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Stem Cell Breakthrough Catalyst to New Medical Era

The Progress Index, November 24, 2007

The ecstatic reaction of researchers, who are normally a less animated bunch, may be a good indicator of the importance and impact of a recent independently verified discovery: that common skin cells may be used instead of embryonic stem cells for research.

"This is a tremendous scientific milestone, the biological equivalent to the Wright Brothers first airplane," said Robert Lanza, chief scientific officer of Advanced Cell Technology in Massachusetts., a statement echoing the view of many of his colleagues.

Federal funding has been restricted amidst political and social controversy over embryonic stem cell research and the ethical implications that the science entails. Today, the issue is more mainstream than it has ever been, so a solid understanding of biology is not necessary to understand the enthusiasm surrounding the research. Without the use of a woman's eggs or human embryos, embryonic stem cells have been created by converting normal human skin cells using a simple technique developed by researchers in Wisconsin and Japan.

A limitless supple of research material will more than likely be created, and ethical issues will be completely eliminated, as the experiments are repeated and the methods perfected in giving embryonic power to skin cells.

Embryonic stem cells are considered to have the potential to develop into every type of human cell. Developing treatments for a long list of diseases and injuries which affect virtually every organ is the focus of scientists using embryonic stem cells for research. But ethical concerns, and more importantly, scientific/technical roadblocks have plagued the science, which has yet to produce even one successful treatment.

Stem cell research as a whole should be accelerated thanks to the new discovery. Many researchers who once had their hands tied because of limited cell lines, limited funding, and ethical concerns, will have now have an entire new frontier open in front of them. A much broader scope of expertise will be brought to the laboratory, which will lead to a much wider array of funding.

The discovery could be the catalyst for a new era in medicine, and Mr. Lanza's Wright Brothers analogy may be spot on. It took 42 years for humans to walk on the moon after Lindbergh flew across the Atlantic Ocean 24 years after the Wright brothers' maiden flight. But society should not be accustomed to this rate of innovation. Medicine and technology, with today's global reach, could set a new precedent for the pace of discovery.


 

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