This Little Piggy

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Week after week, scientists are reporting more sources and ways to produce embryonic-like stem cells out of adults cells. Now the stem cell research news turns to pigs.

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A Chinese team has enabled cells from adult pigs to transform into any type of body tissue (the primary goal of stem cell research). The team harvested cells from a pig’s ear and bone marrow, then used chemicals and a virus to reprogram the cells (as in other stem cell induction efforts).

The scientists hope the technique could have applications to disease research.

The scientists hope the technique could have applications to disease research. For example, lead researcher Lei Xiao of the Shanghai Institute of Biochemistry and Cell Biology notes that this could pave the way for growing organs in pigs designed for transplant into humans. Also, the cells could be programmed to replicate human diseases in pigs, giving researchers the ability to test therapies without using human patients.

“This breakthrough to produce pig stem cells potentially reinvigorates the quest to grow humanized pig organs such as pancreases for diabetics and kidneys for chronic renal failure,” Chris Mason, a medical expert from University College London, told the BBC.

ScienceNOW reports on two other recent successes at producing embryonic-like stem cells without killing human embryos.

In one of the successes, researchers led by Kwang-Soo Kim of Harvard Medical School demonstrated that skin cells from newborn humans can be reprogrammed into stem cells without using foreign genes (i.e., a virus)—a technique that has been linked with cancer. The new method was first demonstrated two months ago by scientists at the Scripps Research Institute, though only in tests on mice. (We covered that news in our May 2 edition.) Thus, Kim’s team has shown the technique works on humans.

The other story is that a joint U.S.–Spanish team has created “genetically tailored” stem cells derived from skin cells found that may be useful for treating patients with Fanconi anemia, a bone marrow disease. The skin cells were reprogrammed into blood stem cells with the traditional virus-utilizing method.

Finally, OneNewsNow also reports on a recent therapeutic success of adult stem cells that saved a Texas boy from sickle-cell anemia. Each of these breakthroughs, like the many we’ve reported on before, remind us that stem cells harvested by killing human embryos are entirely unnecessary. The life-honoring route of inducing stem cells makes more sense from both ethical and practical perspectives.

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