Universal Truth at work again. I would have loved to be there in order to watch heads explode and hear the susurus of “Did he say that?” buzzing around the room.
Newer and safer forms of stem cell therapy will likely overtake research into the use of human embryonic stem cells, the scientist whose team cloned Dolly the sheep told his peers at a stem cell conference in La Jolla.
Direct “reprogramming” of adult cells into the type needed for therapy is gradually becoming a reality, Ian Wilmut told an audience of several hundred at the Salk Institute at the annual Stem Cell Meeting on the Mesa. Such a feat was once thought impossible, but in recent years it has been demonstrated in at least two publications, he said.
But it’s been unclear which types of stem cells would prove most useful: the “adult” kind that have a more limited potential to change, or the embryonic kind. The emergence of direct reprogramming provides a promising new option scientists should consider, Wilmut said.
“I’m not quite sure why this hasn’t been pursued more actively,” Wilmut said.
It is difficult to achieve purity in embryonic and induced pluripotent stem cells because they are prone to forming tumors.
Direct reprogramming of cells from one type to the other avoids that danger, because the cells never enter the pluripotent stage to begin with, Wilmut said.
Direct cell reprogramming didn’t exist when California voters approved the stem cell program in 2004 with the passage of Proposition 71. That program was mainly aimed at funding embryonic stem cell research the federal government wouldn’t fund.
However, the program can also fund research with other types of stem cells, such as “adult” cells from umbilical cord blood.
The use and value of embryonic stem cells is an intensely controversial issue.
Many people object to their use because human embryos, which they consider human individuals, are killed to get the cells. Critics also point to the success of adult cells in approved therapies, while no therapy with embryonic stem cells has yet been approved.
Only one treatment with embryonic stem cells is in clinical testing in people. And that company, Geron Corp., recently ended its involvement in what was described as a business decision.