Friday, August 29, 2008

New Research on Re-Progamming Cells Makes Embryonic Research "Irrelevant"

Claim findings enable scientists to directly reprogram a cell to become a different kind of tissue, while it remains in the body.

And yet the embryonic stem cell research industry plugs on denying that they are as old fashioned as the American Buggy Whip Manufacturers Association became after Henry Ford

( - Researchers announced yesterday that they have isolated three molecular tags that control the nature of a cell, enabling scientists to directly reprogram a cell to become a different kind of tissue, while it remains in the body. A study published yesterday in the online edition of the journal Nature described the direct manipulation in the bodies of living mice, of common pancreatic cells to change them into insulin-producing cells.

Douglas A. Melton, co-director of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, who led the research, called it, "an extreme makeover of a cell." He said, "The goal is to create cells that are missing or defective in people. It's very exciting." The research showed progress in treating diabetes in mice by increasing insulin-production and stabilizing their blood glucose levels.

"It didn't cure the mouse, but they were able to reduce their blood sugar levels to near-normal," Melton said.

Melton explained, "The presently accepted regenerative medicine idea is that you make a stem cell from a patient, bring it back to the beginning as it were, then you are left with the problem of how to instruct that cell to become a beta cell or a motor neuron."

"We asked the simple question, why should you have to go all the way back to the beginning? Could you go from one cell type to another?"

Because the process is done within the patient's own body, it obviates the need to use embryonic or adult cells that have been cultivated in a lab.

While he cautioned that many years of research remain ahead before a cure for diabetes could be offered to humans, Melton is currently working with human cells in the laboratory. He hopes to start planning the first human studies within a year.

"I would say within five years, we could be ready to start human trials," Melton said.

This advance prompted Richard Dorflinger, Deputy Director of the Secretariat of the pro-life activities of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, to tell the Washington Post, "This adds to the large and growing list of studies helping to make embryonic stem cells irrelevant to medical progress."

As usual, however, despite the ethical implications of their own work, the researchers remain adamant that embryonic human test subjects must continue to be used. "Embryonic stem cells offer a unique window in human disease and remain a key to the long-term progress of regenerative medicine," Melton said.

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