November 20, 2002 | David F. Coppedge

Stem Cell Breakthrough

Stem cells from skin cells: it’s all over the news – see EurekAlert 1, EurekAlert 2, EurekAlert 3, EurekAlert 4, National Geographic News, BreitBart.com, BBC News 1, BBC News 2, MSNBC and and PhysOrg for sample reports.  Two teams working independently, one in Japan and one in America, were able to tinker with just four genes to make skin cells pluripotent – able to turn into any of more than 200 body tissue cells.  This is another advance on a technique announced last June (06/06/2007), that now has been demonstrated to work with human skin cells.
    If this technique bears fruit with real treatments, it could end the need for embryonic stem cells.  National Geographic, however, said it could be a blow for those who want to receive funding for embryonic stem cells.  The article ended with a quote from a medical legal advisor claiming that it “is a mistake” to think this ends the need for funding of ES cell research.  No explanation was given.  It questioned whether the new technique would be eligible for federal funding.  History would seem to show, however, that when something works, and people flock to a life-saving treatment, the money will flow from investors, patients and probably the government as well.
    Only a few labs have had the resources and expertise to deal with embryonic stem cells.  The new method is “fairly straightforward and can be repeated by standard labs with relative ease,” the PhysOrg article stated.  The breakthrough solves not only the ethical problems but a practical one as well: “The new method is expected to rapidly advance research in the treatment of cancer, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, diabetes, arthritis, spinal cord injuries, strokes, burns and heart disease because scientists will have much greater access to stem cells.”
    The American team’s paper is to be published in Science this week (Nov. 22); the paper by the Japanese team will appear in the Nov. 30 issue of Cell.  Confirmation that these cells act identically to pluripotent stem cells will take time, and treatments may be years away, but PhysOrg quoted the director of a cardiovascular health institute who said the “work is monumental in its importance to the field of stem cell science and its potential impact on our ability to accelerate the benefits of this technology to the bedside.”
    Incidentally, the Science paper arrives on Thanksgiving Day in America.  Many patients suffering from debilitating diseases in hospitals have a new reason for gratitude and hope.

Christian radio talk show host Frank Pastore reminded his listeners today that not long ago, the proponents of embryonic stem cell research were the ones calling Christians, who supported adult stem cell research (07/19/2007) but opposed ES cell research on ethical grounds, “anti-science” (09/26/2007).  Remember their tear-jerking commercials, the celebrity endorsements and the doomsday warnings that America would fall behind unless we got to the head of the ES stem cell bandwagon?  Californians should demand their $3 billion back, or demand it be redirected into these new ethical approaches.
    Pastore quoted a researcher who admitted that ES cell research has not produced one cure for anything – not one.  Adult stem cells, during the same time, have produced dozens of practical treatments.  If this new approach to harvesting stem cells succeeds in generating actual treatments, doctors will have a ready supply of easily-obtainable pluripotent stem cells without the problems of teratomas and tissue rejection inherent with ES cells.  Great days for medicine could be ahead.  No thanks to the Big Science Big Money doomsday prophets; you know, the same ones who bring you global warming socialism and the Darwin-Only Policy on Education (DOPE); in fact, a Nature editorial quizzically claimed this is the exactly wrong time to constrain research on ES cells (no reason was given).  For the rest of us, thankfully, health and beauty may indeed be only skin deep.

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