Stem cell research

We’re working at the forefront of stem cell research

For serious chronic diseases caused by the loss or damage of specific cell types, pluripotent stem cells can potentially be used to generate new cells, providing a cure by replacing those cells destroyed.

For almost two decades, Novo Nordisk has been researching the directed differentiation of pluripotent stem cells into insulin producing beta cells for the treatment of type 1 diabetes.

We have now expanded our commitment to stem cell-based research to other serious chronic diseases, with the hope of continuing to offer life-changing treatments for even more patients in the future.

Watch two of our R&D leaders explain our expanded commitment to stem cell-based research as of May 2018.

Building our stem cell technology platform

In an exclusive collaboration with the University of California San Francisco (UCSF), Novo Nordisk is developing Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) compliant human embryonic stem cell (hESC) lines, with the goal to further develop these into future regenerative medicine therapies. In 2018, employees from UCSF and Novo Nordisk started working together in a new GMP laboratory at UCSF on deriving the cell lines that are expected to define a new quality standard in production of stem cell-based therapies.

Stem Cell Research

“It has been a pleasure to work with our colleagues from Novo Nordisk who are uniformly collegial and collaborative.”

  • Michael McMaster Professor in the department of Cell and Tissue Biology
  • University of California San Francisco

Stem Cell Research

Partnering to pursue stem cell-based therapies

The development of GMP stem cell lines in collaboration with UCSF has enabled Novo Nordisk to expand our focus on serious chronic diseases beyond diabetes.

Some of the challenges to overcome in stem cell-based research are the development of differentiation protocols for specific cell types as well as cell encapsulation technologies for transplantation purposes.

In Novo Nordisk, we collaborate with scientific leaders around the world to overcome these barriers to stem cell-based treatment across a range of disease areas:

Stem Cell Research

Parkinson's disease Stem cell-based treatment in collaboration with Biolamina and Lund University    

Stem Cell Research

Chronic heart failure Stem cell-based treatment in collaboration with Biolamina and DUKE National University Singapore Medical School

Stem Cell Research

Dry age-related macular degeneration (AMD) Stem cell-based treatment in collaboration with Biolamina and DUKE National University Singapore Medical School    

Stem Cell Research

Type 1 diabetes Encapsulation device in collaboration with Cornell University

“After two decades of intense stem cell research, we’re now at a turning point.”

Mads Krogsgaard Thomsen, Chief Science Officer, talks about the exciting potential of stem cells to cure serious chronic diseases, and Novo Nordisk increased commitment in the field.

Read Mads’ perspective

Stem Cell Research

Stem Cell Research

Our position on stem cells ethics

Novo Nordisk only works with human embryonic stem cells derived from surplus material from in vitro fertilisation treatment that are donated with voluntarily given informed consent.

Read our position on stem cell bioethics

Stem cells are precursor cells of the fully specialised cells in the body and can be found at all stages of human development. During development, stem cells become more and more specialised and the number of different cell types they can develop into is reduced along the way.

The fertilised egg is the only (totipotent) stem cell that can give rise to a human being. Cells found in the early embryo (the blastomeres and the inner cell mass of the blastocyst) can give rise to pluripotent embryonic stem cell cultures that maintain the ability to mature into all the different cell types found in the fully developed body.

Stem cells in the adult body (adult stem cells or tissue-specific stem cells) are used by the body to replace old and damaged cells. As opposed to pluripotent stem cells, adult stem cells can normally only mature into a limited number of specialised cell types (multipotent). Therefore, Novo Nordisk focuses on pluripotent stem cells as a basis for cell therapy.

Research on adult stem cells has been taking place for more than 30 years, and has not been subject to ethical objections, whereas research on stem cells obtained from surplus embryos donated with freely given informed consent is a central issue in the ongoing ethical debate, because the embryo is lost in the process of establishing one continuous cell line. However, new scientific findings show that a human embryonic stem cell line can be established from one single cell of the blastomere stage without affecting the vitality of the embryo. This technique can also be used to generate human embryonic stem cell lines from non-viable blastocysts (which are discarded anyway by IVF clinics).

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Journal of Stem Cell Research and Medicine

Debjani Nath Anugrah Ray Baishakhi Bairagi

Commentary-Journal of Stem Cell Research and Medicine (JSCRM)

April 22, 2019

Elisabeth van der Gulik

Short communication-Journal of Stem Cell Research and Medicine (JSCRM)

April 26, 2019

Luis Mariñas-Pardo Laura Núñez-Naveira Manuel Hermida-Prieto

Research Article-Journal of Stem Cell Research and Medicine (JSCRM)

May 30, 2019

Kuo-Chen Chou

Opinion Article-Journal of Stem Cell Research and Medicine (JSCRM)

December 24, 2019

Kuo-Chen Chou

Short Communication Article-Journal of Stem Cell Research and Medicine (JSCRM)

December 26, 2019

Stem Cell Research Stem Cell Research

The Journal of Stem Cell Research and Medicine is an open access journal with comprehensive peer review policy and a rapid publication process. Stem Cell Journal mainly focuses on the basic research, clinical studies and translational research in the fields of stem cell biology and regenerative medicine.

