Thursday, June 07, 2007

From the FT: Researchers make stem cells from skin

Researchers make stem cells from skin

By Clive Cookson in London and Rebecca Knight in Boston

Published: June 6 2007 23:16 | Last updated: June 6 2007 23:16

Three scientific teams published separate studies on Wednesday showing that embryonic stem cells can be made by reprogramming some of the genes in adult skin cells, without having to create an embryo – at least in mice.

Separately, a fourth scientific paper showed that newly fertilised eggs could be used instead of unfertilised eggs to produce cloned mice. If this technique were extended to humans, it might open up a new source of stem cells for therapeutic cloning research: frozen ­early-stage human embryos, which are much more plentiful than human eggs.

The animal research, carried out in the US and Japan and published in the journal Nature, will encourage opponents of human embryo experiments. But the scientists involved in the studies said it was far too early to tell whether the same procedures would work with adult human cells, let alone whet­her it would be safe to use clinically to treat disease.

“These results are preliminary and proof of principle,” said Rudolf Jaenisch, a member of the Whitehead Institute and a professor of biology at MIT, who led one of the studies. “Human embryonic stem cells remain the gold standard . . . and it is a necessity to continue studying embryonic stem cells through traditional means.”

President George W. Bush banned federal funding of human embryo research in 2001 and has since vetoed bipartisan legislation that would have eased restrictions on the study. That has stoked fears among scientists that the US will fall behind in stem cell research – a trend that is already taking place in fields such as technology and engineering.

Several states, such as California, New York and New Jersey, have begun funding such experiments themselves. In addition, privately funded research on embryonic stem cells is under way at many institutions.

Scientists said that these breakthroughs could move this research forward substantially by attracting greater numbers of scientists to the field, as well increasing private investment.

“There’s still a ways to go but at first blush, the results are very encouraging and it’s certainly a boost for the stem cell research business,” said Terry Devitt, a director at the University of Wisconsin’s stem cell research programme. “But we still have a bottleneck in the federal government. We’re hamstrung because the research is inadequately funded.”

Several candidates for president, both Republican and Democrat, have gone on record as supporting human embryo research, which Mr Devitt said is an indication that funding could increase substantially in the next administration. “Right now we’re stuck,” he said.

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