Stem cell research breakthrough

New source of stem cells without destroying embryos.

Stem cells from mouse tails: Photo adapted from Kadath
Stem cells from mouse tails: Photo adapted from Kadath

Stems cells can self-renew or go through numerous cycles of cell division while maintaining their undifferentiated state. Stem cells also have the capacity to differentiate into any mature cell type. These unique properties make stem cells very promising in research toward fixing damaged nerves, diabetes, and Alzheimer's. But research involving stem cells has been limited because obtaining stem cells involved destroying human embryos.

Piece of mouse's tail transformed into living mouse.

Researchers found a way to use skin cells from an adult mouse to create stem cells like that of an embryo.

Four genes, which code for four specific proteins known as transcription factors, are transferred into the cells using retroviruses. The proteins trigger the expression of other genes that lead the cells to become pluripotent, meaning that they could potentially become any of the body's cells. Yamanaka calls them induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells). "It's easy. There's no trick, no magic," says Yamanaka. Nature.

Principle proven, but not for humans, yet.

But the iPS cells aren't perfect, and could not be used safely to make genetically matched cells for transplant in, for example, spinal-cord injuries. Yamanaka found that one of the factors seems to contribute to cancer in 20% of his chimaeric mice. He thinks this can be fixed, but the retroviruses used may themselves also cause mutations and cancer.

"This is really dangerous. We would never transplant these into a patient," says Jaenisch.

In his view, research into embryonic stem cells made by cloning remains "absolutely essential". ScienceBlogs.com

"Human embryonic stem cells remain the gold standard for pluripotent cells, and it is a necessity to continue studying embryonic stem cells through traditional means." Jaenisch, MIT.edu/news

Barriers to embryonic research are breaking

After more than two years of legal wrangling, California is free to spend over $3 billion during the next decade on stem cell research. California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) is now free to raise some $300 million per year by selling bonds. New Scientist

In the United Sates Congress, the House gave final approval on Thursday to legislation aimed at easing restrictions on federal financing of embryonic stem cell research, but Democratic leaders in both chambers conceded they were short of the votes needed to override a veto threatened by President Bush. Any effort to override a veto would begin in the Senate, where the bill passed April 11 on a 63-45 vote. Even counting the three Senate Democrats who were not present for the vote, passage was one vote shy of the two-thirds majority needed to override a veto. New York Times.

Research paper in Stem Cell journal

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