Human Exceptionalism

Lead Into Gold: IPS Cells Advances Continue

President Obama still hasn’t rescinded the Bush stem cell policy. He will, but it may matter a lot less than people once thought. The IPSC advances continue, opening the door possibly for a way forward in biotechnology that all Americans can support. And, it is reported in the Washington Post! From the story:

Scientists have developed what appears to be a safer way to create a promising alternative to embryonic stem cells, boosting hopes that such cells could sidestep the moral and political quagmire that has hindered the development of a new generation of cures.

The researchers produced the cells by using strands of genetic material, instead of potentially dangerous genetically engineered viruses, to coax skin cells into a state that appears biologically identical to embryonic stem cells. “It’s a leap forward in the safe application of these cells,” said Andras Nagy of Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, who helped lead the international team of researchers that described the work in two papers being published online today by the journal Nature. “We expect this to have a massive impact on this field.”

The IPSCs are already being used in drug testing and etc. But can’t be used in patients:

The alternative cells, known as induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPS cells, appear to have many of the same characteristics as embryonic stem cells but are produced by activating genes in adult cells to “reprogram” them into a more primitive state, bypassing the moral, political and ethical issues surrounding embryonic cells. Until now, however, their use has been limited because the genetic manipulation required the use of viruses, raising concerns the cells could cause cancer if placed in a patient. That has triggered a race to develop alternative approaches. “These viral insertions are quite dangerous,” Nagy said.

Well, so are embryonic stem cells. Pluripotency itself is a problem due to potential tumor formation, and if the stem cells come from “leftover” embryos, immune rejection issues–which is why with the exception of the Geron approved trial, they haven’t been used in humans. And the story doesn’t get into the amazing adult stem cell successes in early human trials, which are patient specific and don’t appear to pose the tumor threat.

Be that as it may, let us all hope the IPSC advances continue. If they work, it could bring about a rapprochement between both sides of the great ESCR debate, while not opening the door to human cloning.

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