Researchers Replicate Study Producing Ethical Embryonic-Like Stem Cells

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Dec 24, 2007   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Researchers Replicate Study Producing Ethical Embryonic-Like Stem Cells Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
December 24
, 2007

Boston, MA ( — Scientists at Harvard have replicated two previous studies by scientists in Japan and Wisconsin who turned skin cells into embryonic-like stem cells and avoided the ethical problems normally associated with embryonic stem cell research and the destruction of human life. The new study provides more good news for pro-life advocates.

Previously, the Japanese and Wisconsin teams released studies in the medical journals Science and Cell that show how they were able to make adult stem cells revert to their embryonic form.

The studies confirm that human skin cells (fibroblasts) can be used to make pluripotent stem cells sharing essentially all the features of human embryonic stem cells.

The Harvard team published its findings in the latest issue of the medical journal Nature and they say the new approach is not a fluke but a legitimate method that pro-life group say shows a reduced need for destroying human embryos to advance science.

Dr. George Daley of Harvard Medical School and Children’s Hospital Boston and his colleagues obtained human skin cells from a volunteer, whereas the other two teams used commercially-available stem cells. They used fetal lung and skin cells as well.

That may appear to be a small difference but Daley says it’s an important one because it shows how scientists can use the more ethical method to create stem cells tailored for a patient for transplants.

"Ours is the only group to go from skin biopsy to cell line," Daley said in a statement.

Curt Mercadante, spokesperson for the Cures Without Cloning initiative to prohibit human cloning in Missouri, told his group found the news promising.

“The evidence continues to mount that human cloning is not necessary in the pursuit of lifesaving cures and treatments,” he said. “And it underscores the need to pass a common sense prohibition on this dangerous, unproven and unnecessary practice.”

The Daley team is now working to generate more of these induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPS cells, to match a variety of diseases, though he says the approach is not ready for treatments yet because it must get past issues of causing cancers or tumors when injected into mice.

However the Harvard team appeared to have some of the same success as Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University in that they found they could generate the iPS cells without a cancer gene called c-Myc that has previously frustrated researchers.

Later, Dr. Yamanaka furthered his own research by producing the cells without the cancer gene.

Then, scientists at MIT added to the growing list of iPS accomplishments by proving that these cells can be used to successfully treat sickle cell anemia in mice. Researchers had tried the same experiment with cloning and failed.

"This is the first evaluation of these cells for therapy," said Dr. Jacob Hanna, who worked on the study with researchers at the Whitehead Institute of Biomedical Research in Cambridge.

Rudolf Jaenisch, a member of the Whitehead Institute team, told Reuters, "This demonstrates that iPS cells have the same potential for therapy as embryonic stem cells, without the ethical and practical issues raised in creating embryonic stem cells."

Pro-life groups applauded that news.

Tony Perkins, the head of the Family Research Council told at the time, "Let’s not forget that this newfound success of iPS cells only adds to the long list of accomplishments of adult and cord blood stem cells, which are treating patients as we speak."

"Yet again, researchers are proving that the compatibility of science and ethics continues to be not only the most principled approach but also the most promising," he said.

Despite the success with iPS cells Daley said his team would continue to work with embryonic stem cells obtained by killing days-old unborn children.