Human stem cells are important because they can transform into other human cells and the hope is that they will be able to cure currently incurable diseases. Human embryonic stem cells require either the killing and harvesting of an naturally inseminated embryonic child, or harvesting ova from a woman to create (cloned or uncloned) human embryonic children in a test tube. In either case it reduces a human life to a crop to be grown and harvested.
Now the man who in 1997 cloned Dolly the sheep using the nuclear transfer method of cloning has abandoned cloning approaches to stem cell research.
Prof Wilmut, who works at Edinburgh University, believes a rival method pioneered in Japan has better potential for making human embryonic [stem] cells which can be used to grow a patient’s own cells and tissues for a vast range of treatments, from treating strokes to heart attacks and Parkinson’s […]
His inspiration comes from the research by Prof Shinya Yamanaka at Kyoto University, which suggests a way to create human embryo stem cells without the need for human eggs, which are in extremely short supply, and without the need to create and destroy human cloned embryos, which is bitterly opposed by the pro life movement.
Prof Yamanaka has shown in mice how to turn skin cells into what look like versatile stem cells potentially capable of overcoming the effects of disease.
This pioneering work to revert adult cells to an embryonic state has been reproduced by a team in America and Prof Yamanaka is, according to one British stem cell scientist, thought to have achieved the same feat in human cells.
This work has profound significance because it suggests that after a heart attack, for example, skin cells from a patient might one day be manipulated by adding a cocktail of small molecules to form muscle cells to repair damage to the heart, or brain cells to repair the effects of Parkinson’s. Because they are the patient’s own cells, they would not be rejected.
In theory, these reprogrammed cells could be converted into any of the 200 other type[s] in the body, even the collections of different cell types that make up tissues and, in the very long term, organs too. Prof Wilmut said it was “extremely exciting and astonishing” and that he now plans to do research in this area.
And Wilmut isn’t the only big cheese who thinks this way.
Britain’s new Nobel prize winner and pioneer of stem cell research, Sir Martin Evans of the Cardiff School of Biosciences, commented on the Japanese work: “This will be the long-term solution.”