More MS news articles for July 2001

US AND CANADA: Scientists press case for work on embryo cells; Stem Cell Research Controversy Deepens as Bush Considers Ban on Federal Funding

Financial Times; Jul 13, 2001

Scientists working on stem cell research depend heavily on information from embryonic cells and adult stem cells should not be considered a replacement, a congressional hearing will be told next week.

The difference between the two types of cells has sparked controversy in the US as President George W. Bush prepares a decision on whether to prohibit federally financed research on embryonic cells.

Diane Krause, a prominent adult stem cell researcher at the Yale Cancer Center, will tell a Senate appropriations sub-committee on Wednesday that scientists in her field need information garnered from embryonic cells.

"Embryonic stems cells are the professors," says Ms Krause. "I need them to teach me how to manipulate the adult cells."

Because stem cells have the potential to form tissue in any part of the human body, they may be a key to repairing damage caused by diseases such as Alzheimer's, diabetes and multiple sclerosis. It was once believed that adult stem cells could be recruited for slightly differentiated cells - red versus white blood cells for instance - but not for reproduction in other tissue.

A series of studies over the last two years, however, show that adult stem cells are far more flexible than once thought. "The plasticity of adult stem cells is such that, if we put them in the right location, we can turn bone marrow cells into cardiac or coronary cells," says Donald Orlic, a researcher at the National Human Genome Research Institute.

Conservative politicians such as Kansas Republican senator Sam Brownback have cited these encouraging studies of adult stem cells as evidence that embryonic research is unnecessary.

Many politicians oppose the use of embryonic stem cells because it requires the destruction of human life.

Prominent researchers say the two areas are symbiotic. "This is not either-or," says Helen Blau, an adult stem cell scientist at Stanford University. "Embryonic and adult stem cell research go hand-in-hand."

Embryonic stem cells are more malleable than adult stem cells because they have not yet been "educated" to perform a specific biological function. By injecting them with different growth factors, scientists are able to turn them into a wide variety of tissues, including brain, heart and muscle cells.

Adult cells are also able to transform themselves, but scientists know little about the mechanisms that induce them to undergo a metamorphosis. Embryonic cells may play an important role in the re-education. A Swedish study last year showed that adult stems cells could be reprogrammed for reproduction if placed in a culture with embryonic cells.

"I don't know any serious researcher in this field who would say you don't need to look at embryonic stem cells," says Neil Theise, a specialist in adult stem cell research at the New York University School of Medicine.

Some scientists say they will be unaffected by a ban on embryonic research, but are concerned about the larger impact on the field.

"If embryonic cell research ended tomorrow, our business would not suffer," says Bill Albright, chief executive officer of Nexell Therapeutics, an adult stem cell research company. "But the area is important enough that it would continue, even if it had to move offshore. Probably the bulk of embryonic research would shift to Europe."

Copyright: The Financial Times Limited