Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells, The Future of Regenerative Medicine
The ability to reprogram ordinary body cells into pluripotent cells is considered one of the major scientific advances of our time. Many scientists have strongly suggested that this new development represents the future of regenerative medicine, with human embryonic stem cells now becoming obsolete. Even scientists like Ian Wilmut who was the cloning pioneer and creator of Dolly the sheep has said, “The fact that introduction of a small number of proteins into adult human cells could produce cells that are equivalent to embryo stem cells takes us to an entirely new era of stem cell biology.” In fact, iPSCs are preferable to cloning, on both ethical and practical grounds.
Recent Discoveries in iPSCs
Dr. James Thomson of the University of Wisconsin, who was also the first to grow human ESC, and Prof Shinya Yamanaka from Japan have each had high profile papers released in Science & Cell. Both show that embryonic-type stem cells can be produced directly from ordinary human cells (such as a skin cell) without first creating an embryo.
Prof. Yamanaka published a second paper in Nature Biotechnology in which he explained how he achieved the same result with human and mouse cells by adding only 3 genes and omitting one gene that had cancer-causing potential.
Both groups used viruses to add the genes, but they have already refined the technique to eliminate the use of viruses. The “direct reprogramming” technique, first developed by Yamanaka in mice in 2006, involves adding 3-4 genetic factors to an ordinary cell, such as a skin cell. These “reprogram” or “dedifferentiate” the cell directly into an embryonic-type stem cell (called “iPS cells”–induced Pluripotent Stem cells.) They do not start with adult stem cells, and they do not produce adult stem cells. These are EMBRYONIC-type stem cells.
iPSCs have the same monumental advantages of Embryonic Stem Cells (i.e. nearly unlimited pluripotency) without the crippling human Embryonic Stem Cell disadvantage of destroying human lives at the embryonic stage.
Coupled with the announcement by Ian Wilmut (the “father of Dolly”) that he is abandoning cloning as a method, in favor of Yamanaka’s method to get embryonic stem cells directly, these are significant announcements. Wilmut, Thomson, and Yamanaka should be congratulated on turning from questionable science that has produced no useable results, to focusing on more promising scientific methods, easier, cheaper, and available for funding now, that also meet the ethical bar. These events indicate there is no need to destroy embryos, nor clone embryos for research.