Wednesday, June 06, 2007

A Stem Cell Solution?

Here's a very interesting tidbit of news: Some scientists have developed a method for turning adult cells into "embryonic" stem cells.

Nature reports that the scientists have manged to turn fibroblasts, a type of skin cell, into pluripotent cells. Pluripotency is the ability to transform into any cell type, and it's the major attraction to embryonic stem cells. Adult stem cells can transform into other cell types, but not into any type.

The method works by transduction of four genes into the fibroblasts. These genes code for proteins which transform the cells into pluripotent cells.

While the experiments were done in mice, similar techniques have so far been unsuccessful in humans. Still, these results hold the potential to allow for pluripotent "stem cells" to be made from a patient's own cells, without the need to destroy embryos or clone them for the purpose of destroying them.

Again, the process isn't perfected yet. Transplantation of these cells into the mice resulted in cancer in ~20% of the test animals. As I recall, this kind of result is not unusual for implantation of embryonic stem cells into an adult subject. Still, there is promise to these results, and as the authors conclude, should have immediate application in the lab.

The political implications of this research could (or should) be far reaching. Embryonic stem cell research (ESCR) should become less necessary. Without any need to destroy embryos, there is no reason for anybody to object to the areas of research previously considered taboo.

Hopefully, this will also apply to those supporters of ESCR whose rhetoric displayed what seemed like a creepy eagerness to destroy embryos for the sake of research. I'd prefer that changes in political policy such as this be directed by a change in respect for the sanctity of life. However, I'm a pragmatic man, and anything that will ultimately help save lives that might have been sacrificed on the altar of science is a good development to me.

1 comment:

The Expert said...

Not that it's the defined end of ESCR, but I find it interesting when the only thing that ESCR has done in a human body thus far has been to create cancerous growths. I never seem to hear that mentioned in the main stream media. Nor do you hear the term "adult stem cell" very often. If it's a beneficial therapy from an adult cell it is listed as just a plain ole stem cell. Anywhere else the promise of the miracle ESC is bandied about like an elixir of youth to cure all ills.