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Sic Semper Tyrannis

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

True "Stem Cell Progress"

The early outlook is the only people who are going to be pissed at this news are liberal political consultants and Democratic politicans who just lost an issue and the folks at WARF (Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation) in Madison...for about five seconds until they cash in on this one too.

Dr. James Thomson does it again.

Scientists have made ordinary human skin cells take on the chameleon-like powers of embryonic stem cells, a startling breakthrough that might someday deliver the medical payoffs of embryo cloning without the controversy.

Laboratory teams on two continents report success in a pair of landmark papers released Tuesday. It's a neck-and-neck finish to a race that made headlines five months ago, when scientists announced that the feat had been accomplished in mice.

The "direct reprogramming" technique avoids the swarm of ethical, political and practical obstacles that have stymied attempts to produce human stem cells by cloning embryos.

Scientists familiar with the work said scientific questions remain and that it's still important to pursue the cloning strategy, but that the new work is a major coup.

"This work represents a tremendous scientific milestone - the biological equivalent of the Wright Brothers' first airplane," said Dr. Robert Lanza, chief science officer of Advanced Cell Technology, which has been trying to extract stem cells from cloned human embryos.

"It's a bit like learning how to turn lead into gold," said Lanza, while cautioning that the work is far from providing medical payoffs.

"It's a huge deal," agreed Rudolf Jaenisch, a prominent stem cell scientist at the Whitehead Institute in Cambridge, Mass. "You have the proof of principle that you can do it."


The new work is being published online by two journals, Cell and Science. The Cell paper is from a team led by Dr. Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University; the Science paper is from a team led by Junying Yu, working in the lab of in stem-cell pioneer James Thomson of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Both reported creating cells that behaved like stem cells in a series of lab tests.
Thomson, 48, made headlines in 1998 when he announced that his team had isolated human embryonic stem cells.

This is my favorite quote in the story.

Both labs did basically the same thing. Each used viruses to ferry four genes into the skin cells. These particular genes were known to turn other genes on and off, but just how they produced cells that mimic embryonic stem cells is a mystery.

"People didn't know it would be this easy," Thomson said. "Thousands of labs in the United States can do this, basically tomorrow."

The Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, which holds three patents for Thomson's work, is applying for patents involving his new research, a spokeswoman said. Two of the four genes he used were different from Yamanaka's recipe.

On my old blog I've long supposed the real reason Jim Doyle fought and used stem cell research as an issue wasn't just in memory of his "dear, sweet mother." It was at the urging of UW and WARF who needed the patent money from embryonic stem cell research.

Don't expect to hear anything on this news from Doyle today. Even if it is great news for UW-Madison. He's gotten all the traction he needed off the issue last year.

P.S. NRO's David Freddoso points out something. "Stem Cell Research" is now being called "Embryo Cloning" in the scientific and media community.

What took them so long to finally admit the truth into what was actually happening I wonder?