Monday, August 29, 2005

Breakthrough! Embryonic Stem Cells from... Skin Cells?

Harvard University researchers have apparently been able to derive embryonic stem cells from skin cells. This article doesn't really go into how. Being the WashingPost it is more interested in the political ramifications. Here's a bit:
The news that Harvard scientists have successfully converted human skin cells into embryonic stem cells -- without using a human egg or new embryo -- is likely to muddle the already complex debate over federal stem cell research policy.
(Hat tip: Laura Ingraham)

Isn't this great news, in general? Sen. Tom Coburn thinks so:
"All this is confirmation we will see breakthroughs without compromising ethical standards," said Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), a physician who has led opposition to embryonic stem cell research. "We're not going to have to go that way if we can just be patient and fund the basic science."
And it wouldn't be a WashingPost story without a snarky quote like this: "[For lawmakers] who want to appear to support embryonic stem cell research without alienating their conservative base, it gives them something they can vote for even if it continues to trade patient interests for political symbolism," said R. Alta Charo, a professor at the University of Wisconsin medical and law schools.

What are the great breakthroughs that have come from fetal stem cell research to date that anyone would be 'trading patient interests'? Did I miss the big breakthrough?

UPDATE: Here's an AP story story that explains a bit of what they did. Essentially fusing an adult skin cell with an existing stem cell--such as from the existing lines which researchers have available--"reprograms" it to its embryonic state. I'm sure that's not a perfect description, but that's what came from the article. Here's the money quote:
"If future experiments indicate that this reprogrammed state is retained after removing the embryonic stem cell DNA — currently a formidable technical hurdle — the hybrid cells could theoretically be used to produce embryonic stem cells lines that are tailored to individual patients without the need to create and destroy human embryos," said a summary of the research reported on the Science site.
Custom cells per patient. How cool would that be?

A succinct policy analysis can be found here courtesy of the Health Law Blog.

UPDATE II (2005-08-29 0800 CDT): Welcome to readers of Wizbang, the Stones Cry Out, Daddy Pundit and Two or Three. If anyone has information on how a stemcell extracted in this way could be engineered such that there is only the genetic information from the skin cell, please post.

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