Advances should end stem-cell debate
Scientists reported having turned human skin cells into what seem like embryonic stem cells useful in treating major diseases.
What is being hailed as a major breakthrough in stem-cell research promises to lead to long-desired advances in treating Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases, heart problems, diabetes and other ailments. A major commitment should be made to perfect the method of using human skin cells to fight the diseases and leave behind the emotional moral debate about using embryonic tissue.
Teams of scientists in Japan and Wisconsin independently were able to turn human skin cells into what appear to be embryonic stem cells without having to make or destroy an embryo. Previously, scientists knew only how to get such cells from a human embryo soon after fertilization.
President Bush joined Christian conservatives in calling that destruction of life, while defenders of embryonic stem-cell research accused him of standing in the way of medical progress. The White House now says, "I told you so," while detractors say the breakthrough came from the stem-cell research Bush opposed.
One of the first achievements was reached in 1998 by a University of Hawaii research team headed by Ryuzo Yanagimachi. The team's successful cloning of mice, as a Scottish team had cloned the sheep Dolly, showed the way for stem cells to be used in treating diseases. It also caused irrational fear about the possible cloning of humans, since then banned by Congress.
In achieving the recent success, the Japan team began working with mouse cells and, after succeeding, used the same method on human skin cells. As in other scientific discoveries, many experts were stunned by its rationale. "Once it worked, I hit my head and said, 'It's so obvious,'" said Douglas A. Melton, co-director of the Stem Cell Institute at Harvard University. "But it's not obvious until it's done."
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