The research community is rapidly reproducing the past ten years of stem cell technology demonstrations, using induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells this time around. You'll recall that iPS cells are normal cells - usually skin cells - reprogrammed to act as though they are stem cells. The methodology is well within reach of any laboratory previously working on stem cells, and many research groups have dived into the fray since the first publication of the reprogramming method. Rapid progress has been made in a very short time, a characteristic state of affairs for biotechnology these days.
The ultimate goal is to use iPS cells derived from patients to repair injury. Using a person's own cells in the process eliminates the risk of rejection and the need for anti-rejection drugs. One day this regenerative medicine strategy may alleviate the demand for organ transplantation limited by donor shortage, the researchers say.
The Mayo Clinic team genetically reprogrammed fibroblasts via a "stemness-related" human gene set to dedifferentiate into an iPS cell capable of then redifferentiating into new heart muscle. When transplanted into damaged mouse hearts, iPS cells engrafted after two weeks, and after four weeks significantly contributed to improved structure and function of the damaged heart.
At this rate, I'd guess at it being no more than another few years before the first clinical trials in humans are getting started. They will mirror the trials that have taken place for heart disease in recent years, using much the same methods, but replacing stem cells cultured from the patient's existing stem cell populations with stem cells created from scratch using a skin sample.
From a high level perspective, you might view this sort of early application of iPS cell technology as an infrastructure improvement for stem cell medicine - a similar end result, but accomplished more rapidly and with less cost. That will make it possible for more groups to offer these services, which allows a more competitive marketplace, which in turn spurs more learning and research.
Nelson, T., Martinez-Fernandez, A., Yamada, S., Perez-Terzic, C., Ikeda, Y., & Terzic, A. (2009). Repair of Acute Myocardial Infarction With Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells Induced by Human Stemness Factors Circulation DOI: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.109.865154