Saturday, January 24, 2009

Brazil Creates Adult “Embryonic” Stem Cells

Cross posted at The Next Right

Brazil joins the elite group of countries able to use adult stem cells identically to embryonic stem cells. The other four countries with this capability are Japan, the U.S., China and Germany. The pioneers were Japanese scientists at the University of Kyoto who successfully reprogrammed human adult stem cells in November of 2007.

The key to the process is reprogramming the DNA of adult stem cells. They can then be used for treatment on any type of body tissue. Before the Japanese process was developed only embryonic stem cells had that capability.

The process used puts four genes (Oct-4, Sox-2, Klf-4 and c-Myc) into the DNA of the adult stem cell. This is done by “infecting” the cell with viruses which carry the genes into the cell and insert them into the cell’s nuclear genome. The inserted genes act like genetic software and “reformat” the cell to put it into its original state (non-diferentiated and multi-capable). The viruses die soon after inserting the genes.

The major complicating factor is that the location of insertion of the genes in the genome is by chance. It could interfere with vital functions of the cell. If, for example, the point of insertion interferes with the control for cellular division, there is the risk that the cell could turn carcinogenic. Scientists are hoping for a way to insert the genes without using viruses.

The ability to use adult stem cells not only averts moral issues involved with destroying embryonic life, but taps into the unlimited pool of adult stem cells. Previously scientists doing research in the area had to create or clone embryonic cells, a technically complicated process with attendant ethical issues.

Using adult stem cells has the huge medical benefit of taking the cells from the patient being treated. Thus, there is no risk of rejection as when introducing foreign tissue to the body.

Brazil’s achievement opens the way for major advances in medical treatment in Brazil and South America.

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