Scientific Breakthrough: Stem Cells Made From Human Skin

Posted Nov 21, 2007 by William Suphan
A recent scientific breakthrough may finally be able to break through the current resistance to sorely needed stem cell research. Scientists have found a way to create stem cells from human skin.
Part of a DNA strand
DNA strand.
Stem cell research has been hotly contested, especially in the United States. It has the potential to save millions of lives, yet has come under pressure from religious groups who confuse blastocysts (small collections of cells which are already slated to be discarded) with fetuses (that actually might be born).
Now, that whole debate can be bypassed, as scientists have now found a way to transform human skin cells into stem cells.
Furthermore, scientists in both the U.S. and Japan have been able to generate stem cells using a patient's specific genetic code, thereby removing the possibility of the patient's body rejecting tissue and organ transplants.
This could prove to be a great boon to medical and scientific research in treating cancer, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases, diabetes, arthritis, spinal cord injuries, strokes, burns, heart disease and many other maladies due to much more access to stem cells, which can be developed into any of the human body's 220 types of cells.
Deepak Srivastava, director of the Gladstone Institute of Cardiovascular Disease said, "(The) work is monumental in its importance to the field of stem cell science and its potential impact on our ability to accelerate the benefits of this technology to the bedside. "Not only does this discovery enable more research, it offers a new pathway to apply the benefits of stem cells to human disease."
The two research teams accomplished this breakthrough by using a retrovirus to insert four different genes into the cells.
What researchers now have to figure out is how to switch on the genes that cause the skin cells to regress into stem cells rather than relying on the retrovirus to insert the genes.
Douglas Melton, a stem cell researcher at Harvard said, "It's almost inconceivable at the pace this science is moving that we won't find a way to do this."
Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University warns us that it is "premature to conclude that iPS cells can replace embryonic stem cells."
"We are still a long way from finding cures or therapies from stem cells and we don't know what processes will be effective," said Yamanaka.
However, he is optimistic about certain uses of these stem cells, saying "These cells should be extremely useful in understanding disease mechanisms and screening effective and safe drugs. If we can overcome safety issues, we may be able to use human iPS (induced pluripotent stem) cells in cell transplantation therapies."
This research should be a huge sigh of relief for both sides stem cell debate.