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Progress On Stem Cells Slowed By Apprehension, Approvals

Posted by Jane Akre
Monday, September 29, 2008 10:39 AM EST
Category: Major Medical, Protecting Your Family
Tags: Stem Cell Research, Leukemia, Parkinson's Disease

stem cell progress has been slow partially because of the embryonic issue.



IMAGE SOURCE: ©Wikimedia Commons /Leukemia cells/author: Ayacop 


Stem cell research has pinned its future on using embryonic stem cells, the body’s master cells, to create new tissues, organs and blood. 

Since embryonic stem cells are considered the most powerful type of stem cell, they must come from an embryo or cloning. But there are many objections to using embryonic cells and President Bush has limited funding for experiments on embryonic stem cell lines already in existence.

As an alternative, stem cell researchers have been trying to convert mature cells into much needed tissues of the body harmed by disease such as Parkinson’s.

Scientists have found a way to convert cells into those with embryonic-like qualities by using a common cold virus, according to research published in the journal Science (see Abstract).

In the past, viruses used to pierce cells have been found to merge with DNA and cause cancer and unwanted genetic changes. 

Now researchers are integrating with cellular DNA by using another kind of transport vehicle, something called an adenovirus.  With that, it may be possible to avoid the permanent genetic damage seen in previous experiments.

The adenovirus doesn't integrate permanently, so the cells aren't altered genetically," said Konrad Hochedlinger, geneticist at Harvard Stem Cell Institute in Cambridge, Mass., and lead author of the paper tells the Wall Street Journal.

He tells Reuters that as the cells divide, they dilute the virus inside until it disappears, while the genetic change remains behind. So far the mice tested have not developed any tumors.

The efficiency rate is not as great as typical retroviruses, which show one in 1,000 adult cells are reprogrammed. Using adenoviruses have a one in 10,000 to one in 100,000 efficiency rate to turn cells embryonic-like.

The International Society for Stem Cell Research sent an open letter to urge funding for all avenues of stem cell research.

So far the success has been achieved only in mice. Japanese researchers first showed in 2006, that four genes when inserted into the skin of a mouse, with the help of a cell-penetrating virus, turned the cell into the embryonic-like state. 

Recently, fresh tissue created from this work has alleviated the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease and sickle-cell anemia in mice models.

Earlier this month, researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found that mature human skin cells can be reprogrammed into insulin-producing cells, used to treat diabetes.

At last week’s World Stem Cell Summit, the prevailing sense is that the industry still faces lengthy approval times, high development costs, and skeptical investors. ]

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports that venture capital firms have invested $1.1 billion over the last dozen years in companies that perform an average of $85 million annually in stem-cell work. 

No company in the US can sell stem cell products until the FDA approves the therapy and as yet, none has received that approval.  #

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