Great Stem Cell News

Researchers at the Children's Hospital in Boston have figured out how to produce induced pluripotent human stem cells using skin cells. This is a considerable advance on earlier breakthroughs in which viruses were used to ferry the genes needed to transform adult cells into stem cells. As the Washington Post reports:

The new approach involves molecules known as "messenger RNA" (mRNA), which cells use to create proteins they need to carry out vital functions. Working in the laboratory, the researchers created mRNA molecules carrying the instructions for the cell's machinery to produce the four key proteins needed to reprogram into iPS cells.

After tinkering with the mRNA molecules to make signals that the cells would not destroy as dangerous invaders, the researchers found that a daily cocktail of their creations was remarkably fast and efficient at reprogramming the cells. The technique converted the cells in about half the time that previous methods did, about 17 days, and with surprising economy - up to 100 times more efficient.

"We ended up with so many colonies of cells all over the place that we had to stop the experiment," [Derrick J.] Rossi [who headed up the research] said.

Moreover, the cells had not experienced any disturbing changes in their DNA caused by previous methods and appeared much more indistinguishable from embryonic stem cells than iPS cells created using other methods. In addition, the researchers went one step further and showed that they could use the strategy to quickly and easily convert the iPS cells they created into a specific cell types - in this case muscle cells.

The really good news is that this technique produces cells that are genetically identical to the patient from whom they are derived. This would avoid the problem of immune rejection when the cells are used for regenerative therapies.

Despite this good news, the controversy over human embryonic stem cells is not yet over. According to the Post:

"With each new study it becomes more and more implausible to claim that scientists must rely on destruction of human embryos to achieve rapid progress in regenerative medicine," said Richard M. Doerflinger of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Rossi and other researchers, however, said that embryonic stem cells are still crucial because, among other things, they remain irreplaceable for evaluating alternatives.

"The new report provides a substantial advance," said National Institutes of Health Director Francis S. Collins. "But this research in no way reduces the importance of comparing the resulting iPS cells to human embryonic stem cells. Previous research has shown that iPS cells retain some memory of their tissue of origin, which may have important implications for their use in therapeutics. To explore these important potential differences, iPS research must continue to be conducted side by side with human embryonic cell research."

Still, if such IPS cells prove out, one can see the end of using stem cells derived from embryos. It is time for supporters of human embryonic stem cell research like me to acknowledge that opposition probably pushed these breakthroughs along. On the other hand, it is also time for opponents of human embryonic stem cell research to acknowledge that these breakthroughs would most likely have been impossible without earlier work on human embryonic stem cells.

In any case, both sides can be happy today with these results.

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  • Zero||

    Does this mean that the dead babies are off the hook? i keed i keed

  • Cartman||

    God DAMN it!! What am I gonna do with all these Grade A fetuses I got?

    Son of a BITCH!!

  • Suki||

    The baby killers will just ignore this news and keep saying the same thing they have been saying all this time.

  • ||

    Yeah, Ronald Bailey covers over a lot of unwritten and unsupported assertions with that phrase "most likely." I'm not buying his lame attempt at excuse making for the vampiristic baby killers.

  • ||

    It certainly looks like a win-win. As soon as embryonic stem-cell research stops at CIC schools, Notre Dame can join the Big Ten.

  • Bingo||

    "up to 100 times more efficient."

    This is really really amazing. We're getting much closer to the point where we can grow people a replacement organ using their own cells. Of course, considering our regulatory structure it will be years before this is approved and that's if it's not banned outright by the increasing number of kneejerk Luddites on both the left and the right.

  • cynical||

    I'm hoping that by the time I'm fifty, getting your heart replaced with a cloned organ will be considered a standard maintenance procedure.

  • Barely Suppressed Rage||

    Now if we can perfect growing a new brain, maybe there will be hope for the fringe left and fringe right.

  • Planned Parenthood||

    This is terrible news for our business.

  • Wright's nemesis||

    "On the other hand, it is also time for opponents of human embryonic stem cell research to acknowledge that these breakthroughs would most likely have been impossible without earlier work on human embryonic stem cells."

    On the other hand it is time for opponents of NASA to acknowledge that we wouldn;t have Tang or Velcro if we hadn;t raped your bank accounts to fund our whims.

