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Permalink 01:30:30 pm, by Robin Email , 326 words, 3311 views   English (UK)
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"Miracle in a test tube" thanks to animal research!

The media is buzzing with reports today of the publication of two papers describing how pluripotent stem cells have been derived from human skin cells reprogrammed by genetic modification.

The achievements of Professor Shinya Yamanaka and Professor James Thomson will hopefully yield methods that allow the generation of stem cells specific to individual patients that can be used to treat disease, and also facilitate the creation of cell lines for use in drug testing that better reflect the diversity of human populations.

This work in human cells builds on previous work by Professor Yamanaka and Professor Rudolf Jaenisch which used mice to identify the genes whose expression was required to reprogram the skin cells (1, 2).

While the newspapers have welcomed this advance they've also sounded a note of caution as to whether this technique will be able to replace embryos as a source of pluripotent stem cells, with good reason since the mouse research found that the reprogrammed cells can cause tumours. A lot of work remains to be done before this technique can be considered safe and efficient enough for use in humans, much of which will depend on animal testing.

There is still great uncertainty as to which method of creating pluripotent stem cells will deliver in the long run, so research into cloning should continue. It's good to see that recent research using monkeys has solved some of the technical difficulties associated with cloning primates, which should make production of stem cells from cloned human embryos a more practical proposition.

1) Okita K., Ichisaka T., Yamanaka S. "Generation of germline-competent induced pluripotent stem cells." /Nature /Vol. 448:313-317 (2007).
2) Wernig M., Meissner A., Foreman R., Brambrink T., Ku M., Hochedlinger K., Bernstein B.E , Jaenisch R. "In vitro reprogramming of fibroblasts into a pluripotent ES-cell-like state" /Nature /Vol. 448:318-324 (2007).

Paul Browne

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