October 11, 2017 is Stem Cell Awareness Day.

On this day, we celebrate the progress of stem cell research. We reflect on the past year to recognize the accomplishments of our scientists and physicians, and the sacrifices of the many patients who have volunteered to join clinical trials.

Most importantly, we look forward to the future of stem cell research as it continues to change the face of medicine.

Although the advancement of stem cell science has been a worldwide effort, we cannot deny the tremendous impact of state of California. It was the foresight of the California citizens who saw the vast potential of stem cells over 10 years ago and passed an initiative to expand state funding for this type of research. Year after year, this money has been used to move the needle and this year is no different. It will be impossible to cover all the accomplishments of the past year here, including the 40+ ongoing clinical trials, five of which are currently in the final phase of testing (Phase 3).

Let’s look at the top 5 milestones of 2017:

1. UCLA Stem Cell Gene Therapy Cures Bubble Baby Disease

Researchers at UCLA have developed a cure for babies born with Bubble Baby Disease, a rare and life-threatening condition that can be fatal within the first year of life. Using stem cells from each patient and gene therapy to correct the genetic mutation of these patients, Dr. Donald Kohn cured all nine babies participating in the recent clinical trial.

Read more about Dr. Kohn’s research here: https://bit.ly/2y4EYbH

2. Asterias Biotherapeutics Restores Some Independence to those Suffering from Paralysis Caused by Spinal Cord Injuries

Asterias Biotherapeutics spent much of 2016-2017 developing a stem cell therapy to restore upper body motor function to quadriplegic spinal cord injury victims. Through lengthy and rigorous testing in a human clinical trial, the therapy was found to be safe for use in people, with all patients treated reporting at least some improvements. Asterias is now expanding its clinical trials to include patients with sub-acute injuries.

Learn more about this exciting clinical trial here: https://bit.ly/2jxgtwL 

3. UC Irvine Scientists Engineer Stem Cells To Destroy Cancer

In a study conducted by UC Irvine researchers, a stem cell-based technique was devised to find and destroy breast cancer cells that have already metastasized. The cells “feel” the stiffness of the surrounding tissues and destroy the cancer-causing cells.

Learn more about UC Irvine’s work here: https://bit.ly/2eRaPFO

4. CRISPR-Cas9 Gears Up for a Potential Clinical Trial for the Treatment of Sickle Cell Disease

Last year, Stanford researchers devised a gene therapy technique to correct sickle cell mutations in human blood cells using the CRISPR-Cas9 editing technology. Just last week, CIRM funded a late-stage preclinical study l to investigate this technology further, potentially preparing for testing in human subjects in the near future.

See the next steps for this exciting clinical trial here: https://bit.ly/2fSPRWX

5. Dr. Maria Millan is Appointed as the First Female President of CIRM

CIRM appointed Dr. Maria Millan as President and CEO on September 28, 2017. Joining CIRM in 2012, Dr. Millan was instrumental in the development of CIRM’s Alpha Stem Cell Clinics Network, helping the agency fund 23 clinical trials since 2016. Previously an organ transplant surgeon at Stanford University, Dr. Millan will focus CIRM’s efforts on accelerating treatments to patients with unmet needs.

Get to know Dr. Millan here: https://bit.ly/2y4yz0I

As we look forward to 2018, we hope to witness the continued progress of stem cell research and therapy. This progress will not always translate into the advancement of every clinical trial to phase 3 and beyond. Some trials will surely show promise while others may not be found effective, but no matter what the outcome, this is all progress, for in the words of the great Edison, “we have not failed; we have found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

With every attempt at basic and clinical research, we are discovering something new and moving forward. This is the time to keep pushing.