August 7, 2008 | David F. Coppedge

Adult Stem Cells Race Ahead; Embryonics Falter

Major advances are being made with induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS), stem cells reconstituted from adult tissues, while interest in embryonic stem cells (ES) seems to be drying up.
    Both Nature and Science reported advances in iPS technology last week.  Nature reported that the number of factors needed to reconstitute pluripotent stem cells has dropped from four to two.1  Science,2 reporting on another iPS study, said that the factors can be delivered without the need for retroviral insertion – one of the risks of the initial process announced last year (06/06/2007, 01/10/2008).
    Meanwhile, things are looking bleak for embryonic stem cell labs.  Just a few years ago, all the major scientific organizations were pushing the US government to ease restrictions on human cloning so that America could keep up with the world’s gold rush of ES research.  Now, Andrea Gawrylewski blogged on The Scientist July 23 that biotech companies appear to be bailing on ES cells.  At first, investors jumped on the bandwagon.  “But with almost no therapeutic advances to show for the cash, the hype has died down.”  Now, investors are eyeing the iPS technology.  One analyst was quoted: “We’ve had advances in adult stem cells and [FDA] approvals.  Where do you think Wall Street money is going to go?”  Advanced Cell Technology, one of the early ES startups, is struggling to stay in business.
Update 08/11/2008: Twenty lines of diseased cells have been created using iPS technology, reported Science Daily, making it possible for scientists to examine genetic disorders.  Science Daily also reported on the new ability to create iPS cells without the need for the cancer-causing retrovirus used in earlier methods.  The article said, “Researchers hope that such embryonic stem-cell-like cells, known as induced pluripotent (IPS) cells, eventually may treat diseases such as Parkinson’s disease and diabetes.”  In addition Nature News reported that skin cells from an elderly patient were transformed into nerve cells with iPS.  “It is the first time that an induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cell line has been created from a patient with a genetic illness,” Monya Baker reported.  “Like embryonic stem cells, iPS cells have the potential to develop into almost any of the body’s cell types and offer new disease insights.”
    Meanwhile, Science3 reported new ethical worries about embryonic stem cell lines made available by the National Institutes of Health.  Egg cells were collected from donors without proper information and consent, the article explains: one firm told donors that cells “might be used in research,” and another told donors that the cells would be destroyed after a research project.  “Other forms failed to mention that embryos would be destroyed and that cells derived from them could end up in experiments around the world.”  One neurologist said “I was shocked” when she heard about the ethical lapses.  Most researchers “just assumed that the consent had been taken care of.”  Proposals to get retroactive consent from donors, though, will probably go nowhere.  The article ended by indicating that iPS technology might make embryonic stem cells superfluous, even though both presidential candidates (Obama and McCain) support expanding embryonic stem cell lines, as does Congress.

1.  Kim et al, “Pluripotent stem cells induced from adult neural stem cells by reprogramming with two factors,” Nature 454, 646-650 (24 July 2008) | doi:10.1038/nature07061.
2.  Aoi et al, “Generation of Pluripotent Stem Cells from Adult Mouse Liver and Stomach Cells,” Science, 1 August 2008: Vol. 321. no. 5889, pp. 699-702, DOI: 10.1126/science.1154884.
3.  Gretchen Vogel and Constance Holden, “Ethics Questions Add to Concerns About NIH Lines,” Science, 8 August 2008: Vol. 321. no. 5890, pp. 756-757, DOI: 10.1126/science.321.5890.756b.

Don’t forget how the Big Science community held President Bush hostage with claims he didn’t care for the disabled when he twice vetoed Congressional attempts to expand embryonic stem cell research.  Don’t forget how Hollywood tugged at our heartstrings with disabled celebrities begging for cures that could only come from ES cells.  Let this be a lesson about the trustworthiness of Big Science to make right choices on political and moral issues.  Meanwhile, can Californians get their $3 billion back after they were deceived into splurging on this morally-corrupt, dishonestly-hyped boondoggle? (11/03/2004, 02/08/2005, 10/13/2006).  Maybe after they get the Lottery removed.  Good luck.  The Lottery was similarly sold to voters as desperately needed for education.  Multiple editorials since have admitted that Lottery money doesn’t amount to a hill of beans in the school budget.  Meanwhile, a few lucky individuals get filthy rich for no admirable reason on the backs of millions of gullible individuals (who never learned math at public school) who are the least able to throw their money away.
    Baloney detecting should be a prerequisite to entering a voting booth.

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