Friday, December 07, 2007

Making Stem Cells?

It was reported in the latest issue of Science and Cell journal that we can now make stem cells in the petri-dish. A group of Japanese workers, and concomitantly, a group of American workers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, managed to form lines of stem cells and even create some beating heart tissue, by adding some protein chemicals into a petri-dish with skin fibroblast cells, and managed to culture stem cells from them. It all sounds so simple, but I am sure it is not.

Of course, these are initial reports. But since it comes from both sides of the great pond, it must show that the idea is workable and reproducible. Granted that both parties used different chemical to constitute the nucleus of the stem cells. We must surely await further confirmation and some more data. Are these manufactured cells just similar or identical? Will they function exactly like the original? Many more questions will need to be answered before we are ready for primetime.

The great achievement here is that we can manufacture stem cells without sacrificing embryos. It helps avoid the ethical and religious issues that have plagued embryonic stem cell research. The potential (if this technique is realised) is tremendous. Can you see the new future in organ transplantation with manufacturing of organs, can you see the potential in organ repair and organ enhancement, just to name a few. I wonder who holds the patent to this technique. You can almost see the vultures (read venture capitalist) circling?

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