Snapshots of the stem cell story

A brief timeline of events

1958: Leroy Stevens identifies pluripotency of certain mouse cells.

1981: Scientists successfully culture (grow) pluripotent mouse embryonic stem cells.

1990: Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act passed in the UK; includes founding of Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, which regulates the creation, use and storage of human embryos in treatment and research.

1996: ‘Dolly the sheep’ is the first mammal to be cloned by somatic nuclear transfer – adding a nucleus from an adult sheep cell to an unfertilised egg with the nucleus removed.

1998: Scientists at the University of Wisconsin isolate and grow the first stem cells from human embryos left over from IVF.

2001: UK Parliament rules embryonic stem cell research can occur using government funding. Human embryos can be created for research purposes only, but not kept beyond 14 days.

2004: Britain opens the world’s first government-financed stem cell bank, containing embryonic and stem cell lines.

2006: Korean scientist Woo-Suk Hwang found to have fraudulently claimed the creation of human embryonic cells through cloning.

2006: Shinya Yamanaka and Kazutoshi Takahashi create and name the first ‘induced pluripotent stem cells’ by treating mouse skin cells so they become like embryonic stem cells.

2007: A Japanese team including Yamanaka and Takahashi and a separate US team create the first induced pluripotent stem cells from human cells.

2008: The second UK Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act passed, amending the 1990 Act and allowing researchers, under tight controls, to create animal–human hybrid embryos by replacing the nucleus from an animal egg with a nucleus from a human body cell.

2008: Scientists at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute create stem cells for ten genetic disorders, which will allow researchers to better understand how diseases develop in cultured cells.

2009: An international team of researchers creates the first human induced pluripotent stem cells without using viruses.

2010: In the USA, a patient with spinal cord damage becomes the first person in the world to be injected with embryonic stem cells in the first official clinical trial of this therapy, in humans, which will test whether it’s safe and whether it works.

2012: In the USA, two patients receive implants of retinal pigment epithelial cells created from embryonic stem cells to improve their vision, which was impaired by eye degeneration. The treatments showed no sign of tumour formation, rejection or inflammation, and both patients reported improvement in their vision.

2012: In China, researchers were able to convert cells found in urine into pluripotent stem cells to be used in the creation of neurons and brain cells.

2013: In Japan, scientists used stem cells to grow a human liver, highlighting how this method could be used in future for patients needing organ donation.

2014: In the UK and around the world, scientists begin to use glass moulds to create custom body parts and organs using stem cells. The moulds are sprayed with a synthetic framework material, allowing the mould to be removed and the framework to be covered with stem cells, which can be induced with nutrients to create the cartilage of the organ.

About this resource

This resource was first published in ‘The Cell’ in February 2011 and reviewed and updated in September 2015.

Cell biology, Medicine, History
The Cell
Education levels:
16–19, Continuing professional development