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[IP] Study: Stem Cells Could Bypass Ethical Quagmire

Researchers say it's possible to harvest and reprogram the cells from
the patients themselves instead of fetuses.

By Randy Dotinga
HealthScoutNews Reporter

FRIDAY, Dec. 20 (HealthScoutNews) -- Stem cells, a potential source
of replacement body parts, are the third rail of American medicine.
Touch them and you might get zapped by an emotional debate over the
rights of the fetuses that provide them.

But now, scientists are moving closer to using a politically correct
source of stem cells: the bodies of the very patients who may be
cured by them.

California researchers say they've discovered that it's possible to
reprogram stem cells from bone marrow and turn them into different
types of brain cells. The next step is to figure out if they could be
inserted into the brain to treat tumors and stroke.

"This type of technology will hopefully be able to supplant many
types of surgery and radiation therapy in a more natural and
effective way," says Dr. John S. Yu, co-director of the Comprehensive
Brain Tumor Program at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center's Neurosurgical
Institute in Los Angeles and senior author of a new study on the use
of stem cells.

In the human body, stem cells are empty vessels waiting to discover
what part they'll play. When they get the right signal, they take on
their role -- a blood cell, perhaps, or a skin cell or any of many
other tissue types.

Scientists can take stem cells from fetuses, but that raises plenty
of pesky political problems. It's also possible to take stem cells
out of the brain of person and program them, but that means somebody
has to walk around with fewer brain cells.

In the Cedars-Sinai study, researchers turned to bone marrow, which
has stem cells of its own. They report their findings in the December
issue of the journal Experimental Neurology.

Yu and his colleagues found they could program bone marrow cells from
rats and make them turn into three types of brain cells. They did so
by tinkering with the genetic makeup of the stem cells.

The new, healthy brain cells could conceivably be used to treat a
variety of brain diseases. One benefit would be that the body
wouldn't reject the cells as foreign bodies, Yu says.

"You're using your own cells rather than those that have come from
cancers or are grown in cultures over a long period of time," he says.
For an unknown reason, some of the brain cells appear to be attracted
to diseased parts of the brain, he says. It could be possible to give
the cells a "payload" of drugs and inject them into the brain, where
they would seek out problem areas, Yu says.

Doctors can use surgery to treat tumors, "but what makes them so
difficult to treat is that they form satellites of tumor cells that
reach far beyond the area of the main tumor," he says.

Dr. Naohiro Terada, a stem cell expert at the University of Florida,
cautions it will be important to determine how easy it is to produce
the brain cells in other labs.

In general, stem cells hold plenty of hope, says Dr. James Grisolia,
a neurologist at Scripps Mercy Hospital in San Diego. "The prospect
of reweaving broken networks of cell in the brain is intoxicating of
course, but regrowing organs for transplant [pancreas, liver, kidney,
heart] is nearly as exciting," he says.

There are still obstacles, of course. "All these things are logical,
but still not proven or ready for prime time," he says.

What To Do
For more on stem cells and what's realistic to expect from them,
check out the Batten Support & Research Trust

You can also try the National Institutes of Health

 or the Society for Developmental Biology.

Short link:  http://makeashorterlink.com/?E15A357D2

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