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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 geddarkstorm on 12/10/2007 1:28:02 PM , Rating: 2
If science had just gone forward with embryonic stem cells without looking at alternatives, we wouldn't have this incredible, and much more powerful, breakthrough now. Using unrelated genetics verses your own, identical cells, is words different and far more problematic. Now that we can turn our own cells into stem cells, regeneration technology will be a lot easier without the worry of rejection, weird genetic events, or stem cells causing tumors as has been observed with embryonic ones (popular science had an article all about that awhile back). This is truly a much greater breakthrough; and amoral investigations would never have lead to such alternative thinking.

You need to learn more about the scientific process: it's been around since the Greeks and was never set back as much by religion as people would want to believe. Does the sun revolve around the earth, or the earth around the sun? Without a telescope, and just standing on the ground and looking at the sky, it's impossible to prove in any scientific way which one is happening; absolutely impossible because it is a relative issue (you can't tell who's doing the moving). That is until technology enabled observations of other planets and their moons orbiting them. And even then the Copernicus system stated the rest of the universe revolved around our sun as well as the earth and the planets. And again, all this only started once technology got to that level. Science can only go as fast as technology, but once it's there, nothing can stop it.

As for religion, politics is what corrupts it and uses it to dark ends. Politics starts wars due to Man's lust for power, influence, resources, and the like. The crusades were a political issue wrapped in religion to motivate the masses to get that major trade city, Jerusalem, which sat at the cross roads of several major routes. The Galileo events were also political, not so much about his observations. There's a Princeton University lecture series about the history of Religion and Science, and it concludes that it's only a modern day phenomenon that the two have become at odds with each other for the majority's part; it's not historical and religion has not been holding back civilization. One must not confuse religion with politics (i.e. using religion as a thinly veiled excuse to kill any challenges to your power in ways contrary to its teachings) or political systems (i.e. the feudal system which probably developed in part out of the Roman governance system for provinces once its central government fell, and it was the feudal system which did most of the harm of the "Dark Ages", though science was still progressing all that time).


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