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Scientists Advance Toward Genetically Perfect Replacements for Diseased Cells

Stem cell research holds enormous promise for human health care, and scientists at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) recently advanced that potential dramatically.

Melissa Healy reports for the Los Angeles Times:

For the first time, scientists have created human embryos that are genetic copies of living people and used them to make stem cells.

If replicated in other labs, the methods detailed . . . in the journal Cell would allow researchers to fashion human embryonic stem cells that are custom-made for patients with Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes and other health problems. Theoretically capable of reproducing themselves indefinitely, these stem cells could be used to grow replacements for a wide variety of diseased cells—those of the blood, skin, heart, brain, muscles, nerves and more—that would not risk rejection by the patient’s immune system.

The technology employed by the OHSU scientists, called somatic cell nuclear transfer, has been used before but with little success. The breakthrough, notes Healy, is in method:

In past efforts . . . , researchers have burned through dozens of donor eggs without getting any embryos to even the 16-cell stage at which stem cells become a remote possibility.

This time, the researchers said their methods were so efficient that they could create at least one embryonic stem cell line from each batch of eggs donated by 10 female volunteers [who were financially compensated]. In one case, a single donor produced eight eggs of such exceptional quality that researchers were able to derive four embryonic stem cell lines.

The OHSU breakthrough shows human reason at its glorious best. Stanford University stem cell researcher Dr. Irving Weissman called the advancement “extremely important,” and Advanced Cell Technology chief scientific officer Dr. Robert Lanza termed it “a major scientific achievement.”

Imagine a future in which doctors can grow genetically perfect replacements for diseased cells and install them as necessary.

Here’s to the heroic men and women working to make it a reality.

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