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Recent discovery in stem cell research.

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Recent discovery in stem cell research.

Postby alextemplet » Wed Nov 21, 2007 7:19 pm

I found this article on a Catholic website; if it's true, the implications could be nothing short of astounding.

http://www.catholic.net/global_catholic_news/template_news.phtml?news_id=21058

The main objection to stem cell research is ethical concerns over the destruction of human embryos; a medical concern is the cells produced being rejected by the body of the patient they're intended to cure.

What this article describes is a recent break through allowing skin cells to be reprogrammed to become any other type of human cell. This potentially allows all of the medical benefits of embryonic stem cells without the destruction of an embryo, thus removing the ethical concern. It also has the added benefit of being able to produce cells from the start with the DNA of the patient in question, thus greatly reducing the risk that the body will reject the new cells.

If this article is reliable then it would be almost impossible to exagerrate the significance of this discovery; it could easily be the mythical holy grail of medicine. Does anyone else know about this or care to comment?
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Postby mith » Wed Nov 21, 2007 7:26 pm

One of my professors actually gave a lecture on something like this. There's two problems with this type of stem cell generation. First, de-differentiating a adult cell will often lead to tumor growth because of the cell pathways being activated.

A second problem is if you can turn an adult cell into an embryonic stem cell, potentially you could clone yourself i.e. the cell could grow into an independent organism similar to the budding process of sponges.
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Postby biohazard » Wed Nov 21, 2007 7:35 pm

I'll probably stir a horrible flame war with my comments, but I think it was and is totally unethical from the religious people to hinder the progress so much as they again did with the embryonic stem cell research, and THAT problem still remains unresolved!

Even if we had a new, nifty way to make whatever livers we need now, it still remains the same that religions seem to be one of the worst enemies of science and objective thinking. To me it is just irrelevant nitpicking if someone comes and claims that a lump of few cells is a human being that should not be used in helping of millions of people, but it is perfectly okay to just to kill it. We would probably still live on the flat Earth if it was up to the religious people (yeah I know, quite a horrible generalization, but you get the point).

Oh well, all this has been said a thousand times before, and me saying it once again probably does not do any good either. I did not even answer any of the questions alextemplet asked, and probably also angered or made sad quite a few people with my comments as well... sorry about that.

Just couldn't help myself...
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Postby alextemplet » Wed Nov 21, 2007 10:45 pm

I appreciate your apologies, biohazard, although I disagree with everything you said. Nevertheless I do not wish to get into an ethical debate here; I would rather discuss the science itself and try to figure out if what the article proposes is actually possible.

Mith, do you know of any ways to reduce the possiblity of cancer?

I still think that if the concept can be made to work, then it's a good idea.
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Postby mith » Wed Nov 21, 2007 11:31 pm

the cancer issue is probably technical and would get cleared up with time, but the cloning issue...
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Postby alextemplet » Thu Nov 22, 2007 12:04 am

That's of course assuming this technology was actually used for cloning. Isn't cloning humans illegal?
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Postby mith » Thu Nov 22, 2007 6:53 am

no, just no federal funds
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Postby alextemplet » Thu Nov 22, 2007 7:04 am

Oh. That's frightening.
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Postby biohazard » Thu Nov 22, 2007 7:08 am

Okay, let's forget the ethical debate and my prejudices :)

One quite significant issue that comes to mind is (unless I somehow missed it from the article) the fact that in adult organisms vast majority of the genes and promoter regions are switched off or downregulated, and the genes that are active is a completely different set than that in an embryo.

So unless they have a means to reset all these settings, I don't quite see how this could be compared to embryonic stem cells. Both cell types, "iPSCs" and embryonic stem cells probably have their uses, but at least in this light I'm not sure if the former ones can replace the latter in research.

That being said, many useful things can probably be created out of IPSCs, if they do what is suggested in the article. That already should save quite a few embryos from rsearcher-caused demise. I'll probably wait a little further and see how the scientific community reacts to this - it is often quite a good indicator :)
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Postby mith » Thu Nov 22, 2007 8:08 am

http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2007 ... hrough.php

A more in-depth look than most mainstream media. The most interesting caveat I see is that to make the iPSC's you pretty much have to continue the embryonic stem cell research(the 4 genes were derived from embryonic research).
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Postby biohazard » Thu Nov 22, 2007 8:29 am

An interesting article indeed, mith! So they actually DID find a way to reset the gene expression patterns I mentioned in my previous post. However, it appears to be a bit cumbersome.

The concept looks promising nonetheless, and probably can be fine tuned further. This notwithstanding, I'm still a bit sceptical that it can replace embryonic stem cells in research - not only because of the issues mentioned in this article, but due to the incredible complexity of the whole concept of gene regulation and cell specialization into tissues or whole organisms. A arbitrary location for promoter sequences sounds quite scary actually - we all probably remember how it went when they used retroviral vectors to cure immunodeficiencies in children: many of them developed leukaemia even though the initial condition was cured.

And it is not just cancer, disturbances in the regulation of gene expression can have numerous other problems. Anyway, I can still easily imagine many good uses for these cells - one could probably try to make nerve implants out of these cells, for example. Nerve cells do not really divide (or they could be engineered to be unable to divide) and still might work nicely when put in place. Undividing cells should have far less likely to achieve that ability again and become cancerous? With many other tissue types, some degree of regeneration is required, and then things may get even more complex.

Well, these were just quick, initial thoughts, let's see what I think when I read a bit more about this.
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Postby alextemplet » Thu Nov 22, 2007 4:31 pm

Thanks for the article, Mith. So it appears that this could work if the difficulties and pitfalls can be ironed out. Interesting.
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