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Politics & Policy

Ethical Stem Cells Relieve Parkinson’s in Monkeys

The advance of ethical stem cell research continues exponentially. Neurons made from induced pluripotent stem cells–which were, in turn, made from skin cells–have relieved Parkinson’s symptoms in monkeys. From the Nature story:

Takahashi’s team transformed iPS cells derived from both healthy people and those with Parkinson’s into dopamine-producing neurons. They then transplanted these cells into macaque monkeys with a form of the disease induced by a neuron-killing toxin.

The transplanted brain cells survived for at least two years and formed connections with the monkey’s brain cells, potentially explaining why the monkeys treated with cells began moving around their cages more frequently.

Crucially, Takahashi’s team found no sign that the transplanted cells had developed into tumours — a key concern with treatments that involve pluripotent cells — or that they evoked an immune response that couldn’t be controlled with immune-suppressing drugs.

Human trials may begin in within a few years.

Two points about this, well three:

First, this study validates George W. Bush’s prediction, when he placed mild limitations on federal embryonic stem cell funding, that scientists would be able to find ethical means of furthering regenerative medicine without using embryos.

Second, contrary to embryonic stem cells being the “only hope,” as so many Bush funding policy opponents claimed, embryonic stem cell research has not advanced nearly as far as adult stem cells and IPSC advances have. 

I keep bringing this up because all through the Bush terms in office, “the scientists” engaged in a mendacious campaign of hype and outright lies about the potential and timing of treatments from embryonic stem cell research, as they poo-poohed the potential of alternative methods. But they were wrong and those who supported the Bush policy were right.

In other words, just because the Science Establishment says something, that doesn’t make it so. Sometimes “the scientists” are wrong, or are conflating ideology with science, properly understood.

Third, contrary to animal rights ideologues and others, primate research is absolutely essential to furthering medical science. None of the potential we are seeing in this study could be known without testing on animals before humans.

So, let’s hope that IPSCs and adult stem cells continue to advance into the clinical setting. They not only provide hope for efficacious treatments–let’s not say cures–but offer a bridge across ethical divides that have roiled the field.


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