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Radio Shows | Stem Cells - Retroviruses | mp3wmawav

One of the most divisive issues in the country today concerns embryonic stem cell research. Yet there is no denying the powerful potential they hold.

Imagine the ability to "grow" new tissues or even organs. Stem cells may revolutionize medical care and extend the human life span.

Most of us agree because national polls show 65 percent of Americans favor stem cell research. But ethical questions and political roadblocks have slowed the basic experimentation needed to realize the promise they hold.

The significant objection is that current methods used to isolate these cells results in the destruction of a human embryo.

Concerns from ethicists and religious groups led to a Bush administration moratorium on federal funding and the ban on the creation of new stem cell lines more than six years ago.

That's why it was exciting to hear about a new development in the field.

Scientists in Japan and at the University of Wisconsin were able to coerce human skin cells to acquire embryonic stem cell properties.

They used a technique called "re-programming". Retroviruses which are related to the HIV virus were used to introduce genes into skin cells to make them pluripotent.

That means they now had the potential to become any cell in the body.

There are problems with this approach. Using retroviruses to introduce genes into our cells is risky because while these retroviruses don't cause AIDS they can produce tumors.

That's why an alternative approach is already under development called stem cell nuclear transfer.

But are any of these methods better than embryonic stem cells?

Reprogrammed cells can resemble stem cells but they may or may not have the full range of properties.

This all needs to be explored. It's also why embryonic stem cell research can not be abandoned even with significant questions over the ethics of its use.

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For more information…

Stem Cell Basics This is an excellent overview of basic information about stem cells. It provides information about the differences between embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells. There is a section that provides links to additional information.
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Stem Cells from Skin Cells This is a "Scientific American" article on the re-programming of mouse skin cells into pluripotent embryo like cells. The article discusses the "reverse development" of skin cells and the potential to apply this technology to human cells.
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Adult Cells, Reprogrammed To Embryonic Stem Cell Like State, Treat Sickle-cell Anemia In Mice Reported by "Science Daily", this report describes experiments that show the proof of principle of stem cells not derived from embryos to form another cells type and demonstrate therapeutic value. In this case, embryo-like stem cells or induced pluripotent stem cells (IPS) were used to correct human sickle cell disease in mice.
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