After more than two years of intensive ethical and scientific review, Harvard Stem Cell Institute (HSCI) researchers at Harvard and Children’s Hospital Boston have been cleared to begin experiments using Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer (SCNT) to create disease-specific stem cell lines in an effort to develop treatments for a wide range of now-incurable conditions afflicting tens of millions of people.

As far as is known, this decision marks the beginning of the first noncommercial effort in the United States to use human embryonic stem cells in a series of experiments whose principle has already been proven in animals.

The work is being entirely supported with private funds because of the federal restrictions on human embryonic stem cell work. If successful, it will mark a major step forward in the effort to use stem cells to treat chronic diseases.

The work will be conducted by two groups headed by HSCI senior investigators: Douglas Melton, co-director of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute and Thomas Dudley Cabot Professor of Natural Science in Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS), and HSCI principal faculty member Assistant Professor Kevin Eggan, of the FAS Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology; and Harvard Medical School Associate Professor George Daley of Children’s Hospital Boston, who has already begun some of his experiments.

Melton’s work will focus on diabetes; Eggan will initially work with Melton on diabetes, and then plans to focus on neurodegenerative diseases, such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) – better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Daley’s group will focus on blood disorders. Daley was one of the principal scientists who in 2002 demonstrated in a mouse model the feasibility of using SCNT to treat immune deficiency.