Embryonic stem cells CAN cure!Friday, 22 February, 2008
Another argument, the one that says no therapies have ever come from embryonic stem cells, has died this week, due to two announcements about human stem cells curing rats of stroke and mice of Type-1 diabetes.
Injection of human neural stem cells, derived from human embryonic stem cells, into the brains of stroke-affected rats allowed those rats to regain strength and control of limbs. And, during the process that caused the stem cells to differentiate into neural progenitor cells, the probable cancer-causing cells were weeded out, resulting in no signs of tumours in the rats. To make things ever better again, the results were published in the open-access journal PLoS One, meaning anyone can access the full research paper.
Embryonic stem cells, again human-derived, were successfully transformed into insulin-producing cells (beta-cells) of the pancreatic islets that are destroyed in Type-1 (Insulin-dependant) diabetes mellitus. What sets this research apart is not only the fact that the final step of differentiation into beta-cells occurred within the body of the mice, but also that these cells allowed blood glucose to be controlled, showing for the first time that the cells can respond to glucose. It’s not all quite so rosy in this story, because not only did a few mice (7 of 105) develop cancer, but also the work was published in the subscription-required (albeit very prestigious) journal Nature Biotechnology, so you need access to read the research paper.
Stroke affects 1-in-60 people each year (mostly the elderly – the 65+ group has a prevalence of up to 1 in 10) and 1-in-800 people have Type I diabetes (in most of the Western world), so the research is certainly going to put a severe dent in the “embryonic stem-cells don’t cure anything” camp. But I fear the anti-embryo research camp will (merely) engage in some goal-shifting and demand proof of cures in humans (while simultaneously fighting against using the research to cure humans).
Added by edit: The argument should have already been dead, as in August 2007, researchers showed that human embryonic stem cells could help rebuild heart tissue in rats. Other research into embryonic stem cells has also shown promise in animal trials.