The Journal of Stem Cell Research and Medicine is an open access journal with comprehensive peer review policy and a rapid publication process. Stem Cell Journal mainly focuses on the basic research, clinical studies and translational research in the fields of stem cell biology and regenerative medicine.

Stem Cell Journal will feature original research, review papers, clinical studies, editorials, expert opinion and perspective papers, commentaries, and book reviews.

Attach your word file with e- mail and send it to [email protected] alternatively to [email protected]

Journal of Stem Cell Research and Medicine welcomes submissions from below topics:

Cancer Stem Cells Murine Embryonic Stem Cells
Human Embryonic Stem Cells Bone Marrow Stem Cells
Stem Cell Therapy Neural stem cells
Pluripotent Cells Fetal Stem Cells
Endothelial Cells Stem-Cell Transplantation
Adult Stem Cells Embryonic Stem Cells
Stem Cell Technologies Pancreatic Stem Cells
Regenerative Medicine Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation
Hair Stem Cell Transplantation Medicine
Stem Cell and Organ Regeneration Molecular Mechanisms

Please, follow the Instructions for Authors. In the cover letter add the name and e-mail address of 5 proposed reviewers (we can choose them or not).

Copyright is retained by the authors and articles can be freely used and distributed by others.

Articles are distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work, first published by Stem Cell Research and Medicine, is properly cited

Stem Cell Research: Uses, Types & Examples

Stem cells are undifferentiated, or “blank,” cells. This means they’re capable of developing into cells that serve numerous functions in different parts of the body. Most cells in the body are differentiated cells. These cells can only serve a specific purpose in a particular organ. For example, red blood cells are specifically designed to carry oxygen through the blood.

All humans start out as only one cell. This cell is called a zygote, or a fertilized egg. The zygote divides into two cells, then four cells, and so on. Eventually, the cells begin to differentiate, taking on a certain function in a part of the body. This process is called differentiation.

Stem cells are cells that haven’t differentiated yet. They have the ability to divide and make an indefinite number of copies of themselves. Other cells in the body can only replicate a limited number of times before they begin to break down. When a stem cell divides, it can either remain a stem cell or turn into a differentiated cell, such as a muscle cell or a red blood cell.

Since stem cells have the ability to turn into various other types of cells, scientists believe that they can be useful for treating and understanding diseases. According to the Mayo Clinic, stem cells can be used to:

  • grow new cells in a laboratory to replace damaged organs or tissues
  • correct parts of organs that don’t work properly
  • research causes of genetic defects in cells
  • research how diseases occur or why certain cells develop into cancer cells
  • test new drugs for safety and effectiveness

There are several types of stem cells that can be used for different purposes.

Embryonic stem cells

Embryonic stem cells come from human embryos that are three to five days old. They are harvested during a process called in-vitro fertilization. This involves fertilizing an embryo in a laboratory instead of inside the female body. Embryonic stem cells are known as pluripotent stem cells. These cells can give rise to virtually any other type of cell in the body.

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Non-embryonic (adult) stem cells

Adult stem cells have a misleading name, because they are also found in infants and children. These stem cells come from developed organs and tissues in the body. They’re used by the body to repair and replace damaged tissue in the same area in which they are found.

For example, hematopoietic stem cells are a type of adult stem cell found in bone marrow. They make new red blood cells, white blood cells, and other types of blood cells. Doctors have been performing stem cell transplants, also known as bone marrow transplants, for decades using hematopoietic stem cells in order to treat certain types of cancer.

Adult stem cells can’t differentiate into as many other types of cells as embryonic stem cells can.

Induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs)

Stem cells: Therapy, controversy, and research

The idea of a miracle cure and bodies healing themselves holds a particular fascination. Stem cell research brings regenerative medicine a step closer, but many of the ideas and concepts remain controversial. So what are stem cells, and why are they so important?

Stem cells are a type of cell that can develop into many other types of cell. Stem cells can also renew themselves by dividing, even after they have been inactive for a long time.

The human body requires many different types of cell to function, but it does not produce each cell type fully formed and ready to use. Instead, it produces stem cells that have a wide range of possible functions. However, stem cells need to become a specific cell type to be useful.

When a stem cell divides, the new cells may either become another stem cell or a specific cell, such as a blood cell, a brain cell, or a muscle cell.

Scientists call a stem cell an undifferentiated cell because it can become any cell. In contrast, a blood cell, for example, is a ‘differentiated’ cell, because it is already a specific kind of cell.

Share on PinterestStem cells may provide the key to regenerative medicine, in which the body heals itself.

In some tissues, stem cells play an essential role in regeneration, as they can divide easily to replace dead cells.

Scientists believe that knowing how stem cells work may lead to possible treatments for conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease.

