Harvard University scientists have created stem cells for 10 genetic diseases using a new technique that allows researchers to avoid the ethical concerns of destroying a human embryo in the hope of one day discovering cures.
Their research, using a technique called induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPSCs, will help scientists determine how such diseases work by reprogramming the cells, enabling them to study what happens as genetic conditions age and develop.
The advance will allow researchers to "watch the disease progress in a dish, to watch what goes right or wrong,'' said Doug Melton, a Harvard cell biologist and co-director of the institute.
"I think we'll see in years ahead that this opens the door to a new way to treating degenerative diseases," he said.
The new technique doesn't use human embryos and bio-ethicists with Do No Harm, the Coalition of Americans for Research Ethics, agree the method is superior to using embryos for stem cells.
"Because iPSC does not involve either human eggs or human embryos, this approach is ethically uncompromised," the group said in a statement.
"In light of these considerations, iPSCs are clearly superior to stem cells obtained from cloned embryos, and major leaders in the field are abandoning cloning in favor of the iPSC technique," they said.
The new method has allowed for scientific advances. But researcher George Daley, who co-authored the study published in the online edition of the journal Cell, says he is not ready to abandon experiments with embryonic stem cells.
Daley believes that reprogramming and embryonic stem cell research must advance in tandem to bring cell therapy to the clinic as quickly as possible, according to Sciencedaily.com.
"The cell lines available from the iPSC core will allow stem cell researchers around the world to explore possible gene therapies for some conditions, and will aid in the development of drugs for others," Daley said.
Bio-ethicists with the Do No Harm Coalition believe this type of response is typical from scientists advocating embryonic stem cell research.
"Anytime there is an advance in stem cell research, whether it be adult stem cells, cord blood, stem cells made from skin, scientists continue moving the goal post," Gene Tarne, communications director with Do No Harm, told CBN News.
"They say, 'well, we need to do disease modeling.' Well, that reason is now gone," Tarne said. "You don't need embryos to do disease modeling and their study has proven that. But they never want to admit that we've gotten there. All rational has fallen by the wayside."
"If we can do disease modeling, that's another reason not to use embryos," he added.
The iPSCs were created from skin tissue taken from 10 patients who ranged in age from a 3-month-old child to a 57-year-old. All suffered from certain genetic disorders.
Daley expects stem cell lines to be developed for many more diseases.
"This is just the first wave of diseases," he said.
In this study, stem cells were created for Type 1 diabetes, Parkinson's, Huntington's, Down syndrome, two types of muscular dystrophy, Lou Gehrig's disease, Lesch-Nyhan syndrome, Gaucher disease, and a rare genetic disorder known as the "bubble boy disease."
Sources: The Associated Press, DoNoHarm, ScienceDaily, Cell Journal