Outi Hovatta: “We're close to a treatment now”

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Outi HouvattaPlease tell us about your current research

“We have created more than 60 human embryonic stem cell lines at Karolinska Institutet. They are very capable cells that can be used to create many different cell types. These can in turn be used for many types of therapies in the future.”

How long until clinical treatment with embryonic stem cells is possible?

“Fairly soon. There is a group in Lund that is already treating patients with Parkinson’s disease with the aid of brain cells from aborted foetuses, but embryonic stem cells are a much better source and we are fairly close to getting them. At the moment we are developing, in collaboration with Anders Kvanta from St. Erik Eye Hospital, retinal pigment epithelium cells that can be transplanted to the eye in order to cure age-related macular degeneration, the most common form of blindness in developed countries. We have also received an EU grant to develop a treatment of the disease ALS but that is a bit further down the road.”

What is left to do before you have cells ready for clinical treatment?

“We already have the cells but they are not processed in accordance with good manufacturing practice, which is a very demanding procedure required by the authorities. This is a good thing, of course, as the quality and purity of the cells must be perfect before we start treating patients. But it's expensive, so at the moment we're looking for new funding.”

Name: Outi Hovatta

Title: Senior professor at the Department of Clinical Sciences, Intervention and Technology.

Motivation: Establishing cell lines that can be used to treat diseases that are currently incurable.  

As told to: Fredrik Hedlund, first published in the magazine Medical Science no 4, 2015.

Regenerative MedicineStem cells