Ethical Stem Cell research for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease

Buried within this news release about an article published this week in the journal Stem Cells is the report that the same team has accomplished as yet unpublished production of the same sorts of cells from “induced Pluripotent Stem cells.” (iPS) Another article tells us that another lab has developed non-destructive stem cells, developed from iPS cells, that have the properties of Parkinson’s disease. These are monumental firsts: functional cells, used in research, from iPS. iPS cells do not carry the same ethical problems that embryonic stem cells do, and so funding should be easier to obtain, with less bureaucratic hassles (and frowns from people like me who believe that it is wrong to kill humans, even embryonic humans, unless they are a threat to the life of another). There's also the hoped-for possibility of future benefit from back-up nerve cell lines for each of us, derived from our own fibroblasts or skin cells.

My own prediction is that we will learn to use stimulating factors and manipulate the local environment of cells for healing therapies. For example: blood transfusions have greatly decreased since the discovery of several medications (Epogen and Nupogen and others) that stimulate the patients’ own bone marrow to make red blood cells and white blood cells. The Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s cell lines are adult stem cells derived from induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS), and so the research on and use of these lines is ethical. Although the teams did earlier work on embryonic stem cells, and learned from that work, the new iPS lines are not the direct result of embryo destruction. No humans, even embryonic humans, had to die to produce these cells.

The published article in Stem Cells is about lines of neurons produced from H7 human embryonic stem cells, one of the lines approved under the Bush administration guidelines. This line is still eligible for Federal funding in the US. However, as this news article notes, the government of Australia is even more restrictive in the use of human embryonic stem cells than the US, making embryonic stem cell research cumbersome and near-impossible. Advances such as those at Northwestern University by Kessler and Bissonette and at Harvard, by Daley, will increase both funding and researchers devoted to ethical, non-destructive research on human stem cells. Cell lines should be easier and cheaper to produce using iPS, and commercial products intended for mass testing of drugs and disease condition can be utilized in labs.


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I wish iPS cells were the answer, but more and more articles are proving that is not necessarily going to be the case. 

Researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies confirm that iPS cells, which by all appearances look and act like embryonic stem cells, differ in certain aspects from their embryonic cousins, emphasizing that further research will be necessary before they can rightfully take embryonic stem cells' place.

Nature, February 3, 2011

Two studies seem to contradict that one from Nature.

Harvard released a press release about articles on research looking at the "pluripotency" of iPS and embryonic stem cells.
The original studies were published in Nature Biotechnology and Cell, both very specialized, peer reviewed journals. The latter article describes the "internal variations' in hES and iPs as "similar." Both studies found iPS to be useful in developing functional cells.

The ravages of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's continue to baffle the medical community. While there is as yet virtually no cure for either, according to The Independent, science may have found something big. Professionals have effectively made neurons via human skin. The proof is here: Scientists create neurons from skin cells without stem cells

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