IN BRIEF: adult stem cells; von Hagens cleared

  • US scientists have announced two advances in adult stem cell research. A team at Duke University, in North Carolina, has found that most adult fat cells are actually reprogrammable stem cells which can help repair damaged tissues. It was already known that fat cells from liposuction can grow into bone, cartilage, fat and nerve cells, but now it appears that at least 62% can grow into two other types as well. And at the University of Pennsylvania, researchers have managed to coax stem cells from the hair follicles of mice to grow into new hair. The procedure offers new… MORE

  • ODD SPOT: Pentagon funds embryo research

    the Pentagon With a war in Iraq, an occupation in Haiti and a man hunt in Afghanistan, you might think that the Pentagon has enough enemies and battles on its hands. Not so. Reuters reports that the American military is bankrolling embryonic stem cell research in Sweden, ignoring a well- publicised ban on such work by its chief, President George W. Bush. The US$240,000 research program will be taking place at Lund University. Apparently the Pentagon is interested in its ESC research into Parkinson's disease because the results might be useful for treating soldiers… MORE

    Cadaver scandals rock US

    The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003) Two scandals over cadavers donated to medical schools have rocked US universities. The University of California at Los Angeles has stopped accepting corpses for its medical students and research pending the outcome of an investigation. It is alleged that two men, including the director of UCLA's Willed Body Program, sold body parts to other research labs for their own profit. According to a report in the Los Angeles Times, over the last five years 496 cadavers were illegally sold for a total of US$704,600. And Tulane University, in… MORE

    Ethical deficit is research asset for Chinese stem cell science

    stem cells In five to ten years China could become a world leader in therapeutic cloning and related research, a US stem cell scientist has predicted in the journal Nature. Xiangzhong Yang, of the University of Connecticut, contends that China's main asset is that it lacks the ethical qualms which have hampered the development of research on human embryos in Western countries. "In addition," he says, "the relatively easy access to human material, including embryonic and foetal tissues, in China is a huge advantage for researchers".

    Chinese scientists have already achieved notable progress towards… MORE

    Australian clinic creates two “saviour siblings”

    Tasmanian couple Leanne and Stephen with their 4-year-old son An IVF clinic has claimed an Australian first by achieving two pregnancies of "saviour siblings". Sydney IVF said that it had culled embryos for tissue compatibility so that they could provide "spare parts" for a sick sibling. When their child is born, a Tasmanian couple will be able to treat a 4-year-old son who suffers from a rare condition called hyper IgM syndrome. Another couple will be able to treat a child with leukaemia. Although other IVF clinics have created "designer babies" which are free… MORE

    Leading US cancer institute “withheld risks” of experiment

    Dr E. Donnall Thomas A court case involving one of America's leading medical research centres has opened up a discussion of the limits of informed consent. The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle and three of its researchers are disputing allegations that they misled participants in an experiment which ran from 1983 to 1991. The defendants include Dr E. Donnall Thomas, who won the 1990 Nobel Prize for his pioneering work in bone marrow transplants.

    At the heart of the complex case is whether the patients understood what they had agreed to. "The… MORE

    “Parachute research” for drug companies hits ethical nerve

    Drug companies and ethicists in the US are troubled by the ethical dilemmas of conducting clinical trials overseas. A report in the New York Times says that American companies are increasingly turning to former Soviet bloc countries with good, but underpaid doctors and compliant patients where they can carry out their trials more cheaply. Because there are often no government subsidies for prescription drugs in these countries, few people can afford to buy them. Participating in a clinical trial can be a patient's best chance for effective medication.

    But what happens when the trials finish? Do the companies take special… MORE

    Sacked scientist campaigns for unbiases US science policy

    A scientist sacked from the President's Council on Bioethics and a serving member of the Council have published a sharp critique of George Bush's science policy. Writing in the journal PLoS Biology, Elizabeth Blackburn, an Australian, and Janet Rowley, both biologists, have complained that the Council's recent reports underestimated the therapeutic potential of embryonic stem cell research and distorted the motivations of scientists studying ageing. "There is always this strong implication [in the reports] that medical research is not what God intended, that there is something unnatural about it," Dr Blackburn told the Boston Globe. "We had a great many… MORE

    Menopause dogma could be a myth

    Defying half a century of conventional wisdom, scientists have discovered that female mammals can produce new eggs after birth. Until now it had always been thought that females were born with a limited number of eggs which are depleted with age.

    But research on mice at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston has shown that new follicles, the tiny sacs in which eggs grow, are being created well into adult life from stem cells. "These are basic biological findings that may change everything in our field" says Dr Jonathan Tilly. "Although there is no way to say how long it… MORE

    Save me from my doctors, says UK patient

    A 44-year-old man with a degenerative brain condition has challenged official UK guidelines on withdrawing life-prolonging treatment. As a victim of cerebellar ataxia, Leslie Burke is already confined to a wheelchair and foresees that he will eventually be paralysed and unable to communicate even though he will be mentally competent. He fears that under General Medical Council guidelines his doctors could withhold food and water from him until he died.

    Mr Burke's barrister argues that the guidelines could breach his right to life and his right to be spared inhuman and degrading treatment under the European convention on human rights,… MORE

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