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Skin Cells Turned Embryonic

ScuttleMonkey posted more than 6 years ago | from the awaiting-new-objections dept.

Biotech 261

anik315 writes "Nature is reporting a major breakthrough in embryonic stem cell research. A straightforward procedure using mouse fibroblasts harvested from the skin can be used to produce pluripotent stem cells that can potentially become any other cell in the body. Not only can Yamanaka's method use the most basic cells, it can be accomplished with simple lab techniques. Possible applications of this breakthrough are to check molecular changes in cells as certain conditions develop. Stem cells produced using this procedure, however, can not be used safely to make genetically matched cells for transplant."

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261 comments

I knew it.. (-1, Troll)

buswolley (591500) | more than 6 years ago | (#19417425)

I knew there was a better way than using dead babies.

Re:I knew it.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19417447)

Almost every cell has the complete dna (gametes excluded), so it stands to reason this would be possible at some point or another.

Re:I knew it.. (1, Funny)

buswolley (591500) | more than 6 years ago | (#19417479)

Downside: Now we can clone Cowboy Neal by sampling his keyboard.

Re:I knew it.. (1)

tukkayoot (528280) | more than 6 years ago | (#19417519)

Yep! Peeling the flesh off of living humans is a huge improvement.

Re:I knew it.. (4, Insightful)

CaptainPatent (1087643) | more than 6 years ago | (#19417555)

Actually it is. We have already been using skin grafts to cure minor cosmetic flaws from burns or scars with no moral repercussions. I don't see why it would suddenly become immoral to expand that to much more life-threatening diseases and ailments.

Re:I knew it.. (2, Insightful)

tukkayoot (528280) | more than 6 years ago | (#19418079)

Of course, I was just being facetious -- parodying the extreme and ludicrous characterization of embryonic stem cell research/therapy as involving "dead babies." Except that my description of the procedure is actually technically accurate (at least so far as I can tell, if it went beyond the animal testing stage). Of course, if you have to explain the joke, you've already failed as comedian. I apologize for my inept attempt at humor. :)

I have no problem with this technology or research, but then I also think there is no ethical dilemma with the use of embryonic stem cells for medical purposes/research either. I think it's ridiculous to say we have a moral obligation to a tiny clump of cells with no nervous system ... about the only way that you can raise such concerns is to assume some sort of empirically unsupported vitalist superstition.

Re:I knew it.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19417595)

If stem cells were actually dead babies, that flamebait of yours might make some sort of sense.

Re:I knew it.. (4, Insightful)

buswolley (591500) | more than 6 years ago | (#19417725)

Seriously, this is not a scientific question, but a moral/ philosophical question. There IS room for debate. However, as a promising source of embryonic stem cells, this discovery may reduce the importance of the debate. I think that the abortion debate in general should be solved in this way. Make the debate less important by solving the problem of unwanted pregnancies directly with good birth control.

Re:I knew it.. (2, Insightful)

eln (21727) | more than 6 years ago | (#19417793)

Sure, but the same people who are the biggest advocates against abortion also tend to be the ones that seek to limit access to birth control, so that argument doesn't get very far either.

Re:I knew it.. (1)

buswolley (591500) | more than 6 years ago | (#19417941)

??? Irrelevant. The advocacy of others does not imply a weakness in my argument.

Re:I knew it.. (2, Interesting)

eln (21727) | more than 6 years ago | (#19417965)

I meant the argument doesn't get very far in the real world debate because the people you are debating with have these views against birth control as well, not that it is logically flawed in any way.

Re:I knew it.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19417971)

Might it make the difference between "in theory" and "in practice"?

Assholes don't invalidate the argument. (2, Insightful)

twitter (104583) | more than 6 years ago | (#19418039)

the same people who are the biggest advocates against abortion also tend to be the ones that seek to limit access to birth control, so that argument doesn't get very far either.

Sure it does, if reasonable people can ignore the others. The problem is unwanted pregnancy and reasonable people can work together to reduce it and support the people who have the problem. The use of obnoxious and confused advocates is an underhanded way to kill off a proposal.

The counterexamples are communists, extreme feminists and corporate monsters who put production above personal well being. They don't value babies because they don't value each other.

You don't have to be religious or hate sex to think that abortion is murder. In almost all cases, if no one does anything to a pregnant woman, a child will be born. The person who stops that birth has ended a human life. It is a terrible thing to do and it is not justified by other terrible things, lack of resources or potential uses for the remains.

Like your argument. Stem Cell Research is OK! (1)

raehl (609729) | more than 6 years ago | (#19418511)

In almost all cases, if no one does anything to a pregnant woman, a child will be born.

In almost all cases, an egg will die before becoming fertilized.

