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Posted on November 20, 2007 at 10:38 AM

As mentioned over the weekend, the papers reporting that scientists in Japan and Wisconsin have re-programmed human skin cells to become virtually indistinguishable from embryonic stem cells were published today. The Yamanaka team reports in Cell (pdf) (updated link) that it was able to create “induced pluripotent stem” cells using the same method that had previously been shown to work in mice. When placed in culture, these cells differentiated into neurons and heart cells. A team led by James Thomson and Junying Lu at Wisconsin is reporting similar, independent results in Science. (updated link)

In a teleconference with the media today, Wisconsin’s James Thomson predicted that these results marked the beginning of the end of the controversy surrounding the use of embryonic stem cells. “The world has changed because of this result,” he said, adding that human embryonic stem cells are still important for research and “it’s not the time to abandon embryonic stem cell research.” In a press release, Shinya Yamanaka emphasized that more testing is necessary to verify that iPS cells are in fact the equivalent of embryonic stem cells. It would be “premature to conclude that iPS cells can replace embryonic stem cells,” Yamanaka is quoted as saying.

This development is still a long way from leading to therapies. Thomson predicted that iPS cells probably solve problems related to immune rejection, but there’s still a lot to be understood about how disease works and how these cells might be introduced to provide treatment. “We have a lot of work to do,” he said.

-Greg Dahlmann

Earlier on
+ Are we in the middle of a shift in stem cell research?

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