Stem Cells Archives

Could Stem Cells Become Moot?

Medical technology is reducing the need for stem cells.

In the laboratory skin cells were treated with a virus, which was modified to ‘infect’ them with agents that function to convert the skin cells into precursors to brain cells. These cells can specialise into the three types of brain cell: neurons, oligodendrocytes and astrocytes. After laboratory research was carried out, the converted cells were injected into the brains of mice. These mice were bred to lack the protein myelin, which is important in aiding the transmission of messages in the brain. 10 weeks later, the precursor cells had specialised into oligodendrocytes, which made the myelin that the mice lacked.

Skin cells directly to brain cells, do not pass Go, do not create ethical issues. (And creating myelin, which is something that someone like me with MS raises their antennae over.)

This should carry more weight than, say, someone like me suggesting it.

The scientist who led the team that cloned Dolly the sheep has urged fellow researchers to forego embryonic stem cell research — which he says is fraught with practical problems — and pursue more promising types of research.

That’s because he believes other research likely will overtake embryonic stem cell research.

Ian Wilmut spoke to a crowd of stem cell researchers Nov. 29 in La Jolla, Calif., telling them that because embryonic stem cells tend to lead to tumors, scientists should spend their time on non-embryonic forms of research, particularly on a new method called direct reprogramming. In direct reprogramming, scientists avoid stem cells altogether and, for instance, reprogram a skin cell directly into a nerve cell. Researchers have had success doing just that with lab mice. It has the support of ethicists who have opposed embryonic research.

"I’m not quite sure why this hasn’t been pursued more actively," said Wilmut, who led the team that cloned Dolly the sheep in the 1990s.

Follow the money, Mr. Wilmut. I have a feeling not even your credentials are enough to get this to happen. But we can keep trying.

The thing is, there is a vastly superior option, with none of the ethical or moral issues.

Wilmut’s speech was reported by the North County Times (Escondido, Calif.), which paraphrased him as saying direct reprogramming would provide the benefits of embryonic stem cell research without the risks. The government, he added, likely won’t spend money on embryonic research if a safer method is available.

If successful, direct reprogramming would turn the political and ethical debate upside down, making moot discussions over which types of stem cells are most promising. Wilmut was speaking in the same state where California voters in 2004 approved a 10-year, $3 billion investment into embryonic stem cell research. No cures have been found.

With embryonic stem cell research, scientists try to take stem cells from embryos and turn them into specific cells for the body. The process is opposed by pro-lifers because it destroys the embryo. In direct programming, scientists — in theory — would take a skin cell and simply reprogram it into, say, a nerve cell, without involving either embryos or stem cells of any kind.

In the results of one mice lab experiment released in 2010, fibroblast cells — found in connective tissue — were reprogrammed into nerve cells.

But again, it’s not about the science. It’s about the money that some companies want from the government. It’s also about the politics of abortion, attempting to soften the issue of killing a child with the thought that the stem cells might help someone. But the reality is, a child is still dying, and the harvested stem cells are full of problems.

And speaking of abortion, there’s a bill going through Congress that would ban abortions for the purpose of sex selection and based on race. But the opposition to this bill by Planned Parenthood, NARAL, the ACLU and others shows that their supposed concern for non-discrimination doesn’t apply to the most vulnerable of us all.

As members of Congress hold a hearing today on legislation that would ban sex-selection abortions and abortions done if the unborn child is of a specific race, leading pro-abortion advocacy groups are strongly opposed to it.

Their opposition could explain why organizations like Planned Parenthood, NARAL and the ACLU almost never speak out against the horrible human rights abuses associated with the one-child policy in China – ranging from sex-selection abortions, to forced abortions, to coercive sterilizations and infanticides.

As members prepare to hear from experts on how the sex-selection abortion culture has made its way from nations like China and India to the United States, according to one study, Planned Parenthood, NARAL, ACLU and a total of 30 pro-abortion groups banded together for a letter opposing the legislation, the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act.

