Archive for Stem Cell
Working days, nights and weekends, with criminal charges hanging over his head, disgraced stem cell scientist Hwang Woo-suk is trying to climb the steep hill to rehabilitation. Assisted by a team of 30 in a private lab south of Seoul, he is working on cloning animal embryos. A colleague told AP that he dreams of working with cloned human embryos again. “There are many good research results that we want to boast about,” she says.However, editors of leading journals are cautious. “Any submission form Dr Hwang would take into consideration the irreparable harm that his previous misconduct has inflicted on the scientific enterprise,” says Monica Bradford, executive editor of Science, one of the journals duped by the Korean. And Curt Civin, editor of Stem Cells, who was also a victim of his fraud, says that he would worry about recidivism.
Somewhat surprisingly, Harvard researcher George Daley told an international meeting of stem cell scientists in Australia recently that Hwang’s research was genuinely original. He had been the first to create stem cell lines from a parthenote, an activated, unfertilised egg. ~ AP, Jun 21; Nature Reports Stem Cells blog, Jun 18
Nature has launched a new website dedicated to news and views about stem cells. “Our goal is enlighten and promote communication in stem cell research by providing content as diverse as the stakeholders in this field — all the scientists, policy makers, ethicists, clinicians, and patients who are driving stem cell research forward,” says Nature Reports Stem Cells.Apart from serving as a way of keeping non-specialists and lay readers up to date, the site also seems committed to promoting embryonic stem cell research. One of its first comment pieces come from a Lutheran theologian who offers a theological justification for chimeras. Ted Peters, of Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary and the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, finds that reasons offered by Catholics and Evangelicals are insufficient to proscribe the creation of chimeric human embryonic stem cells.
The “yuck factor”, he feels, also fails in the face of the great possible good from this research. He even finds that arguments against the creation of hybrid creatures are “weak”, although for the moment, this would be unwise. “When more is known, such a policy could be revised.” ~Nature Reports Stem Cells
Another Australian state is on the road to approving therapeutic cloning and embryonic stem cell research. After a heated debate in the media, the lower house of the New South Parliament has voted 65 to 26 to support it, following the lead of its southern neighbour, Victoria. But generating even more controversy than the scientific and ethical issues of stem cell research were remarks by the outspoken Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal George Pell. He has had to weather a blizzard of criticism over his comment that Catholic parliamentarians faced unspecified “consequences” for their religious life if they supported the bill.Premier Morris Iemma, a Catholic, voted for the bill. “I’ve already thought seriously about this legislation and it passes all the ethical and moral issues that I need passed, and gives people hope,” he said. Emergency Services Minister Nathan Rees even suggested that Pell’s intervention might constitute contempt of parliament. This was also mooted on the other side of Australia, in Perth, where similar remarks made by Catholic Archbishop Barry Hickey were referred to that state’s parliamentary privileges committee. Speaker Fred Riebeling said they had been “threatening” to MPs.
Cardinal Pell, who funds adult stem cell research, was unmoved. “Adult stem cell has been much more productive than work on embryonic stem cells, which so far has proved to be a dead end. Little has been produced except massive grants for the researchers,” he argues. ~ Sydney Morning Herald, Jun 7
There was excitement, too, on Capitol Hill, in Washington DC, over the stunning new research, which appeared in the journal Nature just before the House of Representatives voted to loosen restrictions imposed by President Bush on funding for embryonic stem cell research. In any case it came too late to influence the passage of the bill, which failed to get the numbers required to override the expected presidential veto.Was it just a coincidence? Some legislators thought not. “It is ironic that every time we vote on this legislation, all of a sudden there is a major scientific discovery that basically says, ‘You don’t have to do stem cell research,'” says Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel. “Convenient timing,” said bioethicist Arthur Caplan.
However, the Washington Post consulted experts on probability. Happenstance — or an underhanded plot to sink the bill? Skulduggery by American opponents of stem cell research? By rival British researchers bent on world domination? The experts backed coincidence. “Papers are coming out about embryonic stem cells so regularly that the odds are going to be high that some will come out when Congress is voting on them,” says David Ropeik, a Harvard expert in risk assessment. ~ Washington Post, Jun 10
Naturally, it’s easy only for experts at the moment. In practice, the four transcription factors reprogram cells inefficiently — only 0.1% of the cells in a skin biopsy. Then these cells have to be isolated. But Yamanaka has developed a technique for this as well. And there are some worrying issues to contend with: one of the proteins seems to contribute to cancers in 20% of the chimaeric mice.
But Harvard researcher Chad Cowan says that it will change the field: “The most amazing thing about these papers is you now take this whole idea of reprogramming out of the hands of cloning specialists and put it into the hands of anyone who can do molecular and cell biology.” Now the race is on to apply the technique to human cells. “We are working very hard — day and night,” says Yamanaka.
Executives from embryonic stem cell companies were not optimistic about the new technique. Because it involves tinkering with the genome, it could be dangerous, in the opinion of Thomas B. Okarma, of Geron. Getting approval from regulatory authorities would become far more complicated. And the head of the team at the Whitehead Institute, Rudolph Jaenisch, still insists that therapeutic cloning remains “absolutely necessary”.
The ethical implications of this development were immediately seized upon by opponents of embryonic stem cell research. “Morally and practically, this new approach appears to be far superior,” commented Richard Doerflinger, a spokesman for the US Catholic bishops conference. ~ New York Times, Jun 7; Nature, Jun 7; Science, Jun 8
Adult stem cells from females are more successful at regeneration than those from males, scientists at the Pittsburgh School of Medicine have found. “Regardless of the sex of the host, the implantation of female stem cells led to significantly better skeletal muscle regeneration,” they wrote in the Journal of Cell Biology. ~ MSNBC.com, Apr 9