News on Ethical Stem Cells

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BBC News: “‘Ethical’ Stem Cell Crop BoostedResearch into stem cell therapies continues to find new ways to harvest the valuable cells without ethical compromises, as is shown by a new breakthrough described in Nature Methods.

The team determined how to create the stem cells with chemicals rather than a virus.

A team at the Scripps Research Institute continues to learn more about generating stem cells from adult human tissue, an alternative to the controversial method of destroying viable human embryos to harvest their stem cells. The new development increases the potential yield of adult stem cell harvesting, using chemicals to make the process two hundred times more efficient while doubling the technique’s speed.

BBC News reports that the first successful production of stem cells from adult skin cells took place in 2007 (we commented on the news in our November 24 News to Note). Yet the success rate of production at the time was only one in ten thousand cells, and the process took weeks. Furthermore, the scientists used a virus to transform the cells, which led to worries about cancer formation.

Last May, however, the team determined how to create the stem cells with chemicals rather than a virus. The new breakthrough is an improvement of that procedure. Researcher Sheng Ding, who was also instrumental in the previous work, noted, “Both in terms of speed and efficiency, we achieved major improvements over conventional conditions. This is the first example in human cells of how reprogramming speed can be accelerated.”

The new technique should propel further research into the team’s stem-cell-producing method, which should, in turn, bring the promise of widespread stem cell therapies closer to reality. And the process is entirely free of the moral and ethical dangers associated with embryonic stem cell research—which looks more and more unjustified as time passes.


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