Stem cells

Stem cell research has raised hopes for a revolutionary treatment in the future with cell transplantation that can be offered to people with many different serious chronic diseases caused by degeneration of defined cell types, as, for example in the cases of diabetes and Parkinson's disease.

Novo Nordisk's position

Novo Nordisk wishes to pursue this very promising option for treatment. We want to be prepared for these new therapies and thus maintain a successful and sustainable business within diabetes care in the future. Novo Nordisk is - and has been for a long time - a partner in national and international cooperative projects involving stem cells. Our primary research activities on pluripotent (embryonic) stem cells from mice have been expanded to include cells of human origin. Novo Nordisk continuously follows the scientific break-through within stem cell research including the recent break-through where "induced" pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells) were created from somatic cells.

Novo Nordisk, along with the majority of the scientists working within the field of stem cell research, finds that it is essential at this time to proceed with research in both multipotent (adult) and pluripotent (embryonic) stem cells in parallel, partly to gain basic knowledge about the normal cell maturation processes and partly to clarify the potentials of the two cell types. Cell nucleus transfer (therapeutic cloning) which might lead to person-specific pluripotent stem cells do not presently offer any advantages that outweigh both the inherent scientific risks and the ethical dilemmas.

Research in human embryonic stem cells has evoked an important ethical debate and Novo Nordisk wishes to contribute to an open dialogue and an ethical and political clarification regarding the use of human embryonic stem cells. Large differences exist between the different countries with regard to the legislation and control of research on human embryonic stem cells. This is a cause for concern and Novo Nordisk therefore urges all countries to establish legislation that will ensure that this important research is adequately regulated and controlled.

  • Novo Nordisk has finding a cure for diabetes as part of its vision and human stem cell research with the potential for cell transplantation, is presently the most promising approach to achieve this goal for Type 1 diabetes.
  • Novo Nordisk has extended its research on mouse embryonic stem cells to include human embryonic stem cells, in order to be able to move forward in our efforts to direct human embryonic stem cells into mature insulin-producing beta cells, which can be further developed for transplantation.
  • Novo Nordisk will only use human embryonic stem cells when it is not anticipated that the same scientific results can be obtained by the use of adult stem cells.
  • Novo Nordisk will only work with human embryonic stem cells derived from spare embryos from IVF treatment that are obtained with freely given informed consent.
    Novo Nordisk does not support IVF-treatment of women, or the creation of human embryos, solely for research purposes.
  • Novo Nordisk does not see any need for therapeutic cloning in the foreseeable future, as alternative methods of creating patient specific stem cells such as induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS) are available.
  • Novo Nordisk finds cloning of human beings (reproductive cloning) unethical and supports initiatives aimed at a global ban.
  • Novo Nordisk supports the position that human embryonic and adult stem cells, as such, can not be patented. However, the research-based protocols used to develop stem cells into therapeutic cells as well as the mature cells and tissues developed by these specific protocols should be patentable.
  • Novo Nordisk supports a legislative framework around the use of human embryonic stem cells that adequately protects the human embryo and at the same time secures that the knowledge obtained can be used to help patients with serious diseases such as diabetes.

About stem cells

Stem cells are precursor cells of the fully specialised cells in the body and can be found at all stages of the human development. During development stem cells become more and more specialised and the number of different cell types they can develop into are 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 inner cell mass of the blastocyst) can give rise to pluripotent embryonic stem cell cultures that can maintain the ability to mature into all of the 210-240 different cell types found in the fully developed body. Stem cells in the adult body (adult stem cells) can normally only mature into a limited number of specialised cell types (multipotent) and they are used by the body to replace old and damaged cells.

Presently research is carried out on both adult and embryonic stem cells. 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 embryos is a central issue in the ongoing ethical debate, because the embryo is destroyed in the process. Adult and embryonic stem cells differ in more ways than the number of cells they can differentiate into; adult stem cells are more difficult to isolate and grow, and to propagate in sufficient quantities. It is still not known, if the maturation of one or both stem cells types can be controlled in such a way that they can form a basis for the production of cells for transplantation in the future.

A third source of stem cells can theoretically be the nucleus-transplanted egg. Today it is possible to replace the nucleus of an egg emptied of its own nucleus with the nucleus from any other cell. If, in the future, it becomes possible to develop a human embryo from such a 'fertilized egg', stem cells could be obtained from the early embryo, which will be genetically identical to the person that donated the nucleus for the 'fertilized egg'. This technique, also called therapeutic cloning, has further intensified the stem cell debate, partly because one egg is needed per person that theoretically could be treated and, in particular, because this technique can be misused to clone human beings.

Revised by 12 November 2010.



Mads Krogsgaard Thomsen 
Executive Vice President
and Chief Science Officer
+45 4442 3988


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