Feminists are up in arms about sex-selection abortions. OK, sorry, that was some wishful thinking. They ought to be, but aren’t.

Pro-life blogger Rebecca Taylor has noted that feminist groups frequently remain silent on the issue of sex-selection abortions.

“One may ask where are the feminists in the face of this disastrous practice that marginalizes all women?  Where are the champions of women and their reproductive rights?  They are mostly silent,” she said. “They championed choice and now that choice is being used to kill millions of female fetuses and subjugate women, they have nothing to say lest the sacred abortion cow be slaughtered.”

The principles upon which the Left stands, especially regarding science, ironically, are mostly politically convenient ones that fall away when the politics don’t work for them. Which suggests that they aren’t really principles at all.

Vatican Back Stem Cell Research!

To those in the mainstream media, and those not paying attention (typically because they read only the mainstream media), this might be shocking. However, as points out, it’s rather something of a yawner; the Catholic Church has always supported stem cell research. It’s just that the media conflate embryonic with adult stem cells so often, that to the casual reader it might indeed come as a surprise.

Terry Mattingly has the analysis. His group blog documents how the press covers religion. I’ve put this blog in my list to keep up with, and you should too.

One Less Reason to Use Embryonic Stem Cells

A new study says that adult cells induced to become like embryonic stem cells ("induced pluripotent stem cells") are very nearly identical to the embryonic ones.

A study released Sunday shows embryonic stem cells and induced pluripotent stem cells are almost identical.

Since human IPS cells were first produced from mouse cells in 2006 and from human cells in 2007, it has been thought they were equivalent to embryonic stem cells, which are controversial because they are derived from human embryos.

But new research, directed by Josh Coon, a UW-Madison associate professor of chemistry and biomolecular chemistry, shows the proteins in the two types of cells are almost identical.

Stem cells have the ability to develop into any of the different types of cells in the body. In many tissues they serve as a sort of internal repair system, dividing to replenish other cells.

There is really no longer any ethical or scientific reason to use embryonic stem cells. But scientists will continue to try, and to justify it ethically. Some do this by, ironically, casting moral aspersions on those of us who bring up the ethics issue. Writing at the First Things blog, Wesley Smith responds to a faculty level scientist at UC Davis who got upset at one of Smith’s articles on the ethics issue. It is amazing how tone-deaf some of these fellows can be. One imagines that if, someday, we were able to extract perfect stem cells from pine needles, they’d still insist on using embryos.

More Good News on the Stem Cell Front

Adult stem cells, that is.

While highly potent embryonic stem cells are often the subject of ethical and safety controversy, adult-derived stem cells have other problems. As we age, our stem cells are less pliant and less able to transform into the stem cells that science needs to find breakthrough treatments for disease.

An exception to this can be found in the stem cells of oral mucosa, the membrane that lines the inside of our mouths. These cells do not seem to age along with the rest of our bodies. In his lab at Tel Aviv University’s Goldschleger School of Dental Medicine, Prof. Sandu Pitaru and his graduate students Keren Marinka-Kalmany, Sandra Treves, Miri Yafee and Yossi Gafni, have successfully collected cells from oral mucosa and manipulated them into stem cells.

Wounds in the mouth don’t scar; they heal by regeneration. The reasons for using embryonic stem cells keep dwindling.

Friday Link Wrap-up

Kenyans have been winning marathons all over the world. The Dutch have decided to try and keep them out by only giving 1% of the prize money to any foreigners who win the Utrech Marathon. I don’t think that’s racism, but I do believe it’s wrong anyway.

Don’t bet your life on outrageous claims by proponents of embryonic stem cell research. Someone  has, though.

Civility Watch: The Left has been sending death threats to the eeevil Koch brothers. The wrong Koch brothers.

Civility Watch 2: Who said, "Civility is the last refuge of scoundrels" and "Let’s not be civil"? (And said it in the same paper that blamed the Giffords shooting on incivility from Republicans.)

