Could the controversy over stem cell therapy be over? Recently two groups of competing scientists reported that they had taken regular human skin cells and genetically reprogrammed them to behave like human stem cells. By inserting a ‘potent cocktail’ of four genes into human skin cells, the skin tissues regressed to a stem cell stage. These new cells, described as ‘embryonic-like’, could allow stem cell therapy research to continue without the impediment of moral and ethical hang-ups of destroying fetuses.
Stem cells are often considered a ‘blank slate’ cell of sorts, as they are able to form any of the 220 cell types found in the body simply by being placed near them. It is hoped that stem cells will allow for medicine to combat injuries and conditions that drugs cannot, such as nerve damage. However until now the most versatile stem cells have only been available from human embryos. This new development is likely to be encouraged and could lead to the abandonment of embryonic stem cell research. However this doesn’t mean the years of embryonic stem cell research will be wasted. Due to the similarity of these new cells much of the existing research can be augmented and applied.
The real benefit of this new research is that these cells can be made from the patients own skin. In any donor situation there is huge problems with finding a donor of a similar blood type, and even after that is accomplished there is a lifetime of taking immune suppressants so the body does not reject the new tissue. With this new technique, the possibility exists that any new tissues created from the stem cells will be immediately accepted because they came from the patient.