April 29, 2014

Scientists said on Monday they had used cloning technology to make embryonic stem cells that carry a diabetic woman’s genes, and turned them into insulin-producing beta cells that may one day cure her disease.

The team reported clearing an important hurdle in the quest to make “personalised stem cells” for use in disease therapy, but a bioethicist said the breakthrough also highlighted the need for better regulation of lab-grown embryos.

“We are now one step closer to being able to treat diabetic patients with their own insulin-producing cells,” said Dieter Egli of the New York Stem Cell Foundation (NYSCF), who led the study published in the journal Nature.

Egli and a team had transplanted the nuclei of cells taken from the woman’s skin into human eggs to create stem cells, which they could then coax into becoming beta cells — a shortage of which causes insulin deficiency and high blood-sugar in diabetics (…)

It was not the first study to create stem cells in this way, but it was the first to use cells sourced from a diseased adult person with the aim of producing therapy-specific cells.

Insoo Hyun, a bioethicist from the Case Western Reserve University‘s school of medicine in Cleveland, Ohio, said the research, the latest to produce embryonic stem cells that carry the genomes of living people, raised red flags.

“This repeated cloning of embryos and generation of stem cells, now using cells collected from adults, increases the likelihood that human embryos will be produced to generate therapy for a specific individual,” he wrote in a comment carried by Nature.

“Regulatory structures must be in place to oversee it.” Embryonic stem cells — neutral, primitive cells that can develop into most of the specialised tissue cells of the body — are viewed as a potential source for rebuilding organs damaged by disease or accident.

But they are controversial, as until fairly recently stem cells could only be obtained from human embryos (…)

The stem cells could in turn be coaxed into becoming various different types of adult cells — including beta cells, the team said.

“Seeing today’s results gives me hope that we will one day have a cure for this debilitating disease,” said NYSCF chief executive Susan Solomon.

The same team had previously made beta cells with a similar method, but using eggs with their nuclei still intact — resulting in stem cells with three sets of chromosomes that could not be used in therapy.

But using the new, improved method, the stem cells emerged with the normal two sets of chromosomes, the team wrote (…)



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