Civility Watch 3: If a Republican had said this, he would have been called "racist" or "Islamophobic". But a member of the Obama administration said it, so no outcry.

Do iPads cause unemployment? Does Jesse Jackson, Jr. think we should have banned cars to keep the buggy builders in business?

Hanging a small cross inside your company van is a firing offense in the UK, apparently.

A death panel in Canada pronounced their sentence on a baby in Ontario by saying that life support should be removed, against the parents’ wishes. Instead, they brought him to a country that, so far, does not have a fully socialized system (that would be America), and the child did so well that he was weaned off the ventilator and is now back home.  It’s still touch and go, I imagine, but critics said he’d never get off mechanical breathing. Way to go, baby Joseph! (Which begs the question; if the US goes fully socialized, where will Canadians go for good health care?)

And finally, the same old song. (Click for a larger image.)

Friday Link Wrap-up

Hunter Baker, writing at "First Things", responds to Jim Wallis’ question "What Would Jesus Cut", referring to government spending. (Which begs the question, would Jesus borrow us into prosperity?)

Obama’s HHS Secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, admits to double counting some savings that ObamaCare™ would bring. Not really news, except for those who haven’t been paying attention.

Media Matters, an allegedly non-partisan press watchdog group, has a Transparency project that lists major donors to conservative and libertarian organizations. "The Agitator" notes that, while a number of those conservative organizations themselves already provide this transparency, Media Matters itself does not.

Who’s going to clean up this mess in Wisconsin?

It could cost as much as $7.5 million to repair damage protesters have done to the Capitol Building marble say officials in Madison. Fixing posters to the marble with tape and glue appears to have done the bulk of the damage.

During testimony Thursday, a representative from the Attorney General’s office said a contractor estimated it would cost $500,000 to remove all of the posters and garbage. He says it would cost $6 million to restore the marble inside of the Capitol building and another $1 million to touch up the marble outside of the building.

Guess who came to the rescue? The Tea Party. Liberals trashed it, conservatives will care for it.

Mark Steyn notes a very odd way to say, "Thank you.". A young Kosovar is who killed 2 US servicemen in a Frankfurt airport. I mean, we didn’t even wait for UN resolutions before helping Kosovo get its independence. That’s gratitude?

Remember how upset the Left was about indefinite detentions and military tribunals at Guantanamo, and how much the press covered it? Yeah, well, all that is back on again and now they’re rather quiet about it. Wonder what changed.

Michael Moore and Rachel Maddow say, no, we’re not broke as a nation. Reality begs to differ.

Bummer. A set-back for reprogrammed adult stem cells. Undisturbed adult stem cells continue to be extremely useful, but trying to reprogram them into what are essentially embryonic stem cells is having problems.

Look, if you’re going to be biased in what you say, I have no problem with that. Just be honest about it. NPR isn’t. James O’Keefe strikes again at the heart of liberal bias at the network. NPR tries some damage control, but Patterico calls their ombudsman on it. Predictably, liberals now deplore gotcha’ journalism. (Though calling up a governor and misrepresenting who you are is just fine. Wonder what changed.) And apparently O’Keefe isn’t done with the revelations.

The UK’s CEO of the national power grid is predicting that blackouts will be just a part of the new normal once wind turbines become more prominent and supplant other means of electricity generation. How long before paying to not get blacked out becomes popular, and the politization of energy begins?

Civility Watch: Credible death threats against the Palins.

And finally, the Society of Centurions is named after the Centurion who was at the cross when Jesus died, and ultimately admitted, "Surely he was the Son of God". It is an organization for former abortion providers. Changing one’s view on abortion is one thing. Considering it wrong after you’ve provided them is another thing entirely. Priests for Life admonishes, "Let’s pray for the Centurions, and may their numbers increase!" Amen.

One Less Reason for Embryonic Stem Cells

Skin cells turned directly into heart cells.

Scientists have successfully converted adult skin cells directly into beating heart cells efficiently without having to first go through the laborious process of generating embryonic-like stem cells.

