Christmas Miracle? Stem Cell Breakthrough
Exciting news came from two teams of scientists in Milwaukee, and Harvard, that they had created stem cells from adult human skin last month.
Stem cells are one of the most promising areas of medical research because of their ability to grow any kind of new tissue. They can potentially be used to grow new brain cells for Parkinson’s patients, new skin for burn victims or to replace tissues damaged or lost to cancer. Many scientists and doctors believe stem cells have almost limitless potential to repair damage and cure disease.
Previously, most scientists thought that the most promising stem cell research used stem cells taken from human embryos. Embryonic stem cells are very potent. Imagine how a fertilized egg grows into all the different parts of a baby! That’s the work of the stem cells. But obtaining the cells means destroying an embryo.
Research on human embryonic stem cells is banned in the US, but other countries have scientists working with human embryonic stem cells. Aside from the obvious ethical issue, mothers willing to donate an embryo are scarce. Researchers use human embryos from IVF patients who feel they have completed their family but still have embryos in storage.
Any potential stem cell treatments would be for a serious or deadly disease. Would you use a therapy developed in a foreign country from human embryo stem cells?
So while research teams in the US and several other countries are banned from working with human embryonic stem cells, they have instead focused on studying stem cells from mice and other animal embryos, and also on the prospect of making stem cells from adult tissue, leading to last month’s breakthrough.
The research is still in a very early stage and it will be several years before even clinical trials can begin with human skin stem cells. But this is a very important first step towards therapies using skin stem cells. It will allow many more researchers to study stem cells free from ethical concerns, and should bring us closer to potential life-saving treatments.
Perhaps, a true Christmas miracle.