STEM CELL BREAKTHROUGH?….Some promising news on the stem cell front:

Researchers in Wisconsin and Japan have turned ordinary human skin cells into what are effectively embryonic stem cells without using embryos or women’s eggs — the two hitherto essential ingredients that have embroiled the medically promising field in a long political and ethical debate.

….”This is a tremendous scientific milestone, the biological equivalent to the Wright Brothers’ first airplane,” said Robert Lanza, chief scientific officer of Advanced Cell Technology in Worcester, Mass., a developer of stem cell therapies.

Especially gratifying to stem cell researchers was that some of their biggest critics seemed mollified. Richard Doerflinger of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said he was at a Vatican-sponsored meeting recently where the technique was described. “All the Catholic scientists and ethicists at the conference…had no moral problem with it at all,” he said.

The new technique relies on a set of viruses to insert transcription factors into the skin cells, which makes them of limited immediate use. “The FDA would never allow us to use these virally modified cells in patients,” Lanza told NewScientist, but understanding how the viruses do their work may help us understand how the transformation into stem cells proceeds in the first place, thus leading to other, safer techniques.

In the past it seems like there’s always been some subtle gotcha attached to every promising report of adult stem cell research, so no jumping up and down yet. Still, good news.

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