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Biotech Science

Stem-Cell-Like Cells Produced From Skin 265

Posted by kdawson
from the end-of-the-moral-debate dept.
MikShapi writes "Skin cells can now be turned into something resembling stem cells. A genetic modification to four genes using a viral vector reverses differentiating, making the cells revert to a stem-cell state, capable for becoming any other cell in the body. The researchers are calling them 'iPS cells' or 'induced pluripotent stem cells.' In their experiments, iPS cells in the lab turned into nerve cells, heart muscle, and other tissues. The research was published in Cell and Nature by teams from the universities of Kyoto and Wisconsin. The article notes that if the new method proves successful, 'we can disconnect the whole stem cell debate from the culture war, from battles over embryo politics and abortion rights.' And, should this technique be adopted, stem cells will henceforth be abundant, easier and cheaper to come by for research and therapeutic purposes."
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Stem-Cell-Like Cells Produced From Skin

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  • by MrAndrews (456547) * <mcm&1889,ca> on Tuesday November 20, 2007 @06:03PM (#21427429) Homepage
    And of course this discovery can't go without political interference... the White House is already condemning the discovery [pttbt.ca], calling for a ban.
    • by locokamil (850008)
      How was this modded +3 Insightful?
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      I'm pretty sure that story is satirical.
    • It's humor:

      ...the case of Dr Alfred Mencina of the Harvard School of Environment Studies, who published a paper contradicting official White House policy, and was subsequently found full of birdshot off a quail hunting range in Maine. "Skin is bad, and I can't wait to get rid of it," said Dr Wilson Triplehorn, a genetics professor at USC, "Someone get me a carrot peeler. And tell the Vice President I like his tie. Heh. Ouch!"

      It's a few years before they'll actually start shooting scientists.

  • by Linux_ho (205887) on Tuesday November 20, 2007 @06:10PM (#21427513) Homepage
    Now all those people getting abortions in the name of science can finally stop.
  • Futurama (Score:5, Funny)

    by Reason58 (775044) on Tuesday November 20, 2007 @06:13PM (#21427553)

    Farnsworth: As a man it has become too much of a chore for me to clean out my wrinkles each day. Is it true that stem cells may fight the aging process?

    Geneworks Woman: Well yes, in the same way an infant may fight Muhammed Ali! But -

    Farnsworth: One pound of stem cells please.

  • Unemployed thanks to the heartless advance of technology. How sad.
  • by Anonymous Coward
  • Hope it works (Score:3, Informative)

    by usul294 (1163169) on Tuesday November 20, 2007 @06:24PM (#21427699)
    Here's hoping it works, the less controversial science is the more likely projects will get funded for it. Just look at cloning in the US.
  • There are a number of reasons why this could be a huge development. The biggest thing on my mind is that this solves the whole question of were to get all the stem cells you need for what you want to do. Now the source can be the very patient you are working on. I'm going to watch this with great interest.
  • Just how much skin will we need? Will it be like blood banks? Instead of needles and cookies they'll hand you a loofa [wikipedia.org] and tell you to start scrubbing. That would work if dry skin is what they need. If they need fresh moist skin then maybe each of us will be on the hook to 'donate' a 1 inch by 1 inch square from our buttock of choice.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by ceoyoyo (59147)
      You can't use dry skin cells because they're dead. You have to have living cells.

      Nobody in their right mind would set up donation banks though. One of the best parts about being able to induce pluripotency is that you can use cells from the patient themselves, which means no rejection.
  • Viable (Score:5, Informative)

    by ShakaUVM (157947) on Tuesday November 20, 2007 @06:38PM (#21427893) Homepage Journal
    As long as the skin cells are not taken through a form that could be considered a viable human, I think this should end the ethical problems with stem cells nicely.

    The issue people have with stem cell research is not stem cells per se, but that the harvesting of embryonic stem cells results in the destruction of a viable human.

    Remember, religious people haven't had issues with adult stem cell research -- which this is. It's only embryonic stem cell research and SCNT processes which result in a viable human that people take ethical issues with.

