Human Exceptionalism

Lead Into Gold: IPS Cells Making ESCR “Obsolete?”

The remarkable advances of IPSCs are beginning to subsume ESCR, even among some within the science community. Thus the former head of the NIH and American Red Cross, Bernadine Healy, wrote in U.S News and World Report that IPSC and adult stem cell research successes have “diminished” the prospect that ESCR is the future of regenerative medicine. From her column entitled, “Why Embryonic Stem Cells are Obsolete:

Scientists may be growing impatient, but President Obama has been rightly taking his time in addressing a campaign promise to lift the ban on federal funding for research using new lines of stem cells to be taken from human embryos. Even for strong backers of embryonic stem cell research, the decision is no longer as self-evident as it was, because there is markedly diminished need for expanding these cell lines for either patient therapy or basic research. In fact, during the first six weeks of Obama’s term, several events reinforced the notion that embryonic stem cells, once thought to hold the cure for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and diabetes, are obsolete.

Some new achievements support this proposition. The newest is the creation of patient specific, tailor made neural cells made from Parkinson’s disease patients–and without the viruses used in their creation that some feared could cause cancer. From the story:

Borrowing a biological cut-and-paste trick from bacteria, scientists have created the first personalized stem cells for patients that are free of the cancer-causing viruses and genes needed to make them, according to a study published today in the journal Cell.

The stem cells, derived from skin samples provided by five patients with Parkinson’s disease, were first transformed back to the undecided state of cells in an early embryo. Then they were used to make the dopamine-manufacturing neurons that are lost to disease.The technique removes a key barrier to using a special class of stem cells called an induced pluripotent stem cell, or iPS cell, to create replacement parts for patients that could be transplanted without risk of rejection — the ultimate goal of regenerative medicine. “This is a major advance in the field,” said Dr. Marius Wernig, an assistant professor at the Stanford Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine, who wasn’t involved with the study.

Since IPSCs are pluripotent, we still need to worry about teratoma tumors. But with IPSCs being easy to create and not morally contentious–and adding in the remarkable adult stem cell advances–we might just be able to have a morally uncontentious, medically efficacious regenerative medical sector–and without the brave new world threats posed by human cloning.


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