Tuesday, November 20, 2007
Another big hurdle.
Two research groups form human embryonic human stem cells from somatic tissues.
The actual data can be found here and here.
Woooo boy. This is potentially a big jackpot for science, as it would have a twofold effect. One, the techniques described are fairly simple where any cell lab with tissue culture facilities could likely generate these lines. Two, it would probably get the religiously outraged off the backs of scientists as well. I say probably because it's unclear whether a embryonic-like stem cell line still qualifies as life in need of protection, considering the bizarre demarcations they currently use are rather arbitrary.
A couple observations.
First, both techniques use an ecotropic retrovirus, which is probably completely out of the question for therapeutic use. There's nothing to inactivate this in the system described. Perhaps more of a concern is the cocktail of genes used, where both labs use a pair of oncogenes, or cancer-promoters. Naturally these kind of genes encourage the kind of proliferation you see in stem cells, but it clearly could pose a more immediate danger in the body.
More importantly, while these findings are very exciting, it remains to be seen how viable they are in the pursuit of stem cell therapies, which is the endgame scenario for this research. Until the process is entirely vetted it should not be hailed as some singular panacea to the controversial debate, and is likely to generate new problems that were out of reach previously.