Wonderful Stem Cell News

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Canadian and British stem cell researchers are reporting an exciting new method for producing stem cells from adult cells without using viruses. In 2006, researchers in Japan and Wisconsin discovered how to use viruses to ferry four genes that turn adult cells into stem cells that act very much like embryonic stem cells.

ipscells

Like stem cells derived from embryos, the induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells can differentiate into various cell types that could be used as transplants to replace diseased or damaged tissues. In addition, since the stem cells are produced using adult cells taken from individual patients, they would be genetic matches for each patient. This would mean that transplants of such cells would not risk being rejected by a patient's immune system.

However, researchers worried that using viruses to produce iPS cells might result in cancer. The new technique uses the piggyBac transposon derived from butterflies to incorporate into skin cells the suite of four genes necessary to transform them into stem cells. (A transposon ia a mobile DNA sequence that can move from one site in a chromosome to another, or between different chromosomes.) Once the genes are installed, the transposon can be completely eliminated from the cells. If iPS cells work out, another tremendous advantage to them is that they can be produced without using scarce human eggs. 

In addition, opponents of human embryonic stem cell research argue that the new iPS cells are not morally problematic (from their point of view) because they are not derived from human embryos. On the other hand, it might be that iPS cells produced from skin cells could become embryos capable of developing into babies if implanted in a womb. The possibility that a soul can enter a specific cell evidently may depend on whether or not a single genetic switch is on or off.

In any case, the new research is a very promising avenue to the development of regenerative medicine. 

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  1. I think there should be a zombie doomsday clock. We’ve just moved one minute closer to midnight.

    Somebody call Will Smith.

  2. Awesome! It’s great to read some genuine good news on this blog. Thanks for the update Ron.

  3. The possibility that a soul can enter a specific cell evidently may depend on whether or not a single genetic switch is on or off.

    What the fuck is a soul exactly? How much does it weigh? What’s it’s wavelength or energy level? Is it better with red or white wine?

  4. Technology is our only hope.

  5. kilroy,

    How about a nice Chianti?

  6. What the fuck is a soul exactly?

    A made up religious concept that allows for the conceptualization of how one can “live” on (in Heaven, Hell, Limbo, Hades, etc.) even after the death/destruction of the physical body. It’s to reassure people about death.

    Or it’s something that James Brown used to create.

  7. When the Zen master (or maybe John Cleese) was asked about what happens after death, he replied, “How should I know? I’m not dead yet.”

  8. Whatever souls may be or how human beings might come to have them appears to be a topic about which Mr. Bailey’s inability to slap around straw men never ceases to amuse even if the amusement isn’t of the sort he quite intended.

    Ensouled embryos originating from skin cells or otherwise, it is indeed welcome news that the march of progress need not destroy the lives of extant human beings regardless of their age or stage of development. That it might also reduce Mr. Bailey’s occasional metaphysical conundrums doesn’t seem like too high a price to pay.

  9. Animal brains are made up of the same things are ours, right? Do they have souls, and if so, why do they not have religion?

  10. DAR: Just curious — are these entities produced with a disrupted Cdx2 gene disabled “extant human beings” or something else? If something else, then that would seem to imply that disrupting a single gene prevents the ingress of a soul.

    Soul, here being understood as whatever quality it is that some people believe morally relevant in the debate over embryonic stem cells.

  11. Mr. Bailey:

    If the question is whether an otherwise normal human embryo that cannot be implanted in a human womb because we have modified (or created) it thus is nonetheless an extant human being, I would say the answer is precisely the same as if we created an embryo such that it developed normally in the womb but was incapable of living after birth or such that it was capable of living normally until the onset of puberty, etc.

    How human beings come into existence and how long the live once they have come into existance is not, as you phrase it, as morally relevant as whether they do exist and how we regard them thereafter. For that matter, every human being dies sooner or later. The morally relevant question is whether we kill them.

  12. Mr. Ridgely: I take it then that your judgment is that the entities are “disabled extant human beings.” In altered nuclear transfer, the genes in the nuclear DNA are being disabled before the nucleus is installed in an enucleated egg. Just how many genes (or is there one particular gene that) must be disabled prior to a nucleus being jumpstarted on a developmental process in an egg such that they no longer produce a “disabled extant human being”?

  13. *grabs popcorn*

    Did anyone bring beer?

  14. Mr. Bailey:

    I’m not entirely sure what the sense of disabled is in that context. If the only discernible sense in which such human embryos differ from normal human embryos is their inability to implant in a human womb, then I see no reason to deny their being extant human beings just as I would consider human embryos which, for whatever reason, do not implant in the womb after conception to be extant human beings. Of course, in both cases such human beings live a very short time. The morally significant difference between them would appear to be only that the first sort were designed to have that shorter lifespan, rather like the androids in Bladerunner who were designed to die after three years.

    As for your second question, I have no idea. Let’s assume for the sake of the argument that you could disable whatever genetic coding triggered the development of eyesight in a human embryo. Do we have reason to believe the otherwise normal child born thus was not a human being? It seems to me that we don’t but that what we are doing in that case is intentionally creating disabled human beings.

  15. Nick, I can assure you that dogs, at least, are capable of religion.

    Mine have always adhered to a dualist theology, in which I personify the dark forces of the universe, bearing as I do the (figurative) rod of punishment, and my wife personifies all that is good and wise and has treats in its pocket.

  16. Mr. Ridgely: Interesting analogy. So again, I take it as yes. And I tend to agree with you that altered nuclear transfer does not do an end run around the question of the moral status of embryos, even though some members of President Bush’s Council on Bioethics did.

    With regard to the second question, being blind does not make an human being a non-human being. But say you disabled one of the HOX genes so that the entity (say, a pre-embryo) could not produce a brain, what then? It is well-known that souls communicate/inhabit/operate with bodies through the pineal gland. So no brain, no pineal gland, and thus no human being? 🙂

  17. Alas, Mr. Bailey, if only you could refrain from putting Descartes before the hearse….

    But, yes, I think we’d have adequate cause to call Homo sapiens that were brainless from inception (other than members of Congress, of course) non-human for purposes of medical research, harvesting organs, etc. There is certainly an important difference between a human organ and a human organism, and mere human tissue does not, by itself, a human being make.

  18. Too bad Ron.No babies were harmed in the making of this scientific breakthrough.

  19. SIV: You are right. No babies were harmed, but some embryos were dismantled so that researchers could figure out which genes are needed to transform cells into a less differentiated stem cell state.

  20. The possibility that a soul can enter a specific cell evidently may depend on whether or not a single genetic switch is on or off.

    Let’s see how glib you are when St. Peter casts you into hellfire and damnation, Bailey

  21. The possibility that a soul can enter a specific cell evidently may depend on whether or not a single genetic switch is on or off.

    That’s no more ridiculous than believing that passing through the vaginal opening makes the difference between a human being with the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and a lump of cells which may be eviscerated, crushed, and dismembered at the whim of someone else.

  22. “…some embryos were dismantled so that researchers could figure out which genes are needed to transform cells into a less differentiated stem cell state.”

    Any chance those were from the embryonic stem cell lines that Bush approved for federally funded research and his critics derided as being largely useless and inadequate for the purpose?

    It’s always amusing to see a committesd secularist attempt to argue life issues on a theological basis. Like a chimpanzee on ice skates, not that he skates well, but that he skates at all.

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