Generally speaking, in my workplace the standard pro-life view isn’t one that is championed or even held in very high regard. More than that, it’s not very often you hear of a scientist actively seeking ethical alternatives to embryonic stem cell research and then modifying how he does his science based on the more ethical choice. I’m not saying that it doesn’t happen, but in recent years, it just seems that ESCR is the only kind of stem cell research that is talked about with much enthusiasm.
More recently however, better methods–both scientifically and morally–are being talked about and gaining some momentum in the discussion, and they do not involve ESCR. In fact, this new research, I’m happy to say actually is going in my own workplace, right under my nose…or feet anyway.
In a recent article from Penn State Live, the University announced the development of yet another valuable scientific method that utilizes reprogrammed adult somatic cells (induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPSCs).
Here’s an excerpt:
A team of scientists at Penn State, the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, and other institutions have developed a method for recreating a schizophrenic patient’s own brain cells, which then can be studied safely and effectively in a Petri dish. The method brings researchers a step closer to understanding the biological underpinnings of schizophrenia. The method also is expected to be used to study other mysterious diseases such as autism and bipolar disorder, and the researchers hope that it will open the door to personalized medicine — customized treatments for individual sufferers of a disease based on genetic and cellular information.
The study will be published in a future edition of the journal Nature and will be posted on the journal’s advance online website on April 13.
Gong Chen, an associate professor of biology at Penn State and one of the study’s authors, explained that the team first took samples of skin cells from schizophrenic patients. Then, using molecular-biology techniques, they reprogrammed these original skin cells to become unspecialized or undifferentiated stem cells called induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). “A pluripotent stem cell is a kind of blank slate,” Chen explained. “During development, such stem cells differentiate into many diverse, specialized cell types, such as a muscle cell, a brain cell, or a blood cell.”
After generating iPSCs from skin cells, the authors cultured them to become brain cells, or neurons. They then compared the neurons derived from schizophrenic patients to the neurons created from the iPSCs of healthy individuals. They found that the neurons generated from schizophrenic patients were, in fact, distinct: compared with healthy neurons, they made fewer connections with each other.
As you can see, one great thing about iPSCs is that they are sourced directly from the patient in question. In this case, they provide a “model system that allows us to study how antipsychotic drugs work in live, genetically identical neurons from patients with known clinical outcomes.”
This is of course also perfectly safe for the patient, Chen notes:
What’s so exciting about this approach is that we can examine patient-derived neurons that are perhaps equivalent to a particular patient’s own neural cells. Obviously, we don’t want to remove someone’s brain cells to experiment on, so recreating the patient’s brain cells in a Petri dish is the next best thing for research purposes. Using this method, we can figure out how a particular drug will affect that particular patient’s brain cells, without needing the patient to try the drug, and potentially, to suffer the side effects. The patient can be his or her own guinea pig for the design of his or her own treatment, without having to be experimented on directly.
More information about diseases that could be studied (e.g. autism and bipolar disorder) and further benefits of using these methods can be read in the article.
This is great news for patients and the researchers who study these puzzling neurological disorders. Even better news, and conspicuous by its absence (or not!) is the fact that we have more evidence for the good science being done using alternatives to ESCR, such as Adult Stem Cells and induced Pluripotent Stem Cells.
That is something that should be encouraging to pro-lifers (and many others as well) and is cause for a little celebration, at least in this blogger’s opinion.