In almost all cases, sperm will die before fertilizing an egg.

In almost all cases, if no one does anything to an egg that has been fertilized outside of a woman, that egg will die.

Therefore, killing an embryo is OK, as if you left it sitting there it was going to die anyway, right?

Re:Like your argument. Stem Cell Research is OK! (1)

twitter (104583) | more than 6 years ago | (#19418855)

... if no one does anything to an egg that has been fertilized outside of a woman, that egg will die.

Creating a life to terminate is ghoulish to say the least, but it can be justified. Fertility treatments and research are both justification, as long as the practitioner is competent. As you point out, there's no practical way to keep all of the results alive.

Re:Assholes don't invalidate the argument. (2, Informative)

mrbooze (49713) | more than 6 years ago | (#19418673)

You don't have to be religious or hate sex to think that abortion is murder. In almost all cases, if no one does anything to a pregnant woman, a child will be born.

Actually, the fetus will naturally miscarry a significant percentage of the time, with that percentage getting fairly high depending on various factors. Is a 45 year old women who gets pregnant guilty of reckless endangerment?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miscarriage#Prevalenc e [wikipedia.org]

Prospective studies using very sensitive early pregnancy tests have found that 25% of pregnancies are miscarried by the sixth week LMP (since the woman's Last Menstrual Period).[13][14] The risk of miscarriage decreases sharply after the 8th week, i.e. when the fetal stage begins.[15] Clinical miscarriages (those occurring after the sixth week LMP) occur in 8% of pregnancies.[14]

The prevalence of miscarriage increases considerably with age of the parents. Pregnancies from men younger than twenty-five years are 40% less likely to end in miscarriage than pregnancies from men 25-29 years. Pregnancies from men older than forty years are 60% more like to end in miscarriage than the 25-29 year age group.[16] The increased risk of miscarriage in pregnancies from older men is mainly seen in the first trimester.[17] In women, by the age of forty-five, 75% of pregnancies may end in miscarriage.[18]

Re:Assholes don't invalidate the argument. (1)

twitter (104583) | more than 6 years ago | (#19418721)

Actually, the fetus will naturally miscarry a significant percentage of the time ...

100% of the time, human life ends in death. Life is hard, that does not justify killing.

Re:Assholes don't invalidate the argument. (1)

Citizen of Earth (569446) | more than 6 years ago | (#19418863)

You don't have to be religious or hate sex to think that abortion is murder.

This makes me curious to know what portion of the people who oppose abortion are non-religious.

Re:I knew it.. (1)

dgatwood (11270) | more than 6 years ago | (#19418411)

Unwanted pregnancies could also be solved by in vitro adoption and artificial incubation. I think most anti-abortion advocates would probably consider that a resonable compromise. At least the ones who honestly want to save the life of the child would. The relatively small (but vocal) minority of anti-abortion advocates who are just using it for political posturing, etc. won't, but at least they won't have that weapon in their political arsenal.

Re:I knew it.. (0, Troll)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 6 years ago | (#19418143)

Good solutions are usually no match for ignorance, incompetence and apathy. The very best birth control in the world still suffers from one singular and overarching problem; getting people to use it. This is made worse in some parts of the world by organizations (like the Vatican and the current US Administration) working against sound sexual practices out of some bizarre moral belief that distributing condoms and birth control pills makes the Judeao-Christian deity cry. Now I realize that the Vatican feels that it is protecting the dire commandments of its rather limited, seldom-seen and almost always utterly impotent deity (ie. YHVH should goddamn well prevent pregnancies itself rather than requiring Vatican officials spread lies about condom effectiveness), while the US Administration is pretty much a whore of some of the most delusional intellectual and moral deadbeats the Western world has managed to produce since the Reformation, but at some point someone is going to have to say "You're retards. Go fuck yourselves. You're laughing stocks who deserve nothing but universal revilement. You will go down in history as some of the most ignorant, self-important, know-nothing twerps produced by this sad species. You have about as much right to make statements on public health and morality as a dead TB-ridden rat with swollen rectal tissue leaking out its anterior."

Re:I knew it.. (0, Troll)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 6 years ago | (#19418177)

Either are stepped on the toes of some mental retard who defends the Bush administration, or on some good-for-nothing YHVH worshipper who can't face the fact that he worships delusions and his coreligionists are advocating health solutions that can only come from sick or low-IQ minds. I welcome such retarded fuckers to waste their moderator points on these posts. Go for it you stupid fucking bastards. Show how fucking stupid, how bereft of morality, brains or any cognitive or emotional capacity that could be considered mammalian, let alone human.

