03.12.2010 Adult stem cell success -Skin Cells changed to blood cells

03.12.2010 Adult stem cell success -Skin Cells changed to blood cells

3rd December 2010

Adult stem cell success -Skin Cells changed to blood cells

One of the biggest challenges facing the pro-life community in Ireland right now is to counter the anti-life lobby’s misleading propaganda that we need a law allowing the killing of human embryos to facilitate stem cell research to generate advances in ways of managing and treating different medical conditions.

But science supports life.

The advocates of laws allowing embryo destruction say they need to be allowed to kill human embryos to make advances in stem cell research to deliver medical advances.  The scientific facts say otherwise – significant advances in stem cell research are already taking place that are yielding new approaches to medical conditions, but they are taking place not using stem cells obtained by destroying human embryos, but treating patients with their own stem cells.

In the past three years an explosion of new breakthroughs has taken place developing different aspects of new ways to re-programme human body cells so they can be used to tackle an increasing range of medical issues – and the breakthroughs work with cells not obtained by destroying human embryos.

At first when these new breakthroughs occurred, the scientists were de-programming specialist cells into stem cells and then re-programming these into specialised cells of a different type. As the process for bringing these changes about has been better and more fully understood, scientists have identified processes for bringing this about in mice.

Last month, in another breakthrough study1, human skin cells were successfully converted directly into human blood stem cells.   This new approach seems to have eliminated the stage of reverting the skin cell to a pluripotent stage and switched it directly from one type to another.

Commenting on the significance of this, one expert said that the new approach ‘detours around the pluripotent stem cell stage and thus avoids many safety issues, increases efficiency, and also has the major benefit of producing adult-type 1 blood cells instead of fetal blood cells, a major advantage compared to the thus far disappointing attempts to produce blood cells from human embryonic stem cells or induced pluripotent stem cells.’2

The team behind the study repeated the process over two years with skin cells from people of different ages and found age did not affect outcome.

Supporting breakthroughs such as this is a rapidly growing body of knowledge about how to use specific chemicals to send signals into the cells to activate specific genes that make a cell specialise in different ways. In the words of Associated Press Science Writer, Malcolm Ritter, ‘it’s really just harnessing and speeding up what happens in nature: a versatile but immature cell matures into a more specialized one.’ 3   

It seems clear that scientific progress using adult stem cells which pose no threat to early human life is the future of stem cell research.  This breakthrough study further demonstrates that the pro-embryo research findings of the Commission on Assisted Human Reproduction set up by the Irish Government are based on old science.

1 ‘Direct conversion of human fibroblasts to multilineage blood progenitors’, Eva Szabo, Shravanti Rampalli, Ruth M Risueño, Angelique Schnerch, Ryan Miitchell, Aline Fiebig-Comyn, Marilyne Levadoux-Martin and Mickie Bhatia, Nature, 7th November 2010.  You can access the report here

2 Cynthia Dunbar, Head of the Molecular Hematopoiesis Section of the Hematology Branch of the National Heart and Lung and Blood Institute in the US National Institutes of Health, commenting in Medical News Today.  You can access the article here

3 ‘Scientists trick cells into switching identities’, Malcolm Ritter, Associated Press, 29th November 2010. You can read the AP article here