British Scientists Say Adult Stem Cells Could Turn Into Embryonic Ones

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jun 15, 2006   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

British Scientists Say Adult Stem Cells Could Turn Into Embryonic Ones Email this article
Printer friendly page

by Steven Ertelt Editor
June 15, 2006

Edinburgh, England ( — British scientists have reported discovering a gene that may make it possible to take adult stem cells and transform them into embryonic ones with the same properties. If their research proves to be a success, it could the debate about embryonic stem cell research by reducing the need to use it or human cloning for studies.

A team of scientists at the University of Edinburgh’s Institute for Stem Cell Research, led by Austin Smith, published the result of their first round of studies in the Thursday edition of the scientific journal Nature.

According to a San Francisco Chronicle report, the scientists used mouse cells to examine the role of a gene that, when fused to a specialized brain adult stem cell reprograms it into an embryonic one.

Ultimately, a patient’s own stem cells could be turned into embryonic ones and reinserted into their bodies to cure or heal various ailments.

Smith told the newspaper that at least another year of experimental work is needed to understand the reprogramming process, which involves a gene known as "nanog."

"We thought this was something that would take us a very long time to work out, but now this changes from being a black box to something we can work to understand," he said.

"The effect of Nanog is remarkable. All the hybrid cells became fully converted to embryonic stem cells," added Jose Sila of the research team.

The Chronicle reports that Dr. Robert Blelloch, a stem cell scientist at the University of California who was a part of the British team, plans to try to move from mouse cells to human cells to replicate the results.

The goal is "to bring it all together, and in the culture dish convert a differentiated cell back to an embryonic cell," he explained.

However, pursuing more research into the adult stem cell reprogramming will results in the destruction of human life and human embryos and their stem cells are necessary to complete the studies.

"We will need embryonic stem cells to get there," Vincenzo Pirrotta of Rutgers University told the San Francisco newspaper.

"Every embryonic stem cell line is not the same, and they change over time. So we will need a diversity of lines to test, and we will need to be producing new lines over time because the old lines basically wear out," he explained.

Pro-life groups oppose embryonic stem cell research because days-old unborn children are killed for their stem cells. They say adult stem cell research has been successful on its own because it has already produced dozens of cures and treatments.