Breakthrough: Reprogramming Adult Cells

In a jaw-dropping medical breakthrough, scientists have found a way to re-program adult cells, turning them into cells that have a completely different function. This does not involve stem cells, but regular cells. Excerpts from Scientists Reprogram Adult Cells’ Function – washingtonpost.com:

Scientists have transformed one type of fully developed adult cell directly into another inside a living animal, a startling advance that could lead to cures for a variety of illnesses and sidestep the political and ethical quagmires associated with embryonic stem cell research.

Through a series of painstaking experiments involving mice, the Harvard biologists pinpointed three crucial molecular switches that, when flipped, completely convert a common cell in the pancreas into the more precious insulin-producing ones that diabetics need to survive.

The experiments, detailed online yesterday in the journal Nature, raise the prospect that patients suffering from not only diabetes but also heart disease, strokes and many other ailments could eventually have some of their cells reprogrammed to cure their afflictions without the need for drugs, transplants or other therapies.

“It’s kind of an extreme makeover of a cell,” said Douglas A. Melton, co-director of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, who led the research. “The goal is to create cells that are missing or defective in people. It’s very exciting.”

The work was hailed as a welcome development even by critics of research involving embryonic stem cells, which can be coaxed to become any tissue in the body but are highly controversial because they are obtained by destroying embryos.

“I see no moral problem in this basic technique,” said Richard Doerflinger of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, a leading opponent of embryonic stems cell research. “This is a ‘win-win’ situation for medicine and ethics.”

Researchers in the field, who have become accustomed to rapid advances, said they, too, were surprised by the advance.

“I’m stunned,” said Robert Lanza, chief scientific officer of Advanced Cell Technology in Worcester, Mass., a developer of stem cell therapies. “It introduces a whole new paradigm for treating disease.”

Destroying unborn infants for their stem cells is now unnecessary and obsolete. I suspect that opposition to that practice, including the restrictions enforced by the Bush administration, played a role in causing scientists to pursue alternatives that turned out to be so much better!

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Bruce

    Others will know more about this than I do, but I think the real reason that scientists have been pursuing adult stem cell research rather than embryonic is that they are getting spectacular results from the adult but very fractured results from the embryonic.

    I wonder if this paragraph quoted above is even accurate: “The work was hailed as a welcome development even by critics of research involving embryonic stem cells, which can be coaxed to become any tissue in the body but are highly controversial because they are obtained by destroying embryos.” I am not sure it has been proven that ESC’s “can be coaxed to become any tissue in the body” and still remain stable.

    This new result will add a lot of momentum to the case being made that the best use of our research dollars is in the field of adult stem cells.

  • Bruce

    Others will know more about this than I do, but I think the real reason that scientists have been pursuing adult stem cell research rather than embryonic is that they are getting spectacular results from the adult but very fractured results from the embryonic.

    I wonder if this paragraph quoted above is even accurate: “The work was hailed as a welcome development even by critics of research involving embryonic stem cells, which can be coaxed to become any tissue in the body but are highly controversial because they are obtained by destroying embryos.” I am not sure it has been proven that ESC’s “can be coaxed to become any tissue in the body” and still remain stable.

    This new result will add a lot of momentum to the case being made that the best use of our research dollars is in the field of adult stem cells.

  • WebMonk

    Bruce, ESCs have a wide variability and as far as researchers can tell they can become any type of cell. There’s nothing to suggest they can’t, and they’ve been shown to turn into a very wide range of cells. Off the top of my head I know they’ve been turned into muscle, eye, liver, kidney, stomach, bone marrow, and nerve cells.

    Killing people to get the ESCs removes them from being a valid source of research, but they really do seem to live up to their billing as being able to be coaxed into becoming any tissue type. At least researchers haven’t found anything they can’t turn into yet. If they can’t turn into _any_ tissue, ESCs can turn into darned-near any tissue.

    ESCs aren’t unique in their properties, and I’m pretty sure everything ESCs do can be accomplished through other means, but people will tune out that part of our arguments if we try to incorrectly asperse ESC’s actual capabilities.

  • WebMonk

    Bruce, ESCs have a wide variability and as far as researchers can tell they can become any type of cell. There’s nothing to suggest they can’t, and they’ve been shown to turn into a very wide range of cells. Off the top of my head I know they’ve been turned into muscle, eye, liver, kidney, stomach, bone marrow, and nerve cells.

    Killing people to get the ESCs removes them from being a valid source of research, but they really do seem to live up to their billing as being able to be coaxed into becoming any tissue type. At least researchers haven’t found anything they can’t turn into yet. If they can’t turn into _any_ tissue, ESCs can turn into darned-near any tissue.

    ESCs aren’t unique in their properties, and I’m pretty sure everything ESCs do can be accomplished through other means, but people will tune out that part of our arguments if we try to incorrectly asperse ESC’s actual capabilities.

  • Bryan Lindemood

    This is very good news! Thanks for highlighting this, Dr. Veith.

  • Bryan Lindemood

    This is very good news! Thanks for highlighting this, Dr. Veith.

  • Joe

    Isn’t correct that several therapeutic treatments have been found using Adult Stem Cells and that there are no current ESC treatments?

  • Joe

    Isn’t correct that several therapeutic treatments have been found using Adult Stem Cells and that there are no current ESC treatments?

  • WebMonk

    Yes, and there are dozens (maybe more, I’m not cutting edge on this topic) that are the other way around. I’m not saying that we should go with ESC research. There will probably be several specific treatments that are peculiar to adult and some that are peculiar to embryonic. Not many, but probably some.

    Right now though, the ESC research is much further along and there is more that has been done with it. As far as I know though, the ASC accomplishments could also be done with ESC. ASC and related genetic treatments seem to have just about, if not all, the potential of ESC treatments. ESC is much easier to use in many ways, though. Some of the ASC involve first turning adult cells into cells that are the equivalent of ESC and then using them – an extra step of difficulty.

    Killing people though, just to get a set of treatments a bit faster, is abominable in every way.

  • WebMonk

    Yes, and there are dozens (maybe more, I’m not cutting edge on this topic) that are the other way around. I’m not saying that we should go with ESC research. There will probably be several specific treatments that are peculiar to adult and some that are peculiar to embryonic. Not many, but probably some.

    Right now though, the ESC research is much further along and there is more that has been done with it. As far as I know though, the ASC accomplishments could also be done with ESC. ASC and related genetic treatments seem to have just about, if not all, the potential of ESC treatments. ESC is much easier to use in many ways, though. Some of the ASC involve first turning adult cells into cells that are the equivalent of ESC and then using them – an extra step of difficulty.

    Killing people though, just to get a set of treatments a bit faster, is abominable in every way.


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