Thursday, June 7, 2007

Stem Cells Without Embryos

I've seen multiple reports in the past few days about lab work where scientists have turned adult tissue cells (usually skin cells from mice) into fully pluripotent stem cells, capable of differentiating into any type of cell in the body.

Three separate articles, according to the journal Nature, a fairly simple process can be used to reprogram skin cells into fully differentiating stem cells. What’s more, these reprogrammed skin cells can give rise to live mice, contributing to every kind of tissue type, and can even be transmitted via germ cells (sperm or eggs) to succeeding generations.

If this process can be applied to human cells (and so far, there's no proof that it can), it would be a major breakthrough for stem cell research. Those people who oppose embryonic stem cells on moral grounds--due to the destruction of embryos necessary for extracting the stem cells--will lose the basis for their arguments, allowing for greater research to be done than is being done now.

And let's face it, the potential for benefit from stem cells is probably greater than any other biomedical research being done today. Any single area of bio-technology that has potential for curing blindness, paralysis, certain forms of cancer, Parkinson's, and other diseases and disorders is an area of research we can't afford to not be investigating. Hopefully these breakthroughs will enable and encourage more research to be done in these areas.

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