Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Hold some balloons back

I'm sure all of you have heard about the recent stem cell breakthrough. This is great news, if it pans out. My greatest fear, as echoed by Wired, is that we are going to throw away all of the research done so far in other methods for the glimmer of hope these as yet unproven methods promise. Already some organizations are lighting up the lines to kill all research into embryonic stem cell research.

If these techniques turn out to reliably produce quality, pluripotent stem cells, it will greatly, if not completely reduce the need for embryonic stem cell therapies. These techniques have not yet been thoroughly vetted, however, and the experiments haven't yet been reproduced. These are also very new stem cell lines and any mutations or other side effects of the methods have yet to be found.

As one of the scientists working on the project, Junying Yu, has said, "Nobody knows exactly what happens, but when we introduce the genes, it basically changes gene expression inside the cell, and that changes the fate of the skin cells." It is this uncertainty, from the experts themselves, that has me hold back my optimism. There is also the fact that even current pluripotent embryonic stem cells can't always be coaxed into forming certain cells. So far the University of Wisconsin study has been able to grow heart, muscle and brain tissue. Very key tissues, especially in Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, and heart disease studies, but still newly made.

Please, throw these studies more money, but don't stop sending money to other, more proven methods, even if those methods aren't accepted by all.

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