IPS Cells, An Embryonic Stem Cell Research Alternative, Make Major Advance

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Mar 2, 2009   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

IPS Cells, An Embryonic Stem Cell Research Alternative, Make Major Advance

by Steven Ertelt
LifeNews.com Editor
March 2
, 2009

Washington, DC (LifeNews.com) — Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells (iPS cells) have made yet another advance as they continue to become a second alternative to embryonic stem cell research. Yesterday, scientists in Canada and England published a paper showing they had turned skin cells into iPS cells.

The article, in the prestigious scientific journal Nature saw the research teams announce how they had successfully reprogrammed ordinary skin cells into iPS cells without the use of viruses to transmit the reprogramming genes to the cell.

Using a “piggyBac” system scientists were able to insert DNA where it could alter the genetic makeup of the regular cell before being harmlessly removed.

The lab trick enabled the researchers to transform the skin cells of mice and humans into the iPS cells without the cancer risk associated with the original research on the fascinating cells in 2006.

Shinya Yamanaka, the Japanese scientist who pioneered the use of the cells, had to rely on the viruses to make them.

The big news is that the breakthrough means the iPS cells are a huge step closer to being safely used in humans in clinical trials — something that only adult stem cells, not embryonic ones, had been able to do.

The lead scientist from Canada, Andras Nagy, told the Washington Post, "It’s a leap forward in the safe application of these cells…We expect this to have a massive impact on this field."

Even George Daley at Children’s Hospital in Boston, a big embryonic stem cell proponent, admitted, "It’s very significant…I think it’s a major step forward in realizing the value of these cells for medical research."

The breakthrough is also important because it shows how scientists are advancing the use of iPS cells and adult stem cells and moving away from embryonic stem cell research.

The lead scientist from the UK team told the BBC: "It is a step towards the practical use of reprogrammed cells in medicine, perhaps even eliminating the need for human embryos as a source of stem cells."

Nagy also told the Post that his study showed that iPS cells “had many of the properties of embryonic stem cells” and that his study should work with adult cells and scientists may no longer have to rely on fetal cells to generate iPS cells, which had given pro-life advocates pause in supporting the use of the cells.

As a result of the success, more scientists are expected to begin working with iPS cells and embryonic stem cell research may become even less popular than it is now.

Finally, Yamanaka, who is a researcher at Kyoto University in Japan, said he was impressed by the new findings.

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