Monday, June 11, 2007

Good news and bad news

Last week's news that scientists have developed a method for creating stem cells from adult animal cells got a lot of people excited - especially folks who aren't pleased with the idea of harvesting stem cells from embryos. Apparently the key part of the method was the insertion of four genes into the cells, which created . There's a catch, though: at least one of those four genes are cancer-causing genes, aka oncogenes.
The other studies might prove even more acceptable to a concerned public as they don’t involve any embryos at all. Instead, a type of connective tissue cell called a fibroblast was coaxed into an ESC-like state through the insertion of four genes: Oct3/4, Sox2, c-myc and Klf4. Once transfected with the new genes, the fibroblasts appear almost identical to ESCs and have the ability to become any number of specialized cell type. The real beauty about this breakthrough is that a patient would need only be subjected to a skin biopsy in order to give scientists the starting point to develop a custom stem cell-based therapy; since the cells would already contain their own DNA, somatic cell nuclear transfer would not be necessary. These studies are an extension of work previously reported here at NI last year. This research is not without drawbacks though. The scientists discovered the cells had a propensity to lead to tumors, due to the presence of c-myc, which is a well-known oncogene. Nature will be launching a subsection of their webpage, Nature Reports Stem Cells, next week, focusing entirely on advances in this research field.
That seems like a mighty big obstacle to me. To my mind, fiddling with any of the genes that control cellular propagation is going to bring up the risk of causing cancer, let alone known oncogenes.

So, the good news is that they might be able to cure your diabetes. The bad news is that they have to give you cancer to do it.

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