Embryonic Stem Cells
Whatever happened to the mad cloners?
Interest in using stem cells from cloned human embryos has revived after success by scientists in the United States and Korea.
Stem cells are stem cells, says an expert. They are not and cannot be embryos.
Last week we reported that researchers at the Oregon Health and Science University had finally cloned human embryos and successfully extracted embryonic stem cells.This was a feat which scientists agreed was possible but was proving unexpectedly difficult. The last time the claim was made, by South Korean Hwang Woo-suk in 2005, it turned out to be a colossal fraud which embarrassed leading journals and dampened enthusiasm for “therapeutic cloning”. Unfortunately, the most recent paper has also been criticised for image duplication, evoking the nightmarish Hwang scandal
Cloning humans might be one step closer, with scientists in the US managing to use adult skin cells to produce an embryo clone.
Stem cells from amniotic fluid can be converted into a more versatile state which is similar to human embryonic stem cells (hESCs), scientists said last week.
In the first published results from a clinical trial using human embryonic stem cells (hESCs), 2 legally blind patients with macular degeneration who had been given an injection in one eye have suffered no harmful side effects and appear to have slightly better vision. The trial was sponsored by a Massachusetts biotech, Advanced Cell Technology.
The recent past of Korea’s cloning research is best described as dubious. Disgraced Seoul University professor Hwang Woo-suk claimed in 2004 to have cloned human embryos and developed stem-cell lines, but most of that work was exposed as fraud in 2005. Now another scientist, Park Se-pill, of Jeju National University, is aiming to clone human embryonic stem cells by 2015, a breakthrough that scientists still have not yet achieved.
This is the way the joyride ends: Not with a bang but a whimper. An elevated epigraph seems appropriate for the final act of a dream which has sustained public support for human embryonic stem cell (hES cell) research for a decade. Only a year after launching a human trial for spinal cord injuries Geron Corp has pulled the plug on all stem cell research to focus on cancer drugs.
Last week the European Court of Justice, in the case of Oliver Brüstle v Greenpeace, ruled that research involving the destruction of embryos cannot be patented. This provoked an uproar among stem cell scientists. BioEdge interviewed Dr David Albert Jones, director of the Anscombe Bioethics Centre in Oxford, about the judgement.
Despite continuing huffing and puffing over the merits of human embryonic stem cells, the central issue seems to be shifting from the patients’ right to health to the scientists’ right to free inquiry. An editorial in New Scientist (Oct 17), an ardent champion of embryo research, assumes that cures will come more rapidly from adult stem cells.
A landmark decision by the European Court of Justice this week marks a step forward in legal recognition of the dignity of the human embryo. It settled a long-simmering legal battle by ruling that research involving the destruction of embryos cannot be patented.
Scientists at the New York Stem Cell Foundation Laboratory have scripted another perplexing episode in the on-going mystery of producing human embryonic stem cells. In a highly publicised experiment, they transferred the nucleus of a cell into a human egg and nurtured into the blastocyst stage. Then they dissected it and extracted embryonic stem cells.
A Stanford University research team may have found a solution to the biggest challenge of using embryonic stem cells – that they can cause tumours. ESCs can form all forms of tissue, but that very plasticity provokes some rogue cells to form “teratomas”, peculiar mixtures of tissues that can include hair and teeth.
Nearly a decade ago, the media’s enthusiasm for embryonic stem cell research was boundless. It was depicted as a superhighway to miraculous cures for Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, cancer, spinal cord injuries, diabetes and many more. The courage of a paralysed Superman, Christopher Reeve, symbolized the hope sparked by stem cell scientists.
The complex series of legal battles over US federal funding for human embryonic stem cell (hESC) research appears to have drawn to a close.
High hopes for the ethically less controversial variety of pluripotent stem cell have been dimmed by research published this week in Nature. A team led by Yang Xu at the University of California, San Diego, demonstrated that induced pluripotent stem cells triggered immune reactions when they were implanted into mice. In some cases, the cells were completely destroyed by the animals' immune systems.
After a long, complex series of legal battles, US government funding for research on human embryonic stem cells can resume, at least for the time being.
A retina engineered in the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology in Japan could lead to treatments for human eye diseases, including some forms of blindness.
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