Stem Cell Studies 'End Debate' on Embryos, Conservatives Say

By Nathan Burchfiel | July 7, 2008 | 8:06 PM EDT

( - Two groups of scientists are reporting success in creating advanced stem cells from adult human skin in papers that pro-life leaders are hailing as evidence that controversial cloning-based embryonic stem cell research is unnecessary.

The journal Cell this week published a paper by scientists in Kyoto, Japan, who have created pluripotent stem cells from adult human skin cells. Pluripotent can be used in fighting numerous diseases because of their ability to adapt and form into a variety of cell types.

Science magazine will publish a study by University of Wisconsin-Madison scientists with similar findings on Nov. 22, according to a release from the school.

The "new studies end debate on embryonic stem cell research," Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said in a statement. "This demonstrates what pro-lifers have been saying since the beginning. It is never necessary to compromise ethics by destroying life in order to achieve scientific aims."

The new reports follow research earlier this year showing success in creating pluripotent cells from the skin of mice. When those studies were published in June, scientists expressed optimism that "this can one day work in human cells."

"Human iPS (induced pluripotent stem) cells were similar to human embryonic stem (ES) cells in morphology, proliferation, surface antigens, gene expression, epigenetic status of pluripotent expression, and telomerase activity," the Cell report from Japanese scientists states. "These findings demonstrate that iPS cells can be generated from adult human fibroblasts."

"The induced cells do all the things embryonic stem cells do," said stem cell researcher James Thomson, who hosted the study to be reported in Science. "It's going to completely change the field."

"We now have the very real potential of developing thriving and robust stem cell medicine and scientific research sectors that will bridge, rather than exacerbate, our moral differences over the importance and meaning of human life," Wesley Smith, senior fellow in bioethics at the Discovery Institute, said in a statement.

"This breakthrough demonstrates the creativity and intelligence of the science sector," Smith said, adding praise for President Bush's promotion of "'alternative methods' of deriving pluripotent cells." Bush has vetoed congressional attempts to increase funding for embryonic stem cell research, although some federal funds are already used for it.

Markus Grompe, director of the Oregon Stem Cell Center, called the announcement a dream come true in a conference call with reporters. "I think this is really what we've been dreaming about, the ability to be able to use these [pluripotent] cells experimentally ... without having to worry about the source," he said.

But Thomson said that while he is optimistic that the new findings will change the face of stem cell research, he believes more study is required before writing off embryonic stem cells. Scientists, he said, must determine if the stem cells derived from adult skin "do not differ from embryonic stem cells in a clinically significant or unexpected way."

Grompe said he supported continued research involving embryonic stem cells "basically to validate the new [adult-based] cells" but not research that would require harvesting or cloning new lines of embryonic stem cells.

"The question here is what is meant by continuing of embryonic stem cell research," Grompe said. "If it means that the existing lines that were available through the Bush policy remain valuable resources in terms of comparing the new cells to them and their properties, I would say that this is a correct statement."

"If continuing ES research means continued harvest and production of new embryo-derived cell lines, I would disagree very strongly," he added. "I didn't think there was a good reason before iPS. Now I feel even more strongly that there is no reason to pursue this."

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