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Embryonic Stem Cell Research Needed Despite Recent Breakthroughs, Op-Ed Says
Alan I. Leshner
James A. Thomson [Courtesy of University of Wisconsin-Madison]
In a Washington Post commentary, AAAS CEO Alan I. Leshner and developmental biologist James A. Thomson said that while new discoveries enabling scientists to turn skin cells into multi-purpose stem cells "launches an exciting new line of research," policy makers and the public should not ignore the promise of embryonic stem cell research.
The authors wrote that although the recent stem cell advances should be considered breakthroughs, scientists are still at "square one, uncertain at this early stage whether souped-up skin cells hold the same promise as their embryonic cousins do."
"Though potential landmarks, these studies are only a first step on the long road toward eventual therapies," the authors wrote in the 3 December Post op-ed. "We simply cannot invest all our hopes in a single approach."
The op-ed has been re-published in several outlets, including the St. Paul Pioneer-Press and the Sacramento Bee.
In two reports published jointly by the journals Science and Cell, scientists document how they were able to reprogram skin cells in mice by incorporating four specific genes known to make cells versatile.
Because stem cells can transform into blood, bone, and skin cells, scientists believe that the research may lead to cures for spinal cord injuries, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and other ailments.
Leshner, who also serves as the executive publisher of Science, and Thomson, a senior author on the Science paper and a University of Wisconsin researcher widely considered to be the first scientist to create human embryonic stem cells, said that some policy makers consider the recent breakthrough as "vindicating the current U.S. policy of withholding federal funds from many of those working to develop potentially lifesaving embryonic stem cells."
This is faulty reasoning, the authors wrote, pointing out that the research on "reprogrammed skin cells depended entirely on previous embryonic stem cell research" and was conducted partly overseas in Japan.
Read the Washington Post commentary "Standing in the Way of Stem Cell Research."
4 December 2007