I came across two studies released just this week that give me even more reasons to oppose the morally-flawed idea of killing embryos for embryonic stem cell research. The first study describes how scientists have created embryonic-like stem cells using proteins instead of genes. In the second study, researchers announced this week that they’ve developed a technique to grow artificial blood vessels from patients’ own skin cells. So, why are we even considering embryonic stem cells?
The Wall Street Journal reports that the scientists working in Scripps Research Institute laboratories “have reprogrammed mature skin cells into an embryonic-like state by using proteins instead of genes, a key advance aimed at overcoming safety concerns in one of the hottest areas of biological research.”
The scientific community “has long aimed to harness the master cells of a human embryo, which can be turned into heart, nerve, and other types of tissue.” In due course, such tissue may be used “to test novel drugs, or” transplanted “into patients to treat diseases.
But, because the embryonic stem cell extraction destroys (kills, murders) the embryo, which is, in my view, fully and uniquely human, the technique has appropriately ignited much ethical controversy.
As a result, researchers have pressed on, eventually finding “an alternative approach.”
That “groundbreaking technique” was “discovered three years ago by a Japanese team led by Shinya Yamanaka,” the San Diego Union-Tribune added. That process involved inserting “four genes into mature skin cells to convert them back to an embryonic-like state.”
But, “the genes that were inserted into the cells cause cancer and changed the entire genetic profile of the cell,” meaning that “they could never be used for making human therapies, nor did they offer a pure model of a person’s disease.”
Lead investigator Sheng Ding and colleagues found that “by taking the gene insertion out of the process,” they were able to solve “one of the most challenging safety hurdles associated with personalized stem cell-based medicine.”
What’s even more exciting, to me, is the fact that the “process, which was conducted on mice cells, does not involve the destruction of an embryo or use of an egg.”
Delving into the specifics of the technique, HealthDay reported that the scientists “reprogrammed adult cells by engineering and using recombinant proteins, which are proteins made from the recombination of fragments of DNA from different organisms.”
Then, they “experimented with these proteins until they found the exact mix that enabled them to gradually reprogram the adult cells.” Eventually, the group noted that the “reprogrammed embryonic-like cells from fibroblasts behaved the same as embryonic stem cells in terms of molecular and functional features, including differentiation into various cell types, such as neurons, pancreatic cells, and beating cardiac muscle cells.”
In the Wall Street Journal Health Blog, titled “Embryonic Stem Cells Without Embryos,” Jacob Goldstein wrote, “It’s pretty striking how steady the progress has been on this front. The first reports of using genetic techniques to reprogram adult mouse cells into embryonic stem cells came in April, 2007,” and “just months later,” scientists made the “leap from mouse cells to human cells.”
In addition, on top of this, we have yet another remarkable study about other researchers having developed technique to grow artificial blood vessels from patients’ own skin cells.
In the Los Angeles Times Booster Shots blog, Thomas H. Maugh II, wrote, “California researchers have developed a technique to grow artificial blood vessels from a patient’s own skin cells, a technique that could quickly find application in kidney failure victims undergoing dialysis.”
And, “in the longer term,” this technique “could be used in coronary artery bypass surgery and other procedures.” According to research published in The Lancet, “the technique has so far been tested in 10 patients and preliminary results … suggest that the blood vessels can remain viable for long periods of time.”
“Todd McAllister of Cytograft Tissue Engineering in California and colleagues implanted lab-grown blood vessels into 10 patients with advanced kidney disease in Argentina and Poland from 2004 to 2007,” the AP reports. The researchers “took a small snippet of skin from patients,” in order to create “sheets of tissue that were rolled into blood vessels six to eight inches (15 to 20 centimeters) long.” They then implanted the vessels “into patients’ upper arms, to connect them to dialysis machines.”
HealthDay reported, “The researchers tracked the safety and stability of the shunts over three months,” and “evaluated the effectiveness of the shunts once dialysis was started.” They found that “three shunts failed during the safety phase of the study, which is a normal failure rate seen in these high-risk patients.” Of those remaining, “the grafts were used for dialysis for six to 20 months,” and “only one patient needed surgical correction to keep the shunt open.”
Medscape reported, “Overall, the primary patency rate was 78 percent at one month after implantation and 60 percent at six months after implantation,” which “approaches Dialysis Outcomes Quality Initiative objectives (76 percent of patients three months after implantation),” the researchers noted.
And, although “it is too early to determine whether the ‘excellent results’ will be replicated across a broader range of patients,” the researchers note that “their results are encouraging,” adding that “they will also start to investigate the utility of allogeneic tissue-engineered vascular grafts.”
Reuters reported this story and AFP also covered the story.
You can read more about this topic in some of my past blogs: