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As one door comes to a close in U.S. stem cell policy, a group of Japanese researchers lay the blueprints for a technique that may bury the ethical stem cell hatchet forever

A bill recently passed by the Senate, which would lessen restrictions on embryonic stem cell research by allowing federally funded experimentation on frozen embryos that fertility clinics currently throw away, is expected to soon be vetoed by U.S. President Bush.

"If this bill were to become law, American taxpayers would for the first time in our history be compelled to support the deliberate destruction of human embryos," stated the president. Bush vetoed a similar bill last year, and instituted a ban in 2001 on federally funding the creation of new embryo-derived stem cell lines.

Stem cells are cells that are pluripotent: they are undifferentiated, and have the ability to become almost any kind of tissue. During the differentiation process, certain stem cells respond to different growth factors and signals and evolve into terminally differential cells such as skin cells or immune cells. Stem cells are also unique in that they are endlessly replicative, dividing faster and for longer periods of time than other cells.

Scientists found that stem cells could be induced in vitro to form different kinds of tissues. It was believed that only stem cells had this ability, but as research evolved, it was discovered that somatic cells, or those that have already differentiated into body tissue, could be reprogrammed into embryo-like stem cells.

A group of scientists at Whitehead Medical Center in Massachusetts confirmed the "reprogramming" theory when they published a paper on a new method of converting a normal cell line into a stem cell-like colony in the magazine Nature on June 6, 2007. This group, Wernig et al., modified a process previously used by Takahashi & Yamanaka in 2006.

According to Richard Doerflinger, a spokesman on stem cell issues for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, using the Takahashi & Yamanaka method for creating the pseudo-stem cells, “raises no serious moral problem, because it creates embryonic-like stem cells without creating, harming or destroying human lives at any stage.”

The psuedo-stem cell creation technique was proven to work on mice skin cells.  Both teams are confident any eventual efforts on human skin cells will also yield similar results.  However, perhaps most importantly, this research will continue even with the president's upcoming veto on embryonic stem cell bill.

Kathrin Plath, one of the U.S. researchers that confirmed Takashi & Yamanaka's experiment, claims, "It’s opened up an entire field of research. There will be so many who will find this interesting who can [do] it."




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