Adult Stem Cell Reprogramming With Germ Line May Rival Embryonic Research

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Aug 21, 2006   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Adult Stem Cell Reprogramming With Germ Line May Rival Embryonic Research Email this article
Printer friendly page

by Steven Ertelt Editor
August 21, 2006

Washington, DC ( — When President Bush vetoed legislation last month that would have forced taxpayers to pay for embryonic stem cell research, pro-life advocates touted adult stem cells as a more ethical and effective alternative. Another embryonic stem cell research alternative — germ line reprogramming — received a little attention then but continues to make progress.

Embryonic stem cell research advocates tout the unproven research as the best hope for patients because scientists have a greater ability to manipulate the cells to target specific diseases or conditions.

But researchers are finding the same success with germ line stem cells.

Researchers have taken adult stem cells from mouse testes, the germ line, and reprogrammed them to exhibit pluripotentiality — the ability to transform into any other cell type in the body.

The germ line is the most protected and genetically pure cell line in the body and, as such, provides the best chance for successful therapies that will lead to cures.

Using human cells, scientists at PrimeCell Therapeutics, a biotech firm, have already therapeutically reprogrammed adult germ cells into human heart, brain, bone, cartilage and liver cells.

For therapy, the cells would be derived from the same individual receiving the therapeutic treatment, eliminating risk of rejection (a problem seen with embryonic stem cells), infection and the introduction of foreign pathogens. These benefits could possible reduce the time to regulatory approval for clinical trials.

"We’re all after the same thing — therapies that will lead to effective treatments," said Thomas C.K. Yuen, PrimeCell Therapeutics chairman and CEO, in a statement obtained by

"The excitement is building around germ line stem cell research because it offers so much promise as a solution that will move us in the direction of therapies as quickly as possible," Yuen added.

In his veto message, President Bush referenced the work of research reprogramming adult stem cells.

"Researchers are now also investigating new techniques that could allow doctors and scientists to produce stem cells just as versatile as those derived from human embryos," the president explained at the time. "One technique scientists are exploring would involve reprogramming an adult cell."

Researchers in Germany have had similar successes as well with germ line stem cells.

The German scientists turned the mouse germ line cells into different types of tissue, including liver, heart, muscle, skin, pancreas and nerve cells.

Dr. Gerd Hasenfuss, of Georg-August University in Gottingen, indicated his team was beginning to study the cells in human males and has found similar results so far.

"These isolated spermatogonial stem cells respond to culture conditions and acquire embryonic stem cell properties," he wrote about the new cells.

If the results can be repeated in people, Hasenfuss said the cells could result in patient-specific matches "without the ethical and immunological problems associated with human embryonic stem cells."

The chairman of the National Committee of Medicine of the Australian Academy of Science, Professor Bob Williamson, told the Sydney Herald newspaper at the time that the find is just another of many examples showing adult stem cells can be just as versatile as embryonic ones.

The German researchers published their findings in March in the scientific journal Nature.

Hasenfuss said editors there demanded extra tests and heavy documentation before agreeing to publish the report. The journal was forced to retract two false embryonic stem cell research papers submitted by Hwang Woo-suk’s team after it faked embryonic stem cell research studies.

Related web sites:
PrimeCell(TM) Therapeutics LLC –