Stem-Cell Breakthrough May Silence Critics

By Eric S. Page
|  Thursday, Apr 23, 2009  |  Updated 3:42 PM PDT
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Stem-Cell Breakthrough May Silence Critics

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"We are very excited about this breakthrough," Sheng Ding, an associate professor at Scripps. "Scientists have been dreaming about this for years."

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Researchers have announced a breakthrough that could end the ethical debate surrounding stem-cell research.

The groundbreaking technique would allow the conversion of adult cells into an embryonic-like state. Researchers have been competing in recent years to reach just such a discovery, which would allow them to perform their work without using the controversial embryonic stem cell lines.

Scientists at the the Scripps Research Institute in San Diego believe the key to their success is converting the cells by using recombinant proteins, which eliminates subsequent genetic alterations that typically occur during later stages.

"Instead of inserting the four genes into the cells they wanted to reprogram, the scientists added the purified engineered proteins and experimented with the chemically defined conditions without any genetic materials involved until they found the exact mix that allowed them to gradually reprogram the cells," researchers said in a news release.

President Barack Obama recently eased limits on taxpayer-funded embryonic stem cell research, with the government ruling that researchers had to use cells culled from fertility clinic embryos that otherwise would be thrown away.

Scientists are trying to harness stem cells -- "master" cells that can morph into any type of cell in the body -- to create replacement tissues and better treat, possibly even cure, ailments ranging from diabetes to Parkinson's to spinal cord injury.

Culling embryonic stem cells -- which can propagate indefinitely in lab dishes -- destroys a days-old embryo, a technique strongly opposed by many on moral grounds.

The Bush administration limited taxpayer-supported research to a small number of embryonic stem cell "lines" or groups already in existence as of August 2001.

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