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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 rninneman on 12/8/2007 10:44:31 PM , Rating: 2
Whoa, I think your getting ahead of yourself. Technology is allowing me to look at lots of porn right now and that has nothing to do with the future or understanding the meaning of life. Although I forgot, religious zealots don't like porn.

On a more serious note, your view is biased because you firmly believe in your religion. (Which is fine.) But what works for you is not necessarily universal. I for one am not religious nor do I believe in a higher power in any form yet, I have found meaning in life. I have found a path to self-actualization that does not involve religion. If your path does require religion, thats great too. Just don't kid yourself that religion is source of all greatness in the world.

RE: Religion:
By Scorcher on 12/8/2007 10:57:17 PM , Rating: 2
Classic church vs enlightenment argument, The "enlightented" educated people have been putting up with this crap for far too long.

RE: Religion:
By AggressorPrime on 12/9/07, Rating: 0
RE: Religion:
By ziggo on 12/10/2007 12:16:35 AM , Rating: 5
to think that religion has a monopoly on giving people a purpose in life is arrogant and blind. I do no not need the threat of a supernatural decision that decides my fate to infinity do drive me and give me purpose.

I care for the world because I have the desire to leave it a better place than I found it. To leave humanity in a better situation than I was born into. I can gain satisfaction from this effort in THIS life.

I do not consider myself a fatalist, and I may someday develop into one, but the choices we make are based on what we have experienced at the time of the choice. For someone with a logical and sequential mind like mine this develops into an understanding that if I were given the chance to make the choice again, knowing the same things I did before, I would make the same decision as before. For someone that is not as logical maybe this does not hold.

I do not believe however, that someone knows my path before I do.

We do not in any way understand all the things that make the brain function, but if it really is only flashing neurons, then I am alright with that fact. I do however have at least the illusion of choice, and certainly a purpose in life, without religion.

RE: Religion:
By AggressorPrime on 12/10/2007 4:39:05 PM , Rating: 2
Why would you want to leave this world a better place after you die than before you found it? What is in it for youself? Don't you see? That very statement is a proof of choice. No logical being would put the world above himself unless if doing so is a calling from some unnatural purpose. Without consideration of an afterlife, this makes divine purpose ever more recognizable.

Logic from the physical world dictates: Do what is best for oneself, be it help the world or not. (Not: Do what is best for the world, even if it hurts oneself in the longrun.)

RE: Religion:
By OrSin on 12/12/2007 2:24:20 PM , Rating: 2
Are you insane. The thought of make the life and world better for those genetical close to you is found in every animal the exist. Ants will die for thier colonies. Mothers will fight for thier offspring (all species). So wanting better for the world and the people in it, comes from a greater being? I guess ants and dogs have souls now too. Please that level of crap is little much. And for the record Christain made not a since dicovery in it first 1000 years. All they did is translate the writings of other cultures.

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