Stem Cell Discovery Will Affect Research at California Agency
Advocates and opponents of stem cell research are applauding a recent discovery in which scientists reprogrammed human skin cells to act like embryonic stem cells, a development that will have implications for the type of research funded by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, the San Jose Mercury News reports (Johnson, San Jose Mercury News, 11/21).
Two separate research teams from Japan and the University of Wisconsin were able to transform skin cells into stem cells by treating them with four genes, raising the prospect that stem cells from human embryos might no longer be needed. The research was published in the journal Cell and the journal Science.
Researchers found the transformed skin cells behaved almost exactly like human embryonic stem cells (Russell, San Francisco Chronicle, 11/21).
The new technique won praise from opponents of human embryonic stem cell research, including President Bush. Bush has opposed federal funding for most stem cell research involving human embryos (Alonso-Zaldivar, Los Angeles Times, 11/21).
Meanwhile, the new developments have sparked several concerns, including the possibility that the new stem cells produced could cause cancer, according to the Chronicle. Similar experiments by Shinya Yamanaka, head of the research team at Kyoto University in Japan, caused cancer in mice (San Francisco Chronicle, 11/21).
Scientists said solutions to avoid the cancer risk are being investigated (Kaplan, Los Angeles Times, 11/21).
Meanwhile, Yamanaka's research used a retrovirus, and it remains unknown whether a retrovirus could be activated after being transplanted in humans (Leuty, San Francisco Business Times, 11/20).
California voters in 2004 approved a ballot measure for $3 billion in state bonds over the next 10 years to fund stem cell research (Somers, San Diego Union-Tribune, 11/21).
Richard Murphy, interim president of CIRM, the state's stem cell agency, said the discovery will lead to more funding for research on reprogramming cells.
The agency already has given a few grants to scientists attempting to reprogram cells, and Murphy said it intends to give more grants in the spring (San Jose Mercury News, 11/21).
Robert Klein, chair of CIRM, said the agency will continue to fund many methods of stem cell research because "it would be insane to really desert the gold standard of naturally created human embryonic stem cells ... when we don't know what will happen with these cells in three or five years" (San Diego Union-Tribune, 11/21).
Yamanaka said he could not compare the new cells to embryonic stem cells because research using human embryonic stem cells is banned in Japan.
However, Yamanaka and other scientists acknowledged that human embryonic stem cells remain the method of choice in the field, adding that embryonic stem cells are used by scientists to measure the ability of other cell lines.
Yamanaka said he would run tests to compare the cells at UC-San Francisco's Gladstone Institute of Cardiovascular Disease (Kaplan, Los Angeles Times, 11/21). Yamanaka was hired this summer as a senior investigator at the Gladstone facility in Mission Bay and as a professor at UC-San Francisco (San Francisco Business Times, 11/20).
Several broadcast programs reported on the studies. Summaries appear below.
- ABC's "World News": The segment includes comments from George Daley of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute and Laurie Zoloth of the Northwestern University Center for Bioethics, Science and Society (Muir, "World News," ABC, 11/20). Video of the segment and expanded ABC News coverage are available online.
- American Public Media's "Marketplace": The segment includes comments from Daley and Lanza (Babin, "Marketplace," American Public Media, 11/20). Audio and a transcript of the segment are available online.
- CBS' "Evening News": The segment includes comments from Kim Smuga-Otto of the University of Wisconsin-Madison; Hans Keirstead of the Reeve-Irvine Research Center; and Robert George of the President's Council on Bioethics (LaPook, "Evening News," CBS, 11/20). Video of the segment is available online.
- CNN: The segment includes a discussion with CNN medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen about the studies (CNN, 11/20). Video of the segment and expanded CNN coverage are available online. CNN also included a discussion with Daley (CNN, 11/20). Video of the segment is available online.
- KPCC's "AirTalk": The segment includes a discussion with Bruce Conklin of the Gladstone Institute of Cardiovascular Disease and Tadeusz Pacholczyk of the National Catholic Bioethics Center about the studies (Mantle, "AirTalk," KPCC, 11/20). Audio of the segment is available online.
- NBC's "Nightly News": The segment includes comments from John Gearhart of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and Arthur Caplan of the University of Pennsylvania Center for Bioethics (Bazell, "Nightly News," NBC, 11/20). Video of the segment is available online.
- NPR's "All Things Considered": The segment includes comments from Yamanaka; Thomson; Jose Cibelli of the Department of Animal Science and Physiology at Michigan State University; and Leon Zon of the stem cell program at Children's Hospital Boston (Palca, "All Things Considered," NPR, 11/20). Audio and a partial transcript of the segment are available online. The program on Tuesday also included a discussion with Sean Tipton, president of the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research, and Doerflinger (Norris, "All Things Considered," NPR, 11/20). Audio of the segment is available online.
- NPR's "Day to Day": The segment includes a discussion with NPR science correspondent Joe Palca about the studies (Brand, "Day to Day," NPR, 11/20). Tuesday's program also included a discussion with bioethicist Yuval Levin of the Ethics and Public Policy Center about potential moral and political implications of the studies (Cohen, "Day to Day," NPR, 11/20). Audio of both segments is available online.
- NPR's "Morning Edition": The segment includes a discussion with Palca about the studies (Ydstie, "Morning Edition," NPR, 11/21). Audio of the segment and expanded NPR coverage are available online.
- PBS' "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer": The segment includes a discussion with Kenneth Miller, a cell biologist and professor at Brown University ("NewsHour with Jim Lehrer," PBS, 11/20). Audio of the segment is available online. Video and a transcript will be available Wednesday afternoon.
- PRI's "The World": The segment includes comments from Yamanaka; Daley; Thomson; Junying Yu, co-author of the Science study; and Ian Wilmut, a cloning expert at the University of Edinburgh (Boyd, "The World," PRI, 11/20). Audio of the segment is available online.
- Washingtonpost.com: Washington Post science writer Rick Weiss on Tuesday discussed the studies in a washingtonpost.com online chat (Weiss, washingtonpost.com, 11/20). A transcript of the chat is available online.
- WBUR's "Here & Now": The segment includes a discussion with Lanza about the studies (Young, "Here & Now," WBUR, 11/20). Audio of the segment is available online.