This March, Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) created a new Center for Embryonic Cell and Gene Therapy. The facility will be focused in part on advancing the work of Shoukhrat Mitalipov, one of the world’s leading researchers on embryonic stem cells. Mitalipov has been working for years on two promising areas of stem cell science.
The first research area is a gene therapy for women with diseases stored in DNA located in their mitochondria. Mitalipov’s lab has developed a technique to extract the nucleus from a cell with damaged mitochondrial DNA, and implant it in a cell with healthy mitochondria. The process would allow most of the mother’s DNA to be inherited by her child, without the risk of the mitochondrial diseases. Mitalipov hopes to begin clinical trials of the procedure, and the FDA is in the process of deciding whether to approve the technique soon. Some critics have ethical and medical concerns about creating an embryo with DNA from three different people.
The second area, which has garnered even more attention, is the field of embryonic stem cell cloning. Last May, Mitalipov’s lab became the first team to create human embryonic stem cells by cloning — a breakthrough that was highlighted by Nature, Discover, Science, and National Geographic as one of the most significant science stories of the year. Now Miltalipov’s lab is trying to figure out how to further that field of research.
We’ll check in with Mitalipov to hear about his hopes for his areas of research, and where he thinks the future holds for stem cell science and gene therapy.