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Monday, February 18, 2008

Embryonic Stem Cell Research Steps Ahead-- 37 Different Ways

Imagine for a moment that the new skin cell reprogramming method for deriving stem cells (induced Pluripotentiary Stem cells, iPS) is completely successful: that it is the equal of embryonic stem cells, exactly as its proponents claim.

If so, what would we have? Leaving aside the religious arguments, (which I know is impossible for some good folks)— if you only look at the cells as a way to heal people, what we would have is a copy of something we already have-- embryonic stem cells.

We would have embryonic stem cells—and more embryonic stem cells.

By itself, that does not help.

We still have to know what to do with the cells.

No one (hopefully!) would suggest simply injecting a pint of stem cells into a person and hoping for the best.

How do we make the cells be what we want them to be, do what we want them to do-- and nothing else?

Research is required, and lots of it-- and as you know, some folks in Washington have not exactly been far-seeing and thoughtful in allocating appropriate levels of funding. We need to think of the fight against disease as equally important as any enemy. That is not happening right now, and in fact the opposite is the case. The current White House Administration has acted in ways resulting in the suppression of positive science.

But the spirit of scientific inquiry is strong; scientists, like advocates, will not be deterred.

If we never quit trying, we can only win, or die—and everybody dies, so why not try?

It is starting to happen.

Despite funding shortages, political interference, and the sheer newness of the field, embryonic stem cell research is making progress.

In April, the FDA holds a hearing on the world’s first human trials with embryonic stem cells: the long-awaited Geron/Keirstead attempt to lessen the effects of paralysis. That is earth-shaking, and will be covered in a separate article.

But what about the scientists who work their guts out, day after day, unheralded, far from the light of the public eye-- struggling to bring together another piece of the puzzle?

Mostly, we never hear about them, and that’s a shame.

A rewarding website, SCIENCE DAILY, (http://www.sciencedaily.com/) may help to rectify that situation. The site gathers scientific experiments from all across the world, summarizes them, and cites the source. To my knowledge, they have no political bias—adult, embryonic, iPS, SCNT—they look for progress.

Typing in the words “Embryonic stem cell” into the search box brought me more information than my small brain could handle—so, naturally, I am passing it along to you! (Hint: if you go there, and use the search engine, try to be specific—if you type in just “stem cell”, you may be told there are 48,911 articles matching your query!

Here is a sampling, from the laboratories of the world, 37 quiet headlines.

Each headline is a quote, full or partial, from Science Daily: if one particularly interests you, go to the site and look up the article. Some quotes are shortened … so they can fit on one line; also, Embryonic Stem Cells is abbreviated as ESC. Finally, anything added in a parenthesis is from me.

But just run your eyeball over this short list—I find it overwhelmingly encouraging—and don’t miss number 37…

1. Human Derived Stem Cells Can Repair Rat Hearts Damaged by Heart Attack
2. Failing Mouse Hearts Safely Regenerated with Programmed ESCs
3. ESCs Thrive when Shaken
4. Understanding Differentiation in hESC
5. Reversing Cancer Cells to Normal Cells
6. Stem Cell Signaling Mystery Solved
7. Carbohydrate Regulates Stem Cell Potency
8. …(another way to make hESC?) Uniparental Stem Cells
9. …Integrating Transplanted Nerve Cells Into Injured Tissue
10. …More than 2,000 New Embryonic Stem Cell Lines
11. (Hwang Wu Suk’s)…Stem Cells’ True Origins Revealed
12. Functioning Neurons from hESC
13. ESC identifiable by appearance alone
14. Chemical Cues Turn ESCs into Cerebellar (brain) Neurons
15. …New Tool for Studying…ALS Drugs
16. Improv(ing) Muscles in Muscular Dystrophy Animal Model
17. ESCs Used to Grow Cartilage
18. Not All ESC Lines Are Created Equal
19. Human ESCs are the Ultimate Perpetual Fuel Cell, Study Shows
20. HESC-derived Bone Tissue Closes Massive Skull Injury
21. …New Procedure to Differentiate HESC (for lung cells)
22. …Stem Cell Heart Repair (hESC “patch” on heart)
23. To Evade Chemotherapy, Some Cancer Cells Mimic Stem Cells
24. Primate ESC Successfully Cloned (for cell lines, not new monkeys)
25. Hybrid Human-Animal …Research Approved in UK (microscopic cow cells)
26. … Therapies…More Complicated than (adult stem cell) Scientists Thought
27. (hESC) Transplants Explored as Possible Treatment for Hearing Loss
28. HESC Lines Created Without Destruction of Embryos (PGD method)
29. Cloned Human Embryo Created from Skin Cells (for cells only)
30. …Potential for IVF-Incompetent Eggs (mouse oocytes that fail to fertilize)
31. (hESCs) Act Through Multiple Mechanisms to Benefit Mice with…Disease
32. New Use for (hES) Cells… in War on Terrorism (a poison gas detection device)
33. …Nobel prize for Discoveries in ESC and DNA Recombination
34. New Way to Sort Stem Cells Discovered (dime-sized device, cheap)
35. Boost for Stem Cell Research (seaweed capsules may help ESC transplants)
36. T-cells from hESC, (possible) Gene Therapy to Combat AIDS
37. (SCNT) Effort to Develop Patient-Specific Stem Cell Lines Launched

Folks, stay healthy, stick around, and stay posted.

You are going to want to see what happens next, as these and other great scientists follow Christopher Reeve’s admonition:

“Go Forward”.

They are, and we will.

Don Reed

Don C. Reed is co-chair of Californians for Cures, and writes for their web blog, http://www.stemcellbattles.com/. Reed was citizen-sponsor for California’s Roman Reed Spinal Cord Injury Research Act of 1999, named after his paralyzed son; he worked as a grassroots advocate for California’s Senator Deborah Ortiz’s three stem cell regulatory laws, served as an executive board member for Proposition 71, the California Stem Cells for Research and Cures Act, and is director of policy outreach for Americans for Cures. The retired schoolteacher is the author of five books and thirty magazine articles, and has received the National Press Award.

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