The father of the stem cell research and the creator of the sheep Dolly, Ian Wilmut, has decided to step out of the stem cell research and to jump to the alternative medicine. Way back in 1997, when he and his co researchers have created the cloned sheep, the stem cell had entered a new horizon. “Dolly was a big surprise to everyone,” recalls stem cell biologist Thomas Zwaka of the Center for Cell and Gene Therapy at the Baylor College of Medicine. With the changing time, the technology that created Dolly, is to be called as a separate research theory called the somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT). The technology places the nucleus into an unfertilized human egg and then harvest embryonic stem cells to treat intractable conditions such as Parkinson’s disease.
That other approach, first demonstrated in 2006 by Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University, restores adult cells back to an embryonic like state called pluripotency, in which they regain the ability to develop into any kind of cell. Any well-appointed lab can apply the comparatively straightforward technique.
Wilmut describes his own switch in approach as a by-product of time-consuming responsibilities at the helm of the Scottish Center for Regenerative Medicine in Edinburgh, a post he assumed last year after nearly three decades at the nearby Roslin Institute. With 20 principal investigators demanding his attention, Wilmut’s research on amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) had slowed to a crawl.
Kyoto University researchers have developed the technology with the ability to convert adult mouse cells into embryonic like stem cells—called induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells)—has pumped fresh excitement into regenerative medicine. In this process, scientists use viruses to deliver three to four genes into an adult cell and to reprogram it back to its unspecialized state, enabling it to grow into any type of cell in the body. In a span of months, Yamanaka’s team and three others reported success using human cells from adult skin and joint tissue and newborn foreskin.
Now it’s hard to find a lab concentrating solely on embryonic cloning. Jamie Thomson, the first to pluck viable cells from a human embryo and grow them in culture, for instance, recently took charge of an institute focusing primarily on iPS cells. Although the technique is inefficient so far—less than 1 percent of cells become pluripotent, scientists see the iPS approach as a speedier path to cells suitable for disease research and, ultimately, the clinic.
Unfortunately the stem cell research had to face the federal ban. It faces severe deeply controversial ethical issues and technical challenges. Hopefully, despite all these, stem cell pioneer scientists strongly support the stem cell research. Somatic cell nuclear transfer ( SCNT) has offered important lessons about basic biology and will continue to enable studies of cell programming and reprogramming outside the genome. Only embryonic cells can answer questions about fertility and very early human development. Scientists will also likely rely on SCNT to produce mammalian models of diseases such as cystic fibrosis and for agricultural applications such as producing human proteins in animal milk.
Source: Scientific American