    If this can directly transform a skin cell into heart cells or whatever without moving through an "embryonic" state, then it's really the best of both worlds.
    • Re:Viable (Score:5, Informative)

      by Reality Master 101 (179095) <`RealityMaster101' `at' `gmail.com'> on Tuesday November 20, 2007 @06:45PM (#21427983) Homepage Journal

      Remember, religious people haven't had issues with adult stem cell research

      It's always been false to blame "religious nuts" as being the only ones against harvesting embryonic stem cells. I'm an atheist, and I'm very uncomfortable with the idea of medical experiments on viable humans.

      • by ShakaUVM (157947)
        Ethics-ly inclined people, then. =)
      • by rbanffy (584143)
        While I am no Atheist (I lack the required faith on something I can't prove neither it exist nor it doesn't) I am also very uncomfortable with people experimenting on "human precursors" or however you label those.

        As someone pointed out earlier, if the most viable route to get stem cells is harvesting embryos, the demand will be so huge as to create an economic incentive for people to make as many of them as they can sell stem cells.

        And that is plain ugly.

        If we cross that barrier, how long until we start usi
        • As someone pointed out earlier, if the most viable route to get stem cells is harvesting embryos, the demand will be so huge as to create an economic incentive for people to make as many of them as they can sell stem cells.

          Go to your local fertility clinic. They toss out quite a few unused embryos with the remaining placed in cryopreservation. So, tossing them out or experimenting on them? Which one do you think is more useful?

          If we cross that barrier, how long until we start using human stem cells to make

          • by rbanffy (584143)
            "Growing edible skeletal muscle, which is what beef is, from embryos bypasses creation of a brain and other central nervous system components that are able to feel pain and other unpleasant stimuli during the manufacture of beef and other edible animal foodstuffs."

            I stretched the argument to the point of nearly breaking so I think you did not get it completely.

            I am totally in when it comes to growing beef in vitro and not taking it out of cows - they sure have feelings and they sure would not be very happy
            • If we start redrawing these lines according to our convenience, what will prevent us from using human embryos to grow food?

              I still don't see the issue with that unless the embryos grew central nervous systems first. Otherwise, who cares? People eat placentas, and those are composed of human genetic material.
        • by thej1nx (763573)
          May I ask why you are so comfortable eating the cells present in beef, but not present in your body? What makes you consider your cell as somehow superior?

          Why are you okay with killing cows which are pretty much more intelligent and sentient/alive than a bunch of "cells"?

          On the related note, what is your take on nail-biting? or chewing lip skin that many kids do? OMG!!! Cannibalism! Cannibalism is taboo due to mostly mutual self-preservation instincts. Extending it to non-intelligent cells is plain sil

      • You're practically the only one. Almost everyone else opposed to embryonic stem cell research has a religious affiliation.
        • You're practically the only one. Almost everyone else opposed to embryonic stem cell research has a religious affiliation.

          I think that's more a function of religious people having an organized voice that makes it into the media.

      • by thej1nx (763573)
        Actually if you look at it....anybody who is not equally uncomfortable with wars against foreign countries, capital punishment and what not, but is willing to pass laws against future scenarios based on science fiction novels and hollywood films, even if that means withholding medical research that can help save lives and increase life quality, *is* a nut in any case... religious or otherwise.


        Says a lot about George Bush and the republicans.

    • by Kingrames (858416)
      "I think this should end the ethical problems with stem cells nicely."
      Said the scientist as he threw the Bag O' Embryoes into the trash can.
    • by ceoyoyo (59147)
      An embryo isn't a viable human being. It's a clump of cells that could become a viable human being given half a year plus of intensive development in a womb. The ones that are used for stem cell research aren't viable at all since it's been decided their next stop, failing research, is the incinerator.

      These stem cells are probably more or less equivalent to those embryonic stem cells, except if they were given the half a year plus of intensive development in a womb they'd grow up to be a clone, which is e
    • by eli pabst (948845)
      Awesome, so now we can go back to incinerating *all* of them without anyone from the the religious right giving a crap. Thank heavens they aren't being used for anything useful...sigh.
  • by ahfoo (223186) on Tuesday November 20, 2007 @06:38PM (#21427897) Journal
    The real debate goes far deeper than merely how to create patient specific stem cells. The real issue is longevity and let's hope we're getting closer to where there's something worth arguing about.

