Wednesday, June 08, 2005
I found this over on Instapundit (yeah, like he needs the plug from me). I find this EXTREMELY promising.
- In recent months, a number of researchers have begun to assemble intriguing evidence that it is possible to generate embryonic stem cells without having to create or destroy new human embryos.
The research is still young and largely unpublished, and in some cases it is limited to animal cells. Scientists doing the work also emphasize their desire to have continued access to human embryos for now. It is largely by analyzing how nature makes stem cells, deep inside days-old embryos, that these researchers are learning how to make the cells themselves.
Yet the gathering consensus among biologists is that embryonic stem cells are made, not born -- and that embryos are not an essential ingredient. That means that today's heated debates over embryo rights could fade in the aftermath of technical advances allowing scientists to convert ordinary cells into embryonic stem cells.
- "That would really get around all the moral and ethical concerns," said James F. Battey, chief of the stem cell task force at the National Institutes of Health. The techniques under study qualify for federal grant support because embryos are not harmed, he noted. And eventually the work could boost the number of stem cell colonies, or lines, available for study by taxpayer-supported researchers.
As cells mature during embryonic and fetal development, certain genes in those cells are switched either on or off. Depending on the new pattern of activity, each cell becomes skin, heart muscle, nerve or some other kind of specialized cell.
Now scientists are exploring methods for resetting the genetic switches inside various cells to the positions that will make them embryonic again. Both of the two major approaches now under study use existing embryonic stem cells (widely available from previously destroyed embryos and eligible for study using federal funds) to help ordinary cells become stem cells.
The ultimate challenge, scientists said, will be to get beyond their reliance on harvested embryonic stem cells and turn people's mature cells into embryonic stem cells of their own. To do so, researchers will have to identify the specific, switch-flipping chemical factors inside stem cells.
"The end hope is to determine the exact molecular components of reprogramming and get it down to something chemically useful so you can get adult cells to turn into any cell type you want," Cowan said. "That's the science fiction goal that we'd all like to see come true."