The powerful general technology platform could lead to novel treatments for diseases and injuries involving cell loss or damage such as heart disease, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s disease, according to researchers at the Scripps Research Institute.

In 2006, Japanese scientists reported that they could reprogram mouse skin cells to become pluripotent simply by inserting a set of four genes into the cells dubbed induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells. But creating iPS cells itself is a time taking procedure.

Hence, lead author Sheng Ding and colleagues tweaked the process by completely bypassing the iPS stage and going directly from one type of mature cell (a skin cell) to another (a heart cell).

Amazing. This is almost the biological equivalent of alchemy.

End-of-Year Link Wrap-up

A longer list this time.  I took a vacation from blogging during — if you’ll forgive the expression — Christmas vacation, and this video comes out.  Nina Totenberg apologizes for using the term "Christmas party".  Is this really a taboo among liberals?  Or are liberals in the press really this out of touch with the rest of America?

Here are six good reasons why embryonic stem cells will never make it out of the lab and into the bodies of sick people.  But money will still pour into it because, hey, it’s money!

Palestinians fired a Qassam rocket at a kindergarten, hurting one teen passing by.  I didn’t watch much news over vacation, but I’m sure this was all over it.  Right?  I mean, it would have been if Israel had done it, so I’m just supposing.

It’s amazing how stark the double standards are regarding leaks.  Julian Assange didn’t mind dumping data that is life-or-death to some of our Afghani informers, but hated it when leaks about his own legal troubles came out.  Really?  And there are other news reporter groups that hate it when they get leaked. 

Iran is shipping missiles to Venezuela.  Hey Hollywood, this is just fine, right?  (Chavez blames all the failures of socialism on others, and so this paranoia is bound to give him cause to use such weapons.  So, no, it’s not al right.)

No, the polar bear is not endangered.  So says the Obama administration.  Really.  And Bruce McQuain notes that, really, endangered status is more about power than it is about the environment.

The (Democrat-controlled) Congress blocked the transfer of Guantanamo detainees to the US.  I guess Obama has no one to blame for this other than … Bush.

Twenty years ago, and continuing as recently as 2009, it was predicted that global warming would bring much milder winters with less snow because of the temperatures.  Ski slopes would be barren and snow would vanish from places as far north as Scotland. Now, however, they’re saying that all that snow we got, even in the deep south, is because of global warming.  The link has a good round-up of weather vs predictions.

More power to this guy, who quit his job, got some legal education, and started suing e-mail spammers.

Why do atheists whine about not being invited to a prayer event?  Hey, you don’t like an inauguration that includes a prayer service?  Go out and win an election, and run your inauguration any way you want.

Rumpelstiltskin in the 21st Century

The fairy tale dwarf was able to turn straw into gold, but it appears he’s updated his resume for the time we live in.

In an important breakthrough, scientists at McMaster University have discovered how to make human blood from adult human skin.

The discovery, published in the prestigious science journal Nature today, could mean that in the foreseeable future people needing blood for surgery, cancer treatment or treatment of other blood conditions like anemia will be able to have blood created from a patch of their own skin to provide transfusions. Clinical trials could begin as soon as 2012.

Mick Bhatia, scientific director of McMaster’s Stem Cell and Cancer Research Institute in the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine, and his team of researchers have also shown that the conversion is direct. Making blood from skin does not require the middle step of changing a skin stem cell into a pluripotent stem cell that could make many other types of human cells, then turning it into a blood stem cell.

"We have shown this works using human skin. We know how it works and believe we can even improve on the process," said Bhatia. "We’ll now go on to work on developing other types of human cell types from skin, as we already have encouraging evidence."

The discovery was replicated several times over two years using human skin from both young and old people to prove it works for any age of person.

Certainly would sound like a fairy tale, but it’s the real deal.  I’ll be very interested to see if skin can be made into other types of cells, reducing the need, yet again, for embryos to be destroyed for their stem cells.

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