November 13, 2008

Stem Cells, Reborn

In the emerging field of regenerative medicine one topic that has earned its fair share of notoriety is the issue of embryonic stem cell research. Stem cells are characterized by the ability to renew themselves through cell division and differentiate into a diverse range of specialized cell types. Since stem cells can be grown and transformed into specialized cells with characteristics consistent with various tissue such as muscles or nerves, their use in medical therapies has been prized. The goal of any stem cell therapy is to repair damaged tissue that can't heal itself, which might be accomplished by transplanting stem cells into damaged areas and directing them to grow new, healthy tissue.

However, a widespread controversy exists over human embryonic stem cell research emanating from certain techniques used in their creation and usage. The practice is controversial because, using current methods, starting a stem cell line requires the destruction of a human embryo. The pro-life movement argues that a human embryo is a human life and is therefore entitled to protection.

Fortunately, there is a silver lining. "Through a procedure known as parthenogenesis, an unfertilized human egg can be chemically induced to form a tiny cluster of cells from which a stem cell line can be created, thereby solving the ethical problem of using fertilized human embryos," explains Mr. Kenneth C. Aldrich, CEO of International Stem Cell Corporation, the only company to generate functional pluripotent stem cells, (that is, stem cells that have the ability to turn into any type of cell or tissue), through parthenogenesis.

Recently, the company reported that by using its proprietary technique, cells from a single donor could be matched to general genetic patterns of hundreds of millions of patients. Since a single line of these cells may eliminate immune rejection issues in large segments of the population, parthenogenetic stem cells will be enormously valuable as a treatment of choice for diseases including diabetes, heart disease, and certain types of cancer. "Practically speaking," says Mr. Aldrich, "if stem cells could be made to grow into tissues and organs, waiting lists for transplant recipients would become a thing of the past." Visit to learn more.