    You'd think everybody is in favor of longevity, but one of Bush's early science advisers made it clear that he was opposed to life extension in principle and Bush explicitly backed him up on that. It blew me away, but they clearly were making the case in favor of death. Personally, I was shocked at this and I brought it up with some people in my family and I was even more surprised to find that a lot of the older people were sympathetic to the idea that death was something that shouldn't be messed with.

    Personally, I say fuck that. Ya'll can be my witnesses, I want to live as long as freakin' possible and if I end up lookin' like Frankenstein carrying my head in the jar in the crook of my sewn on arm then all the better. Sounds good to me.

    Some of the arguments in favor of death are kinda lame. I've heard the economic argument over and over. This is a popular one. It's like the economy would get all screwed up if people stopped dying on seventy year clocks because all the old geezer's saving would just accumulate insane interests until the oldest people had all the money. Okay, I can see that but this is not a good reason for people to die. Money aint that big a deal if we all had indefinite life spans. I'm sure we could calmly negotiate something once everyone had matured a few hundred years.

    Another pro-death argument is the idea of overpopulation. I think I have a sweet answer to this one and this is what I really wanted to post about. See, the key is that you've got to have an answer that appeals to a really silly level of religious symbolism and I think I got it.

    What you do is, you say that anybody who wants to extend their life past a certain age and have children will have to voluntarily exile themselves into orbit or the moon or some other place off the surface of the earth. This is the perfect solution. Why? Because, the result is that the people who accept eternal life can only do so if they . . . wait for it. . . go to heaven.

    Is that sweet or what?
    • by Otter (3800)
      It's like the economy would get all screwed up if people stopped dying on seventy year clocks because all the old geezer's saving would just accumulate insane interests until the oldest people had all the money.

      Errr, no, that's not how retirement usually works. Look at it this way -- do the really old people in your community look like they're rolling in money? Warren Buffett will earn interest way in excess of his spending (and in excess of inflation) but your typical 150-year-old is unlikely to have enou

      • by Bluesman (104513)
        It's funny you mention that, I read recently that the 70-74 age group has the highest average wealth of any group in the country.

        That's wealth, not taxable income or earned income, which aren't a really accurate measure of the wealth of a retired person. You'll always hear those inaccurate numbers quoted to make it seem like old folks are destitute, however, which justifies massive government spending to buy their extremely reliable votes.

        You can read more about it here:

        Thomas Sowell income confusion artic [townhall.com]
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Xordan (943619)
      People also tend to forget that 'extending life' doesn't have to be 'living like a corpse in a bed'. If we can extend life for long periods (say 300 years) then the chances are we'll be able to make people at the age of 200 be in the same condition as a 50 year old person. So the retirement age will rise to 250 or something and the economy will adapt to this, just like it's adapted to the average age increasing so much over the last 200 years or so.

      As for overpopulation.. there's an (as good as) infinite am
    • by ricegf (1059658)

      ...one of Bush's early science advisers made it clear that he was opposed to life extension in principle and Bush explicitly backed him up on that.

      References, please? My google-fu isn't up to finding any such quote from Bush. I would expected such an explicit opposition to life to have generated quite a furor among the pro-life community...

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by zoltamatron (841204)
      +5 Interesting??? Jeez....Maybe this is one position that I actually agree with Bush on....living forever (or trying to) is ridiculous. Like someone else stated before, the real conundrum is the social liability that old people have on the world. It's one thing to live forever, but if you do so for 50 years after being a socially productive member of society for only 65, then the economy quickly becomes unsustainable and healthcare costs crush the country. If you can keep the ratio of productive years t
    • by rbanffy (584143)
      "You'd think everybody is in favor of longevity, but one of Bush's early science advisers made it clear that he was opposed to life extension in principle and Bush explicitly backed him up on that. It blew me away, but they clearly were making the case in favor of death."