For instance, if someone’s heart contains damaged tissue, doctors might be able to stimulate healthy tissue to grow by transplanting laboratory-grown stem cells into the person’s heart. This could cause the heart tissue to renew itself.

  • Researchers on a small-scale study published in the Journal of Cardiovascular Translational Research tested this method.
  • The results showed a 40 percent reduction of the size of scarred heart tissue caused by heart attacks when doctors transplanted stem cells to the damaged area.
  • Doctors have always considered this kind of scarring permanent and untreatable.

However, this small study involved only 11 participants. This makes it difficult to tell whether the improvement in heart function resulted from the transplantation of stem cells or whether it was due to something else.

For example, all of the transplants took place while the individuals were undergoing heart bypass surgery, so it is possible that the improvement in heart function was due to the bypass rather than the stem cell treatment.

To investigate further, the researchers plan to do another study. This study will include a control group of people with heart failure who undergo bypass surgery but who do not receive the stem cell treatment.

  1. Another investigation, published in Nature Communications in 2016, has suggested that stem cell therapies could be the basis of personalized diabetes treatment.
  2. In mice and laboratory-grown cultures, researchers successfully produced insulin-secreting cells from stem cells derived from the skin of people with type 1 diabetes.
  3. Jeffrey R. Millman, assistant professor of medicine and biomedical engineering at Washington University School of Medicine and first author, says:

“In theory, if we could replace the damaged cells in these individuals with new pancreatic beta cells — whose primary function is to store and release insulin to control blood glucose — patients with type 1 diabetes wouldn’t need insulin shots anymore.”

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Jeffrey R. Millman

  • Millman hopes that these stem cell-derived beta cells could be ready for research in humans within 3 to 5 years.
  • “What we’re envisioning is an outpatient procedure in which some sort of device filled with the cells would be placed just beneath the skin,” he said.
  • Stem cells could have vast potential in developing new therapies.

Stem cells in drug development

One way that scientists use stem cells at the moment is in developing and testing new drugs.

The type of stem cells that scientists commonly use for this purpose are called induced pluripotent stem cells.

The Power of Stem Cells

En Español

Stem cells have the potential to treat a wide range of diseases. Here, discover why these cells are such a powerful tool for treating disease—and what hurdles experts face before new therapies reach patients.

How can stem cells treat disease?What diseases could be treated by stem cell research?How can I learn more about CIRM-funded research in a particular disease?What cell therapies are available right now?What about the therapies that are available overseas?Why does it take so long to create new therapies?How do scientists get stem cells to specialize into different cell types? How do scientists test stem cell therapies?Can't stem cell therapies increase the chances of a tumor?Is there a risk of immune rejection with stem cells?How do scientists grow stem cells in the right conditions?

How can stem cells treat disease?

When most people think about about stem cells treating disease they think of a stem cell transplant.

In a stem cell transplant, stem cells are first specialized into the necessary adult cell type. Then, those mature cells replace tissue that is damaged by disease or injury. This type of treatment could be used to:

  • Replace neurons damaged by spinal cord injury, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease or other neurological problems;
  • Produce insulin that could treat people with diabetes or cartilage to repair damage caused by arthritis; or
  • Replace virtually any tissue or organ that is injured or diseased.

But stem cell-based therapies can do much more.

  • Studying how stem cells develop into heart muscle cells could provide clues about how we could induce heart muscle to repair itself after a heart attack.
  • The cells could be used to study disease, identify new drugs, or screen drugs for toxic side effects.

Any of these would have a significant impact on human health without transplanting a single cell.

What diseases could be treated by stem cell research?

In theory, there’s no limit to the types of diseases that could be treated with stem cell research. Given that researchers may be able to study all cell types they have the potential to make breakthroughs in any disease.

How can I learn more about CIRM-funded stem cell research in a particular disease?

CIRM has created disease pages for many of the major diseases being targeted by stem cell scientists. You can find those disease pages here.

You can also sort our complete list of CIRM awards to see what we've funded in different disease areas.

What cell therapies are available right now?

While there are a growing number of potential therapies being tested in clinical trials there are only a few stem cell therapies that have so far been approved by the FDA. Two therapies that CIRM provided early funding for have been approved. Those are:

  • Fedratinib, approved by the FDA in August 2019 as a first line therapy for myelofibrosis (scarring of the bone marrow)
  • Glasdegib, approved in November 2016 as a combination therapy with low dose are-C for patients 75 years of age and older with acute myelogenous leukemia

Right now the most commonly used stem cell-based therapy is bone marrow transplantation. Blood-forming stem cells in the bone marrow were the first stem cells to be identified and were the first to be used in the clinic.

This life-saving technique has helped thousands people worldwide who had been suffering from blood cancers, such as leukemia.

In addition to their current use in cancer treatments, research suggests that bone marrow transplants will be useful in treating autoimmune diseases and in helping people tolerate transplanted organs.

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