Monday, August 07, 2006

Reflections on Stem Cells: Year Five

There are anniversaries and then there ARE anniversaries. In this case, Wednesday is the fifth year anniversary of George Bush's stem cell edict.

Stanford University is marking the occasion with reflections from its cadre of stem cell whizzes, including Irving Weissman, Philip Pizzo, Stefan Heller and David Magnus.

Here are some excerpts.

On the question of what would have been different if the president had remained silent:
"David Magnus, PhD, director of the Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics: We would have had national standards and guidelines much sooner, and we would not have been distracted by debates over the status of embryos and embryo-like constructs. We would have had to work much faster to figure out how to handle informed consent and other practical ethical challenges."

On the most significant thing learned in the past five years:
"Stefan Heller, PhD, associate professor of otolaryngology, who is investigating the use of stem cells to repair hearing damage: The past five years were key in redefining possible new approaches to find a cure for hearing loss, and stem cells played a big role in this process. We experienced the advent of stem cell-based regenerative approaches for the inner ear."
"Philip Pizzo, MD, dean of the Stanford School of Medicine and a member of the Independent Citizens' Oversight Committee for the state's stem cell institute: One of the important transitions in the past five years has been the increasing proportion of Americans who have become supportive of embryonic stem cell research. Their voice reflects a gap between the Bush administration's tenacious fixation on religious ideology and America's common-sense perspective about the value of medical research in improving the lives of adults and children. This is coupled with an increasing number of American citizens who have stepped forward to support embryonic stem cell research through philanthropy along with a rising choir of bipartisan support from the Congress. In addition, a number of states have demonstrated their support for stem cell research through either state-funded research programs or legislative activities."
The most important thing to learn in the next five years:
Irving Weissman, director of the Stanford Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine. "We will continue pushing forward on four stem cell fronts: 1) Learning how to regenerate diseased tissues using adult tissue stem cells; 2) Finding new and useful embryonic stem cell lines and the tissue stem cells they make, such as the heart and lung; 3) Finding safe, ethical ways of making stem cell lines from patients with genetic diseases that help us understand and treat those diseases; 4) Finding new therapies based on our cancer stem cell research and using our discoveries to treat Stanford cancer patients."

1 comment:

  1. The conventional wisdom would lead you to believe that embryonic stem cell research is the most likely to lead to the development of a human pluripotent stem cell. But what if you knew it was already been done. . .in humans. . .with a non-embryonic cell?

    It has.

    PrimeCell Therapeutics in Irvine, Calif. did it this spring. The company has taken stem cells from adult males and reprogrammed those cells to pluripotency, and then reprogrammed them again to grow bone, cartilage, brain and heart cells.

    What if pluripotent stem cells were available --- without t the ethical problems of working with embryos, and also without the other scientific problems as well?

    They can be.

    In the fall of 2005, researchers found stem cells in mice and reprogrammed them to become fully pluripotent and successfully reprogrammed them again to differentiate them into many different types of specific cells from all three germ lines. They’ve done that without the scientific problem of developing teratomas (tumors) that embryonic stem cells have.

    And because the cells come from your own body, there are no rejection problems or risk of inheriting genetic defects as would occur with embryonic stem cells.

    But what if this model was scientifically confirmed already? The answer is that it has been confirmed by a group of academic researchers in Germany this spring.

    However, as we all know, we aren’t really interested in curing mice of their problems. We want to help people. That’s the hope being promised by the supporters of embryonic stem cell research.

    But what if we could create fully pluripotent stem cells from non-embryonic cells in humans without the risk of rejection problems? Would everyone still want to spend a lot of time, money and resources trying to find a way to do the very same thing with embryonic stem cells? Probably not. People would want to focus on the technology with the most promise of achieving the goal of helping people the quickest. recently published an article about this breakthrough technology.

    The promise of the future is here today.