      I can pretty much support the case against extending their lives. I am just surprised they agree.

      But let's not exaggerate our enthusiasm with that specific idea. I am also sure it will take more than their natural lifetimes to undo all the
    • by MikShapi (681808)
      This is actually a very valid point.
      Stem Cells play an important part in the closest thing we have to an engineering roadmap to cure aging [sens.org].

      They're not a silver bullet, and shouldn't be treated as such, but it's a crucial piece that both directly addresses some of the causes of aging, and significantly complements our biomolecular toolbox, which in turn we are and will be using to solve a miriad of other problems.

    • by ceoyoyo (59147)
      Doesn't Genesis say that God decided no one should live longer than... was it 100 years? No, 120. [umich.edu]

      So life extension is against God. Personally, I'd expect that if an omnipotent god said nobody is going to live longer than 120 years it really wouldn't matter what anybody did, but apparently God needs the help of us poor peons to make sure his edicts are enforced. And that Noah... he's the worst of all. He lived WAY more than 120 years, even AFTER the decree!
  • ...looking at this, I think it wasn't so bad that there was a strong opposition to embryonic stem cell research in the first place. If you think about it, this forced scientists to find a new source for stem cells. Now they hit the jackpot, since skin cells are much more available, and can be easily grown in a lab.
    • by eli pabst (948845)
      You're also heavily manipulating them and we have no idea right now what that means. In fact we barely understand the processes by which embryonic stem cells differentiate in the first place and we have almost no idea how this process they developed works exactly. So taking a skin cell and manipulating it into becoming a totipotent stem cell and and then manipulating further to become the type of tissue we want to grow is a significant deviation from the natural course of tissue development and it remains
  • by Anonymous Coward
    One problem with these techniques is that they use lentiviruses to deliver these genes. The lentiviral genome integrates into the host which could pose the threat of integration into a tumor suppressor gene or into another critical gene. Additionally, despite measures taken to prevent this, some studies have found that these integrants (proviruses) may be packaged into another virus if you're subsequently infected with a wild lentivirus (ie HIV), creating stem cell inducing viruses (which can't replicate, b
  • by Crypto Gnome (651401) on Tuesday November 20, 2007 @10:17PM (#21430197) Homepage Journal
    People need something to fight over, it's one of the things that makes us human.

    One day (probably in the far distant future) the science-types will work out how to assemble (from scratch, no less) one (1) Hew-Man Being(patent-pending, tm, etc most likely) without the mess involved with "an embryo".

    What you gonna do now?

    You think this is insanely unlikely? (remember folks, people once thought it insanely unlikely the earth was NOT the center of the universe)

    Until it's born, it's "an embryo". Of course essentially the same thing occurring as "just a bunch of separate organs" is (by definition) not "an embryo" although (in theory, so far) you could piece the jigsaw-puzzle together in "an assembl-O-mat" and produce a walking-talking fully-functional human.

    And maybe we won't do it that way - maybe we'll just use full nano-assembley and build him (or her) one atom at a time.

    At what point do you differentiate between "a human" (or "a person") and something that was literally designed and manufactured by "those geeks in Building C" you see in the cafeteria some days?

    Do they deserve any rights? Rights the same as "the rest of us" or not? (anyone seen Blade Runner lately?)

    Should "they" be any less worthy simply because we fully understand how they came to be, and can control that process?

    Does anyone else in this room find it odd and unsettling that the very same people who are so against killing people before they're born are constantly requisitioning more funds from congress in order to kill people after they've been born? (well, very long after. And "those people" aren't "my people" so that makes it fair and just, doesn't it?)
    • Does anyone else in this room find it odd and unsettling that the very same people who are so against killing people before they're born are constantly requisitioning more funds from congress in order to kill people after they've been born? (well, very long after. And "those people" aren't "my people" so that makes it fair and just, doesn't it?)

      I've heard this line of critique before, and am at least somewhat sympathetic considering the loudest mouths in American politics. All the same, bear in mind that

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