By Dave Andrusko
The University of Michigan and pro-lifers have gone toe-to-toe over the University’s heavy investment in embryonic stem cell research, which includes the creation of three embryonic stem cell lines. However, according to leading state newspapers, the Consortium for Stem Cell Therapies, part of the University of Michigan Medical School, has now reprogrammed adult cells to grow five stem cell lines to study the progression of bipolar disease.
According to the Detroit News, ordinary skin cells were coaxed to become what are known as induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC). This does not require the death of human embryos.
Three of iPSC lines were created with skin donated by people who have bipolar disorder, the other two from a tissue bank. Although iPS cells have been developed at the University previously, “this is the first time the consortium has consistently sustained and coaxed the iPS cells into different cell types,” the Detroit New reported.
“No one objects to this form of research, so it can be done without controversy,” Ed Rivet, spokesman for Right to Life of Michigan, told the Detroit News. “This is the model for proper, ethical research.”
But as is almost always the case with facilities that are involved in embryonic stem cell research, they resist giving up on ESC research.
Sue O’Shea, co-director of the Consortium for Stem Cell Therapies, told the Detroit Free Press, “It’s too early in the game to close a door” on that part of the research.
There is a double irony here. With iPS cells, the idea is to program the cells backwards and then forwards. You get skin cells to go back in time to closely resemble embryonic stem cells and “then run the clock forward again to get whatever specialized cell you want,” as the Associated Press’ Malcolm Ritter has explained
But that process may soon be outdated. There is work afoot to skip the first step and directly convert one specialized cell to the specialized cell you want (called, not surprisingly, direct conversion). “It’s like flying direct rather than scheduling a stopover,” in Ritter’s words.
The second irony is that while a few mouse projects proceed using embryonic stem cell research and iPSC, there are currently over 2,200 adult stem cell clinical trials ongoing or completed, with over 50,000 patients treated with adult stem cells each year around the globe.
“Adult stem cell transplants have become ‘the standard of care’ for many people with blood disorders and malignancies,” writes Dr. David Prentice. “And the realization is growing that adult stem cells can treat much more than blood diseases and cancer. Published scientific evidence now shows a wide range of successful examples for dozens of diseases, including autoimmune disorders such as juvenile diabetes and multiple sclerosis, as well as heart disease, spinal cord injury and corneal blindness.”
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