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To cure sickle cell in mice just add skin -- no embryos necessary

DailyTech has long covered developments in stem cell research -- everything from using the stem cells in practical medical research to creation printable blood vessels to using the cells in more outlandish experiments such as the human-sheep "chimaera," which sounds like something straight out of The Island of Dr. Moreau

Most importantly new research allowed for the creation of pseudo-stem-cells from somatic (differentiated) cells, via an induction process.  The research was first pioneered by Japanese scientists and later confirmed by American researchers at Whitehead Medical Center in Massachusetts.  This new non-embryonic technique has the reluctant blessing of traditional stem cell opponents, including U.S. President George W. Bush and the Catholic Church.

The cells are dubbed induced Pluripotent Stem cells, iPS cells for short.  Last month it was shown that the cells could be created as easily from human skin tissue as mouse skin tissue.  Further, the research showed that the iPS cells behaved like true stem cells and could differentiate into the more than 200 types of cells in the human body.

Now scientists have completed groundbreaking research which gives an exciting glimpse into the tremendous potential the synthetic creation of stem cells can hold.  Researchers at Whitehead have used the artificially created stem cells, created from mouse skin tissue, to cure mice of sickle cell anemia, a potentially fatal inherited disease.   The research is published in the journal Science and is titled "Treatment of Sickle Cell Anemia Mouse Model with iPS Cells Generated from Autologous Skin."

The research
sounds so good that many might wonder why the scientists at Whitehead are not rushing to put the process to work curing human disease.  The reason for Whitehead's reluctance is that they are trying to change aspects of their creation approach in order to make it human safe.  Researchers currently utilize genetically modified viruses in the induction process.  The viruses have the potential to trigger tumor growth in healthy mammalian tissues. 

"The big issue is how to replace these viruses", commented Rudolf Jaenisch co-leader of the research at Whitehead, in an interview with the Washington Post.

The current treatment method uses multiple rounds of viruses to modify genetic behavior of the cells.  The first round of gene-modified viruses induces the cells to behave like stem cells.  Next the scientists used a gene splicing technique to snip out the undesirable sickle-cell gene and replace it with a healthy gene.  Finally the scientists used an additional round of viruses which induced the cell to develop into a bone marrow cell.

The marrow cells were injected into the mice with sickle-cell and anchored in the bone marrow and began to release healthy red blood cells. 

"All the parameters we can measure are now normal," Jaenisch enthused. "The mice are cured."

Hopefully the researchers can modify the technique to avoid tumor induction as the potential of curing sickle-cell disease would help save many human lives.  In humans sometimes sickle cell is treated by a bone marrow transplant, but only 20% of humans have a donor close enough to them to allow for a safe transplant.  And over 20% of those who do receive transplants experience failure, often resulting in death.  However, bone marrow created from a modified version of this process would be completely safe as the cells are genetically identical to the donor.

In the mice radiation was used to kill the bone marrow of the mice, but in humans chemotherapy drugs such as Idarubicin and Cytarabin can be used to kill the bone marrow in a less caustic manner.  In mice 80 percent of the marrow cells now are the genetically healthy cells and they have experienced no tumor growth.

George Q. Daley, a stem cell researcher at Children's Hospital in Boston, said the test was proof that human clinical applications of iPS cells were feasible.  He said,  "There will be lots of unanticipated setbacks before we end up in the clinic, but this work suggests that we will ultimately get there."

Jaenisch surprised some by emphasizing that despite his group's success, research on embryonic stem cells should be pushed ahead, not halted.

"All the progress in this field was only possible because we had embryonic stem cells to work with first.  We need to make more ES cells and really define which are going to be the best ones for different applications," he said.

Regardless, for stem cell proponents and opponents alike, this new research demonstrates a exciting process that may someday hold the cure for human diseases such as sickle-cell anemia, Parkinson's Disease and diabetes.

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RE: Religion:
By retrospooty on 12/8/2007 10:26:53 PM , Rating: 1
wow, that is wrong and misguided on so many levels. I dont know where to begin. Lets just say that is your opinion.

Judeo-Christian church held back technology so bad it created the dark ages... setting technology back 1000 years.

As far as meaning to life - You CAN beleive that life has a meaning even if a god is not in the equation.

RE: Religion:
By KristopherKubicki on 12/8/2007 11:33:25 PM , Rating: 5
The leaders of Judeo-Christian church held back technology so bad it created the dark ages... setting technology back 1000 years.

Fixed that for you.

RE: Religion:
By falonofthetower on 12/9/2007 10:35:05 AM , Rating: 2
Um, actually the dark ages were created by the barbarians who came in and wiped out Rome etc. The period that followed was possible only because the Christians did much to preserve the writings and then spurred on the great technological advances that followed.

RE: Religion:
By retrospooty on 12/9/2007 10:59:32 AM , Rating: 5
No, wrong. It started with the sacking of ROme but that was not the 1000 year ordeal called the dark ages.

The church surpressed science and people, and furthermore re-wrote your beloved bible to match their own agenda. They killed people for scientific research for the next 1000 years, if that research led to any conclusion other than the world is more than 7000 years old and is the center of the universe. 1000 years later when the renaissance started and the church eased up on the scientist killing then, things started to flow again.

RE: Religion:
By clovell on 12/12/2007 3:05:19 PM , Rating: 2
The church translated the bible, it did not radically alter its content.

The original Bible was compiled under duress, as many gnostic factions used highly embellished accounts of the New Testament to bend it to their will. A council was called of all the bishops and cardinals to put together a manuscript which would be officially sanctioned for Christian instruction. Later, books were found that were so widely used and accepted that they were considered canon, but another council was required to formalize this. Councils were usually only called in times of overwhelming need.

The deutero-canonicals were printed with the original canon for hundreds of years without incident, up until the beginning of the reformation, at which point the church realized that officially including these books in the canon was indeed, more than a formality. However, the original canon was left intact, as were newly canonized deutero-canonicals.

"I'd be pissed too, but you didn't have to go all Minority Report on his ass!" -- Jon Stewart on police raiding Gizmodo editor Jason Chen's home

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