More breakthroughs in stem cell research

And once again the news has nothing to do with embryonic stem cell research:

NEW YORK — Scientists have made ordinary human skin cells take on the chameleon-like powers of embryonic stem cells, a startling breakthrough that might someday deliver the medical payoffs of embryo cloning without the controversy.

Laboratory teams on two continents report success in a pair of landmark papers released Tuesday. It’s a neck-and-neck finish to a race that made headlines five months ago, when scientists announced that the feat had been accomplished in mice.

The “direct reprogramming” technique avoids the swarm of ethical, political and practical obstacles that have stymied attempts to produce human stem cells by cloning embryos.

Scientists familiar with the work said scientific questions remain and that it’s still important to pursue the cloning strategy, but that the new work is a major coup.

“This work represents a tremendous scientific milestone – the biological equivalent of the Wright Brothers’ first airplane,” said Dr. Robert Lanza, chief science officer of Advanced Cell Technology, which has been trying to extract stem cells from cloned human embryos.

“It’s a bit like learning how to turn lead into gold,” said Lanza, while cautioning that the work is far from providing medical payoffs.

“It’s a huge deal,” agreed Rudolf Jaenisch, a prominent stem cell scientist at the Whitehead Institute in Cambridge, Mass. “You have the proof of principle that you can do it.”

There is a catch. At this point, the technique requires disrupting the DNA of the skin cells, which creates the potential for developing cancer. So it would be unacceptable for the most touted use of embryonic cells: creating transplant tissue that in theory could be used to treat diseases like diabetes, Parkinson’s, and spinal cord injury.

But the DNA disruption is just a byproduct of the technique, and experts said they believe it can be avoided.

If embryonic stem cell research becomes a hot button issue for the elections next year like it did in 2006, where proponents of ESCR once again used outright lies into hoodwinking voters into supporting it, I hope the Republican candidates pound the hell out of all the breakthroughs that have been reported on the non-embyronic stem cell front (see here, here, here and here for examples), and also repetitively mention the fact that, to date, there have been no “cures” developed on the embryonic stem cell research front. Not a single one.

Yuval Levin at NRO writes about credit that should be given to the President on this issue:

This kind of outcome has been the hope behind President Bush’s stem cell policy. In fact, the President spoke about this very same techniqueβ€”reprogramming skin cellsβ€”in a speech back in July of 2006, and earlier this year signed an executive order to encourage this kind of work (Thomson’s team, in fact, was supported by the NIH). He should get credit for sticking to a crucial moral principle against immense and often quite irresponsible political pressure.

The President has stuck to his principles on this issue, and those principles are winning. Wesley Smith expands on the praise:

Returning to President Bush’s stem-cell funding policy; even though it was politically unpopular, the President believed wholeheartedly that the raw talent, intelligence, and creativity of the science sector would find a way to obtain pluripotent stem cells (the ability to become any cell type) through ethical means. In speeches and news conference answers about the stem-cell issue, Bush repeatedly supported existing ethical areas of research, and called upon researchers to find “alternative” methods of developing stem-cell medicine without treating nascent human life “as an experiment.” Toward this end, earlier this year Bush signed an executive order requiring the NIH to identify all sources of human pluripotent stem cells, and invited “scientists to work with the NIH, so we can add new ethically derived stem-cell lines to the list of those eligible for federal funding.”


I believe that many of these exciting “alternative” methods would not have been achieved but for President Bush’s stalwart stand promoting ethical stem-cell research. Indeed, had the president followed the crowd instead of leading it, most research efforts would have been devoted to trying to perfect ESCR and human-cloning research β€” which, despite copious funding, have not worked out yet as scientists originally hoped.

So thank you for your courageous leadership, Mr. President. Because of your willingness to absorb the brickbats of the Science Establishment, the Media Elite, and weak-kneed Republican and Democratic politicians alike β€” we now have the very real potential of developing thriving and robust stem-cell medicine and scientific research sectors that will bridge, rather than exacerbate, our moral differences over the importance and meaning of human life.

He also inserts a few well-deserved digs at what he calls the “Scientific Establishment” and their pomposity. Make sure to read the whole thing.

I’m sure the Usual Suspects who have slammed the President (and other Republicans) repeatedly for being “mean-spirited” regarding ESCR – all by using disingenuous, phoney arguments designed to appeal to emotion rather than reason, will be lining up to sing his praises for not bowing to the political winds on the issue. I’m also “sure” that I’m next in line to be Queen of England.

Cross-posted at Right Wing News, where I helped guestblog today for a vacationing John Hawkins.

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