Aug 22 2005

Stem Cell Breakthrough – No Embryos

Published by at 5:17 pm under All General Discussions,Stem Cell Debate

Instapundit had this posted and the Mrs, LJStrata, sent it to me as well. This is really a great breakthrough for stem cell research. The adult stem cell (or on this case, post-birth-human) sources have always been the better option so as to tailor any replacement cells or tissues specifically to the patient by using their own cells. This eliminates tissue rejection issues and any other potential risks that could arise from mixing genetics at the cellular level (as opposed to organ and limb transplants).

Scientists for the first time have turned ordinary skin cells into what appear to be embryonic stem cells — without having to use human eggs or make new human embryos in the process, as has always been required in the past, a Harvard research team announced yesterday.

Of course, the distinction between an adult stem cell and embryonic stem cell is artificial. The logic of those promoting the harvesting of young humans is that an embryonic stem cell is undifferentiated, and therefore can be a source for a greater variety of target cells (and also organs, limbs, etc). The canard here is that, to control the genetic switches to control the embryonic stem cells transformation into a target cell prettty much means breaking the sequence to a level that could cause any stem cell type to transform. Stem cells are defined as cells which are generic precursors to ‘final’ cell types.

The technique uses laboratory-grown human embryonic stem cells — such as the ones that President Bush has already approved for use by federally funded researchers — to “reprogram” the genes in a person’s skin cell, turning that skin cell into an embryonic stem cell itself.

Actually, if this is true then that probably means the end of embryonic stem cell research. What these researchers did is undo a transformation of a final cell type back to a stem cell form, in this case using the cells from skin (an organ of the body). If they can take skin cells, transform them into stem cells, and then into another cell type then there never is a need for embryo’s at all.

But there never really was a need in the first place. The adult stem cell research has been outpacing the embryonic research at an ever increasing pace. Adult stem cell therapies are well into human testing and will become widely availabe before embryonic stem cells can make their first controlled transformation into a safe form of target cells (right now the results are aborations).

As I said, to control the switches that will make a stem cell into a liver cell probably means any cell can be turned into a liver cell – the genes are in all the cells and all you need to know is how to activate the sequence correctly. OK, that is a bit of an over simplification – but now that we see specific cell types which were thought to be final forms being changed back to a generic precursor means the theory only stem cells cand be a source of creating replacement cells, tissues, organs etc is now gone.

My previous postings on this topic can be found here.

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