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Jack Sisson's Life Ethics Blog

We must find new ways through many ethical issues, especially regarding bioethics, medical ethics, and criminal justice. Jack Sisson's 'Life Ethics' blog focuses on numerous areas of concern, including the philosophical and ethical dilemmas surrounding stem-cell research, abortion, medical research, and health care.

 
The New York Times, Andrew Pollack, November 27, 2007 -- If researchers were oil prospectors, it could be said that they struck a gusher last week. But to realize the potential boundless riches they now must figure out how to build refineries, pipelines and gas stations.

Biologists were electrified on Tuesday, when scientists in Japan and Wisconsin reported that they could turn human skin cells into cells that behave like embryonic stem cells, able to grow indefinitely and to potentially turn into any type of tissue in the body.

The discovery, if it holds up, would decisively solve the raw material problem. It should provide an unlimited supply of stem cells without the ethically controversial embryo destruction and the restrictions on federal financing that have impeded work on human embryonic cells.

But scientists still face the challenge of taking that abundant raw material and turning it into useful medical treatments, like replacement tissue for damaged hearts and brains. And that challenge will be roughly as daunting for the new cells as it has been for the embryonic stem cells.

“Even though we have this nice new sources of cells, it doesn’t solve all the downstream problems of getting them into the body in useful form,” said James A. Thomson of the University of Wisconsin, who led one of the teams that developed the stem cell substitutes. Dr. Thomson was also the first to isolate human embryonic stem cells, about a decade ago.

Still, the new discovery should accelerate progress — if only because with the ethical issues seemingly out of the way, more scientists and money will be drawn to the field.

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