Taking stem cells to the clinic: Major challenges

J Cell Biochem. 2008 Dec 15;105(6):1352-60. doi: 10.1002/jcb.21957.


Stem cell therapy offers tremendous promise in the treatment of many incurable diseases. A variety of stem cell types are being studied but human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) appear to be the most versatile as they are pluripotent and can theoretically differentiate into all the tissues of the human body via the three primordial germ layers and the male and female germ lines. Currently, hESCs have been successfully converted in vitro into functional insulin secreting islets, cardiomyocytes, and neuronal cells and transfer of such cells into diabetic, ischaemic, and parkinsonian animal models respectively have shown successful engraftment. However, hESC-derived tissue application in the human is fraught with the problems of ethics, immunorejection, tumorigenesis from rogue undifferentiated hESCs, and inadequate cell numbers because of long population doubling times in hESCs. Human mesenchymal stem cells (hMSC) though not tumorigenic, also have their limitations of multipotency, immunorejection, and are currently confined to autologous transplantation with the genuine benefits in allogeneic settings not conclusively shown in large controlled human trials. Human Wharton's jelly stem cells (WJSC) from the umbilical cord matrix which are of epiblast origin and containing both hESC and hMSC markers appear to be less troublesome in not being an ethically controversial source, widely multipotent, not tumorigenic, maintain "stemness" for several serial passages and because of short population doubling time can be scaled up in large numbers. This report describes in detail the hurdles all these stem cell types have to overcome before stem cell-based therapy becomes a genuine reality.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomarkers / metabolism
  • Carcinogenicity Tests
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Humans
  • Mesenchymal Stem Cell Transplantation
  • Mesenchymal Stem Cells / metabolism
  • Stem Cell Transplantation*
  • Stem Cells / classification
  • Stem Cells / cytology*
  • Stem Cells / physiology*


  • Biomarkers