Skin Cells Converted to Stem Cells Scientists' Work Could Clear Moral Hurdle to Embryonic Research
Rick Weiss strongly suggests that the barrier to embryonic stem cell research built by George Bush has been surmounted. He notes that this, reported on page A1 of the Post no less, might have an effect on the upcoming vote in the Senate. He better hope that Senators read to the end of the article which quotes people explaining why the fascinating scientific results have no practical applications without another break through.
Also the sentence in bold is false as written. Without qualification "the DNA in those new stem cells" refers to all of the DNA in the cells and not to half of the DNA in the cells. The reason foreign grafts are rejected is that they present foreign HLA antigens. A cell with the host genome plus a foreign genome will be rejected just as a foreign cell would be. The result is fascinating but it does not remove any of the problems with using existing lines including their expression of foreing HLA. Sometimes good science does not have immediate political applications. The sentence in Bold Italics is total nonsense. It means that Weiss has refused to understand the explanation of why this is not true.
Also Mr Weiss does some nit picklering. When the headlined scientists whose paper has been accepted by a peer reviewed journal say they have not solved Bush's political problem, he writes that they "do not mention" the allegedly promising research of other scientists who choose to communicate by interview not via peer reviewed journals. Then Weiss speculates, with no zero zip evidence, that something can be done to solve the problem.
Scientists for the first time have turned ordinary skin cells into what appear to be embryonic stem cells -- without having to use human eggs or make new human embryos in the process, as has always been required in the past, a Harvard research team announced yesterday. The technique uses laboratory-grown human embryonic stem cells -- such as the ones that President Bush has already approved for use by federally funded researchers -- to "reprogram" the genes in a person's skin cell, turning that skin cell into an embryonic stem cell itself. The approach -- details of which are to be published this week in the journal Science but were made public on the journal's Web site yesterday -- is still in an early stage of development. But if further studies confirm its usefulness, it could offer an end run around the heated social and religious debate that has for years overshadowed the field of human embryonic stem cell research. Since the new stem cells in this technique are essentially rejuvenated versions of a person's own skin cells, the DNA in those new stem cells matches the DNA of the person who provided the skin cells.In theory at least, that means that any tissues grown from those newly minted stem cells could be transplanted into the person to treat a disease without much risk that they would be rejected, because they would constitute an exact genetic match.
Until now, the only way to turn a person's ordinary cell into a "personalized" stem cell such as this was to turn that ordinary cell into an embryo first and later destroy the embryo to retrieve the new stem cells growing inside -- a process widely known as "therapeutic cloning."
[ Huge deletion]
They and others have for some months predicted that if such new findings were to emerge, they could shift the balance of votes in the Senate. The researchers emphasize in their report that the technique is still far from finding an application in medicine. Most important, they note: Because it involves the fusion of a stem cell and a person's ordinary skin cell, the process leads to the creation of a hybrid cell. While that cell has all the characteristics of a new embryonic stem cell, it contains the DNA of the person who donated the skin cell and also the DNA that was in the initial embryonic stem cell. At some point before these hybrid cells are coaxed to grow into replacement parts to be transplanted into a person, that extra DNA must be extracted, the researchers write. The team describes this task as a "substantial technical barrier" to the clinical use of stem cells made by the new technique. They do not mention that several teams, including ones in Illinois and Australia, have said in recent interviews that they are making progress removing stem cell DNA from such hybrid cells. None of those teams has published details of their results. But several leading researchers have said they believe it will be feasible to remove the extra DNA. Some even suspect that the new technique for making personalized stem cells would still work even if the "starter" stem cells' DNA were removed before those cells were fused to the skin cells. It is not clear whether the genetic reprogramming imposed upon the skin cells by the fused stem cells requires the initial presence of the stem cells' DNA, or whether fluids in the initial stem cells can do the job themselves..
I found the article interesting, but the journalism is poor and the headline is terrible. Still it is not as bad as the New York Times headline which just ruined the humor in Paul Krugman's "Opinions about shape of earth differ" joke.
update: I have now read the dead tree version of the post. It is much worse than I thought. The totally false paragraph in bold italics above concludes the part of the story on page A1. The reader has to jump to read that it is false and that practical applications of the research will require further maybe possible maybe impossible breakthroughs.
Update 2: I just heard something on NBC about the stem cells. This was absolutely awful. In the broadcast there was no mention at all of the excess chromasomes. Recall this eliminates the advantage of using the patient's cells in the process. The "balance" was quoting a scientist at Stanford. However the quotes were cut down to one sound bite stating the definition of "stem cell". Are we to believe that this guy didn't mention the problem ? Further "balance" was from someone from focus on the family saying this new approach would be OK by Bush but not by them.
I am visiting the US. My contact with US TV is via lefty bloggers who criticize it. I was sure it couldn't be that bad. Now I think that mediamatters is part of the MSM conspiracy.
Finally, I'd like to ask why this new approach is not theraputic cloaning. An embryonic stem cell can grow into a complete organism. By the same argument that blastocysts are humans, embrionic stems cells are all human beings. That is Bush's compromise was always logically absurd. What the Harvard researchers lead by Doug Melton have done is found a way to make a totopotent cell without using a human ovum. I don't see how the luniest fundamentalist loony could imagine this has any ethical relevance. I understand that I am agreeing with the focus on the family spokesperson, but he, the iron grip of logic is hard to break. posted by Robert
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