Researchers create embryo-like cells from human skin cells.

| November 21, 2007
From ASCP U.S. News Breifings if you haven’t heard….
ABC World News (11/20, story 5, 2:30, Gibson) reported, "Researchers say they found a way to reprogram human skin cells and give them the awesome potential of embryonic stem cells."
The CBS Evening News (11/20, lead story, 3:10, Couric) added, "For several years now, embryonic stem cell research has been one of the most hotly debated issues in this country, because while it holds great promise for curing disease, it also involves the destruction of human embryos."  The discovery announced today "could alter, if not end, that debate."
The Wall Street Journal (11/21, A1, Naik) reports on its front page that two independent studies, one "led by Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University" and published in the journal Cell, and a second "published in Science by researchers at the laboratory of James Thomson of the University of Wisconsin," have "created human embryonic stem cells without destroying any human embryos."
In a front-page story, the New York Times (11/21, A1, Kolata) reports that according to the two groups of researchers from Japan and Wisconsin, "they had turned human skin cells into what appear to be embryonic stem cells without having to make or destroy an embryo" by adding "four genes," which "reprogrammed the chromosomes of the skin cells, making the cells into blank slates that should be able to turn into any of the 220 cell types of the human body, be it heart, brain, blood or bone."
On its front page, the Washington Post (11/21, A1, Weiss) points out that this past June, Yamanaka and his team "identified four genes in mouse skin cells that, when operating at high levels together, can turn countless other genes on and off in just the right pattern to make skin cells almost indistinguishable from embryonic stem cells. Yamanaka put copies of those four genes into retroviruses, Trojan-horse-like viruses that insert their genetic payloads into the DNA of cells they infect. Once infected, the skin cells took on virtually all the characteristics of embryonic ones." Yamanaka named the "rejuvenated" cells "induced pluripotent stem cells," or "ips" cells because they "did not come from embryos, and behave slightly differently from embryonic stem cells." With human skin cells, Yamanaka later "found he could get about 10 ips cell colonies from every 50,000 skin cells, an acceptable ratio given how easy it is to grow thousands of skin cells from a tiny sample. He coaxed the ips cells to become nerve cells, heart cells that beat in the dish, and other major cell types."
USA Today (11/21, 1A, Weise) also covered the story on its front page, noting that "both groups of scientists say they don’t yet know how close to true embryonic stem cells these new cell lines are. One of the problems with the new technique is the use of retroviruses to get the skin cells to act like stem cells. Retroviruses can insert genetic material into the chromosome of cells, but have been linked to cancer."
According to the Los Angeles Times (11/21, Kaplan), the new, purported method "of creating pluripotent cells from ordinary skin cells is attractive to religious and social conservatives who consider embryos a sacred form of human life. It should also appeal to scientists who have been willing to destroy embryos for the sake of their work, but feel a bit morally squeamish about doing so, said Richard Doerflinger, secretariat for pro-life activities at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington." The new process is also considered "a more straightforward way to generate stem cell lines that are genetically matched to patients." For that last few years, scientists have unsuccessfully been "pursuing a strategy known as nuclear transfer, or therapeutic cloning, in which a patient’s DNA is inserted into a human egg to create a cloned embryo whose stem cells theoretically could be harvested."
The AP (11/21, Ritter) reports that the "controversy over embryonic stem cells has been a touchstone of national politics. It inspired impassioned pleas by Nancy Reagan, the actor Michael J. Fox, who suffers from Parkinson’s disease, and countless ordinary citizens arguing in favor of the potential medical benefits." Thomson said that "it’s too soon to give up on studying embryonic stem cells," and that "he believes the ethical turmoil surrounding the embryonic cells set the field back four or five years." According to Thomson, this breakthrough is "probably the beginning of the end for that controversy."
Biotech companies unimpressed by new findings.   On the periphery of Tuesday’s excitement about the new stem-cell findings were the biotech drug companies’ reactions, which the AP (11/21, Wohlsen) describes as "muted." While m
any biotech executives qualified the new research as "scientifically interesting," they pointed out that "the new technique of creating stem cells is even less likely to yield meaningful results soon than is the method using embryonic cells." The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (11/21, Fauber), Bloomberg (11/21, Waters, Lauerman), HealthDay (11/21, Gardner), MedPage Today (11/21, Smith), WebMD (11/21, DeNoon), The Hill (11/21, Marre), and NBC Nightly News (11/20, lead story, 3:30, Williams) also covered the story.

Category: Pathology News

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