Dr. James Thomson (20 December 1958), a renowned developmental biologist from the University of Wisconsin, has done pioneering work in stem cell research. In 1998, Dr. Thomson and his research team were the first to isolate and grow human embryonic stem cells in the laboratory.
Dr. Thomson, who grew up in Oak Park in Chicago, has a Bachelor of Science Degree in Biophysics (1981) from the University of Illinois and Doctorates in Veterinary Medicine (1985) and Molecular Biology (1988) from the University of Pennsylvania. He received a Veterinary Pathology Certification in 1995.
He became interested in embryonic development while studying at the University of Illinois. It was at this time, in 1981, that the researchers Martin Evans and Matthew Kaufman and Gail R. Martin (working independently) were successful in extracting embryonic stem cells from mouse embryos. Taking note, Thomson began working on extracting embryonic stem cells from rhesus monkeys.
He continued this research after moving to the University of Wisconsin in 1991 and was successful, in 1995, in isolating and extracting rhesus monkey embryonic stem cells. Then, after consulting with bioethicists and using discarded embryonic tissue that would otherwise have been destroyed, he ventured into human stem cell research.
Around this time, in 1997, Dr. Ian Wilmut of Scotland announced the successful creation of Dolly the clone sheep. Dolly had been created by inserting the DNA of an udder cell into an egg that had previously had its DNA removed. The creation of Dolly proved that cell development is reversible.
This discovery really interested Thomson. After he and his team successfully isolated and grew human embryonic cells in 1998, Thomson began to explore possibilities of inducing normal body cells to revert into embryonic cells. Ten years later, he created induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells from skin cells. In this procedure no fetal biological material is needed resolving much of the controversy about using embryonic stem cells.