Scientists Who Created Ethical Embryonic-Like Stem Cells Moving Forward

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Mar 9, 2008   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

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by Steven Ertelt Editor
March 9
, 2008

Kyoto, Japan ( — The Japanese team of scientists who were one of two groups that created ethical embryonic-like stem cells are moving ahead with the process. Prof. Shinya Yamanaka, and his team of researchers who successfully discovered iPS cells, plan to create them from patients suffering from 10 different diseases.

In November, Yamanaka and American researcher James Thomson released studies in the medical journals Science and Cell about their process known as direct reprogramming.

They were able to make adult stem cells revert to their embryonic form by turning human skin cells (fibroblasts) into pluripotent stem cells sharing essentially all the features of human embryonic stem cells.

Now, Yamanaka’s team is going to take cells from human patients and plans to start work as early as April on developing new treatments for diseases.

The team hopes to transform healthy cells into sick ones to replicate the process by which cells deteriorate and then reverse the process.

According to the Daily Yomiuri newspaper, they will examine diseases including juvenile diabetes, muscular dystrophy, neurodegenerating diseases and congenital anemia. Patients from Kyoto University Hospital will donate cells for use in the research.

The direct reprogramming technique involves the introduction of 4 genes into the skin cells, thereby "reprogramming" them to a less specialized (pluripotent) state.

The newly-produced embryonic stem cells are known as "iPS" cells.

The good news about the process is that it can be replicated easily and that could mean labs across the world could produce embryonic-like stem cells without destroying human life.

Last month, UCLA researchers advanced the technique and were able to replicate the studies and create the skin cells without destroying human embryos.

Kathrin Plath, an assistant professor of biological chemistry at UCLA and lead author of the study, told the Daily Breeze that the stem cells they created "were virtually indistinguishable from human embryonic stem cells."

Pro-life groups have welcomed the findings because they represent another alternative to destroying human life to advance science.