Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Embryonic stem cell breakthrough to reshape stem cell debate

A new discovery on the stem cell scene looks like it could well reshape the debate over the use of embryonic stem cell tissue. The new method allows human adult skin cells to be changed to act like embryonic stem cells. This allows people to sidestep the issue of destroying human embryos to harvest their cells.
Researchers in Wisconsin and Japan have turned ordinary human skin cells into what are effectively embryonic stem cells without using embryos or women's eggs -- the two hitherto essential ingredients that have embroiled the medically promising field in a long political and ethical debate.

By activating a few dormant genes, the researchers were able to coax the cells back to a point in embryonic development before they had committed to becoming a particular type of tissue. The reprogrammed cells were able to grow into all the body's main tissue types, including muscle, gut, cartilage, neurons and heart cells.

The discovery provides a clear road map for creating genetically matched replacement cells that could be used to treat patients for a variety of diseases -- the personalized biological repair kits that are the ultimate goal of regenerative medicine.

While this may well dramatically change the overall debate, those ideologically driven to support the destruction of human embryos to harvest their cells will not be persuaded. In another story you can hear ideology driving a proponent of embryonic stem cell legislation.
"I don't think this changes the debate," said Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), a key participant in the House debate. "We still need to encourage all types of research, and we need to put ethical oversight in place."
For those not ideologically driven I think it will change the debate.

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