  • Dr. Josef Mengele||

    I agree Mr. Bailey, the ends justify the means.
    Now, hold still, Mrs. Schwartz, this is going to hurt a lot. But since you're not human, who cares?

  • Douglas Donaldson||

    "On the other hand, it is also time for opponents of human embryonic stem cell research to acknowledge that these breakthroughs would most likely have been impossible without earlier work on human embryonic stem cells."

    Um. No. I have no horse in this race, but your argument seems more about rationalization for your own position and less about the science. Nice article, though.

  • Masturbatin' Pete||

    It would also be nice to get an acknowledgment that the anti-embryonic-stem-cell folks are not and never were "anti-science."

    You never have to do evil, boys and girls.

  • Concern Troll||

    This story needs a cop, a poor family, and a dead stem cell.

  • Bingo||

    Is the cop going to follow standard department procedure and shoot the family's stem cell in a no-knock raid based on an anonymous informant?

  • Concern Troll||

    Obviously!
    Another isolated incident™.

  • mousefeathers||

    I have thought for years (if not decades) that we would one day be able to take a cell, and deprogram the sucker back to the beginning.

    This does NOT let us off the hook, though, if the "every zygote is a person" crowd is consistent, because the perfectly deprogrammed cell will be essentially identical to its originating zygote. That would make IT a person too.

    Doesn't that leave us in the same mess?

  • Richard Nous||

    No! You're talking about a clone and anyone who's seen the movie Multiplicity knows clones are dumber than the original. The religious right will fear even more clones voting for Obamacrats so its all good.

  • mousefeathers||

    All those twins and triplets and quads ad nauseam on TLC and Discovery Health, etc., are Obamacrats? Golly willickers!

  • ||

    mousefeathers|10.1.10 @ 4:39PM|#
    "I have thought for years (if not decades) that we would one day be able to take a cell, and deprogram the sucker back to the beginning."

    The very beginning? As in prokaryotic slime? Why would you want to do that, when we already have MSNBC?

  • mousefeathers||

    Ha! Y'got me! *laugh*

    Seriously, I really only meant a specific human cell, back to its specific beginning as a freshly minted human zygote (as mentioned in the next sentence), with the human chromosomes its parents' gametes gave it. It is obviously possible with any multi-cellular organism (assuming it's possible with just one), but it's the human cells we're all exercised about, isn't it?

    Of course, it might be entertaining to watch someone's somatic cells revert to the Great Ancestor of us all, but after you've seen the YouTube a couple times, the novelty would wear off, wouldn't it? Unless they attached some pretty fluorescent labels and made the cells write insulting messages to the viewers.

  • Dashboard Developer||

    There will always be debates about ethics when we as a species alter the natural course of life through machines assistance, medicines, treatments, or genetic therapy. This might quell the debate on stem cells momentarily, but I have no doubt that there will be more just down the road.

  • Goobs||

    This won't clear the debate. We've had plenty of traction on stem cell research from Adult Stem Cells. But these discoveries (like the one above) get patented, and so there will always be someone out there trying to come up with alternative methods to beat the patents and get their money...And they will continue to lobby for the research...and the news will report it because it is a cultural lightningrod- the Vietnam of the Abortion Cold War.

    And people like Baily will continue to report on it because they are either ethically confused or willfully ignorant. shrug.

  • ||

    The Left, scientists and Big Medical will never drop their desire to do experiments on human embryos, regardless of how many more humane alternatives there are. Part of it is guilty conscience forcing them on, part of it is a rebellion against any sort of restraint, and part of it is a visceral will to power. This seems fundamentally a spiritual evil that has a life of its own.

    Remember the 1980s movie and play "Little Shop of Horrors" about a kind little carnivorous plant that grew and eventually forced its owner to kill to feed it? Same same.

  • ||

    On the other hand, it is also time for opponents of human embryonic stem cell research to acknowledge that these breakthroughs would most likely have been impossible without earlier work on human embryonic stem cells.

    Impossible? Any evidence or are you just cutting yourself some slack?

  • ||

    Leave it to Bailey to be decades behind the 'anti-science' people. I guess Virginia Postrel won't want to be your girlfriend now that you and Michael Fumento see eye to eye.

  • دردشة||

    thanks

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