the public doubtful and mistrusting of the scientific community.

More recently, in 2005, scientists at Kingston University in England were purported to have found another category of stem cells. These were named cord blood embryonic-like stem cells, which originate in umbilical cord blood. It is suggested that these stem cells have the ability to differentiate into more cell types than adult stem cells, opening up greater possibilities for cell-based therapies. Then, in early 2007, researchers led by Dr. Anthony Atala claimed that a new type of stem cell had been isolated in amniotic fluid. This finding is particularly important because these stem cells could prove to be a viable alternative to the controversial use of embryonic stem cells.

Over the last few years, national policies and debate amongst the public as well as religious groups, government officials and scientists have led to various laws and procedures regarding stem cell harvesting, development and treatment for research or disease purposes. The goals of such policies are to safeguard the public from unethical stem cell research and use while still supporting new advancements in the field.


Stem cell research has now progressed dramatically and there are countless research studies published each year in scientific journals. Adult stem cells are already being used to treat many conditions such as heart disease and leukaemia. Researchers still have a long way to go before they completely control the regulation of stem cells. The potential is overwhelmingly positive and with continued support and research, scientists will ideally be able to harness the full power of stem cells to Treat Diseases that you or a loved one may suffer from one day.

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@Yusef - I'm not sure about the first animal trial but the The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first clinical trial in the United States involving human embryonic stem cells on January 23, 2009. Ten patients suffering from spinal cord injuries participated in the trial. However, the trial was delayed by the FDA after cysts were found on mice previously injected with the cells. The aim was to see whether product derived from human embryonic stem cells, would stimulate nerve growth in patients with debilitating damage to the spinal cord. I hope this helps.
ExploreStemCells - 22-Oct-14 @ 2:18 PM
I want to ask about discovery of stem cells, first animal trial and first clinical trial on human. Thank you
Yusuf Syed - 22-Oct-14 @ 1:30 PM
Where are your sources? It seems as though it was done with little effort put into it (the spelling errors, the way it ended off, it's missing a lot of information). Please fix this, students may end up using incorrect information
amaad - 22-Oct-14 @ 1:27 PM
Where are your sources? It seems as though it was done with little effort put into it (the spelling errors, the way it ended off, it's missing a lot of information). Please fix this, students may end up using incorrect information
dgdsfbgf - 22-Sep-14 @ 3:18 PM
is this true ? or is this really sure because im going to report something on this part , about how the SCT had begun pls answer me . thanks well
coline - 9-Aug-14 @ 2:13 PM
I want to know which is the best place in india or in world for stemcell therapy for musculer dystrophy
Manoj Jain - 6-Jul-14 @ 9:35 AM
still more researches had to b carried out and lot of awareness must b created...
sri - 19-Mar-14 @ 7:13 PM
step cells saved my life!!!!!!!
jimmy - 25-Feb-14 @ 3:19 PM
So, is stem cell research a continuation of cell therapy?
deedee - 24-Jan-14 @ 11:36 AM
I want to ask about discovery of stem cells, first animal trial and first clinical trial on human. Thank you
arwa - 24-May-13 @ 4:39 PM
Thank you so much for the information on this site. It gave me plenty of information but who discovered stem cells? And when did they discover them?
GINGERGIRL3 - 25-Nov-12 @ 1:04 AM
Would you happen to the origins of stem cell research/therapy? And who first discovered it?
zeddiesty - 23-Oct-12 @ 4:40 AM
@VTP - you mean British people, the originators of the English language spell words like fertilise correctly. I'm guessing you're American and can't understand how anything else could possibly be correct.
britishandproud - 29-May-12 @ 8:58 PM
You have a lot of spelling errors. You may want to fix them if you'd like to be taken seriously.
VTP - 29-May-12 @ 7:01 PM
I would like to say that this is a great website. In my biology class, I am making a brochure about stem cells and I have found that this website is a great source of information.
Biogirl - 12-Nov-11 @ 4:58 PM
Do you know who was the first person to introduce the idea of stem cells curing all these diseases?
Searcher - 5-May-11 @ 10:40 PM
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