Thoughts of an American Centrist

Monday, June 06, 2005

New "Embryo Friendly" Stem Cell techniques may be on the Horizon

Researchers are working on two new methods of creating embryonic stem-cells without the aid of stem-cell giving embryos.

From Blastomere to Stem Cell Line

Working with early mouse embryos, the team has found that single blastomeres, when cultivated in dishes with embryonic stem cells, can become what appear to be embryonic stem cells themselves. Chemicals secreted by the embryonic cells apparently flip the right genetic switches in the blastomeres to make them act "stemmy."

The article explains that a single cell taken from a blastomere (the eight-cell embryo in the pre-stem-cell stage) does not destroy the embryo, and in fact shows no impact whatsoever on the embryo’s development. This gets us around the stem cell destruction issue. Of course, the research involved in producing this type of technology requires the chemical makeup of actual embryonic stem cells, so the initial research still relies on the controversial method of producing the cells. Once the process if fully developed, however, we’d expect to be able to perform this type of transformation using only a Betty-Crocker cake mix of chemicals.

Fusion Recipes: Not just for Manhattan Restaurants Anymore

Other researchers are experimenting with variations on a second approach. Chad Cowan and co-workers at Harvard University, for example, use chemicals to get an adult human skin cell to fuse with a human embryonic stem cell. The two cells become one with shared cellular contents, including two full batches of genes.

Experiments indicate that something in the stem cell "reprograms" the skin cell's genes, putting the hybrid cell into an embryonic state. The team is now developing ways to remove the original stem cell's DNA after reprogramming is complete. What will be left is an embryo-like cell that can be made to grow into all kinds of tissues -- all of which will be genetically matched to the person who donated the original skin cell.

Now that is wicked cool!

The main benefit behind this technique is that stem cell lines will be able to be tailored to each patient using the patients own genetic makeup. I left the Biology field a couple years ago, but I know that exact genetic matches are a good thing!

Before we get too excited…

As with all good research, these new developments take a lot of hard work and time to produce any useable results. In the meantime, we will still need to make use of the current Embryonic Stem Cell technology. The Centrist renews his call for the Senate to pass (and the President to sign) the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act. Wavering Senators, put partisan pandering aside and do what’s right for the country.


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