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The first pioneering operation in 1956 was over 50 years ago; today, more than 28,000 transplants are performed annually. Research is targeting further advances, and the list of treatable diseases is growing longer. Currently, interesting studies and even experimental transplants are underway for the treatment of type 1 diabetes, blindness, and liver regeneration.
Below is a description of important milestones in stem-cell research.

1956, USA Pioneering attempt: first transplant of stem cells from bone marrow into a leukemia patient. The stem cells were taken from an identical twin. The transplant was done by Donnall Thomas, who in 1990 was awarded the Nobel prize in physiology/medicine, along with Joseph Murray.

1968, USA First successful allogenic transplant of bone marrow from an unrelated donor (i.e., of stem cells from an outside donor) into a child with an immune deficiency inherited on the X chromosome, and later into a child with Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome.

1988, FRANCE First transplant of stem cells from the umbilical cord. A five-year-old boy suffering from Fanconi anemia was cured with stem cells from his younger sister's cord blood.

1997, USA Successful transplant of umbilical cord stem cells from a donor into a 46-year-old man with chronic myeloid leukemia. The experimental operation was done after ex vivo (outside the living organism) culture of the stem cells.

1998, USA First successful transplant to treat sickle-cell anemia. Twelve-year-old Keone Penn was declared cured the following year. The procedure was done at the Emory University Department of Pediatrics in Georgia.

2000, USA First transplant of cord blood stem cells for which the donor's genetic compatibility was pre-tested on an embryo. The procedure was done at the University of Minnesota Medical Center-Fairview Blood and Marrow Transplant Services in Minneapolis.

2001, ITALY First reciprocal transplant between a brother and sister with acute myeloid anemia. The procedure was done in the hematology unit at the Bambin Gesù pediatric hospital in Rome.

2003 USA First studies in the US (and subsequently in other countries, including Italy) concerning the regeneration of heart muscle tissue using stem cells.

2004, USA First scientific publication on the possibilities for treating type 1 diabetes using stem cells.

2004, ITALY First transplant with stem cells cultured in vitro. A five-year-old child was cured of thalassemia using stem cells from the placental blood of his younger twin brothers. The procedure was done in the pediatric oncology unit at Policlinico San Matteo in Pavia. This operation demonstrated the effectiveness of stem cells grown in the laboratory and paved the way for important new therapeutic approaches.

2004, GERMANY First autologous transplant (using the patient's own cells) of cells taken from the umbilical cord at birth to treat a German girl with leukemia.

2005, GREAT BRITAIN First tests using stem cells to treat cirrhosis of the liver. Doctors at Hammersmith Hospital in London used the patient's own stem cells to generate new tissues in the damaged areas.

2007, GERMANY First complete cure: after transplantation of cord blood stem cells stored at birth, the patient - the German girl who had received a transplant in 2004 - was declared completely cured.

2008, SPAIN First transplant of an organ grown from stem cells: a Colombian woman, Claudia Castillo, received a trachea that was grown in the laboratory from her own stem cells and then transplanted without risk of rejection. The surgery was done in Barcelona by a team of Italian and British doctors.

2010, USA First experimental transplant of stem cells from bone marrow and mesenchymal stem cells to treat epidermolysis bullosa. The transplant was done at the University of Minnesota Medical Center.

2011, FRANCE First autotransfusion of red blood cells derived from stem cells. This procedure, done at Saint Antoine hospital in Paris, raised hopes that patients needing a blood transfusion may someday be able to become their own blood donor.

2011, USA Embryonic stem cells used in initial experiments investigating treatment for blindness.

2011, GREAT BRITAIN A child with a rare form of anemia was declared completely cured. The boy was treated with stem cells from his younger brother, who was conceived to save his life.

  • European Group for Blood and Marrow Transplantation, The EBMT activity survey 2009: trends over the past 5 years, February 28, 2011
  • A. Hayani, E. Lampeter et al., First Report of Autologous Cord Blood Transplantation in the Treatment of a Child With Leukemia, Pediatrics 2007;119;296-300 DOI: 10.1542/peds.2006-1009Bone Marrow Transplant, 36(7):575-90, October 2005
  • C. Giacinti C, A. Musarò et al., Cdk9-55: a new player in muscle regeneration, Journal of Cellular Physiology, 2008 Sep;216(3):576-82
  • F. Bonafè, C. Muscari et al., Regeneration of infarcted cardiac tissue: the route of stem cells, Italian Heart Journal Supplement, 2003 Apr;4(4):299-305
  • I. Rana, R.M. Pinto et al., Reciprocal bone marrow transplantation between brother and sister, Bone Marrow Transplant, 2002 Apr;29(8):705-7
  • Page created on: 03/09/2012
    Last modified on: 03/09/2012
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