Researchers Make Stem Cell Breakthrough

By: David Muir, ABC News
By: David Muir, ABC News

Scientists studying human stem cells announced findings that could revolutionize medical research, and perhaps someday the way diseases are treated.

Researchers say they have found a way to reprogram regular skin cells and give them the awesome potential of embryonic stem cells.

The advance has not only medical implications, but ethical and political ones as well.

Stem cell researchers rarely use the word "breakthrough."

But they did so today.

"These scientists achieved finding the Holy Grail of the stem cell field," said Dr. George Daley, of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute

Researchers took skin cells and injected them with a virus.

That virus, prompted the skin cells to reprogram themselves, turning back the clock, and essentially, turning them into cells that mirror embryonic stem cells.

"The scientists have allowed skin cells to take on the chameleon like properties of embryonic stem cells, they can now make any tissue in the body," added Dr. George Daley.

It offers brand new hope for patients with so many diseases, including Alzheimer's and Parkinson's Disease.

But scientists caution, it could still take years to find a safe way to put those new cells back into the body.

Already, long-time opponents of embryonic stem cell research, say this new breakthrough should halt all use of human embryos.

Today, the Conservative Family Research Council says this alternative demonstrates what pro-lifers have been saying since the beginning and the National Catholic Bioethics Center agrees.

"It gives us a new way to move forward on the moral and ethical front without having to make use of human embryos," explained Fr. Tadeiusz Pacholczyk, of the National Catholic Bioethics Center.

But the debate is far from over.

On Nov 21, Michael J. Fox's foundation, though hopeful about the breakthrough, said, "At this time, embryonic stem cells remain the gold standard for understanding how a cell develops and, in particular, how they convert into other cell types."

"One new path should not eliminate all other paths that are available," said Professor Laurie Zoloth, of the Northwestern University Center for Bioethics.

Few, if any, argue the scope of today's breakthrough.

But the discovery will surely not end the debate.

The research was published online by two journals, Cell and Science.


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