Re:I knew it.. (2, Insightful)

mrbooze (49713) | more than 6 years ago | (#19418801)

Why is the abortion debate involved in this at all? Stem cells used in research are not acquired from abortions! Abortions are a terrible source of stem cells for research purposes.

Re:I knew it.. (1)

Ice Wewe (936718) | more than 6 years ago | (#19417649)

I knew there was a better way than using dead babies.

/me gets out his stemcell powered flame thrower...

Damn it, I was up all night harvesting your dead babies to get enough fuel for this baby... Yippie-kay-yay, motherfucker.

hardly a troll (2, Insightful)

feepcreature (623518) | more than 6 years ago | (#19418113)

The poster makes a serious ethical point.

However emotively he put it, surely it's quite different to take tissue from a consenting human donor than from a subject whose life has just been ended - however "potential" its (his? her?) humanity may be.

Don't all but the most extreme "it's the woman's body till it's born" zealots regard the abortion of a foetus (with its potential to grow into a human adult) as a necessary evil, rather than a simple lifestyle choice?

Re:hardly a troll (2, Insightful)

rrohbeck (944847) | more than 6 years ago | (#19418795)

>Don't all but the most extreme "it's the woman's body till it's born" zealots regard the abortion of a foetus (with its potential to grow into a human adult) as a necessary evil, rather than a simple lifestyle choice?

Yup.

But remember that it's only a fetus after a couple of weeks. Before that, it's an embryo. Bare naming issues aside, you have to draw a line somewhere between a couple of cells and a human being.
Getting rid of a couple of cells is only a big issue if the morality aspects get blown way out of proportions by religious zealots. No, it's not a human being.

Oh, Just Great (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19417457)

The embryos are all protected by law, so this technology means they're going to be coming after us adults!

Soylent Green is made from people!

Next step: Embryos (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19417491)

A straightforward procedure using mouse fibroblasts harvested from the skin can be used to produce pluripotent stem cells...

Just a few more years and it should be possible to cause fibroblasts to grow into embryos. IRC, it's more or less possible now but it involves mixing and matching parts of different cells (the nucleus from the fibroblast and the cytoplasm from a fertilized egg cell.

Anyway, that should throw the anti-abortion crowd for a loop: "Oh no, he's cut his skin. He's killing babies!" After all, the usual argument is that if something can develop into a human then it should be considered to be a human even before it develops into a human.

Re:Next step: Embryos (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19417527)

"Oh no, he's cut his skin. He's killing babies!"

and yet another demographic will hate emo kids.

Re:Next step: Embryos (1)

iknowcss (937215) | more than 6 years ago | (#19417541)

Wouldn't that require having a good, clean set of DNA? The summary seems to suggest that the DNA isn't made well enough even to make perfect transplants for the person donating the skin. Seems to me like cloning a person using their skin cells would yield a horrible mass of mismatched cells.

Re:Next step: Embryos (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19417633)

Summary seems incorrect. A person's skin DNA is the same as the rest of their DNA(except for possible mutations or screwy cases like Genetic Chimerism)

Re:Next step: Embryos (3, Informative)

eli pabst (948845) | more than 6 years ago | (#19418581)

A person's skin DNA is the same as the rest of their DNA

Technically it's not. Once a stem cell starts to differentiate, you see different patterns of epigenetic changes that alter which genes are actively expressed and which are silent. It's part of the reason why you don't have eyeball proteins expressed by your feet. In general, we've found that once you start initiating a cascade where a stem cell starts differentiating into something else, it's difficult to go backwards and "undo" the changes.

Re:Next step: Embryos (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19417685)

The summary seems to suggest that the DNA isn't made well enough even to make perfect transplants for the person donating the skin.

At present, they use retroviruses to get the four factors that cause the transformation into the cells. The retroviruses mess up the DNA. There may be other methods though besides retroviruses to get the factors into the cells.

Of course, the factors themselves may also increase the risk that the cells become cancerous - which could turn out to be a harder problem, or not, it's hard to say at this point.

Hotdogs--Re:Next step: Embryos (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19417641)

Are we finally looking at a slash in hotdog manufacturing costs?!

Re:Next step: Embryos (1)

wall0159 (881759) | more than 6 years ago | (#19417667)

"the usual argument is that if something can develop into a human then it should be considered to be a human..."

really? I thought most of the disagreement was over when an embryo/foetus can be considered human.
(yes there are a few extremists who provide a convenient straw-man)

I'm pro-choice, btw.

Re:Next step: Embryos (1)

sumdumass (711423) | more than 6 years ago | (#19417961)

I imagine the natural process of conception would be what they are concerned with.

To date, even in a test tube they are creating life by conception (introducing sperm into an egg for fertilization). If they skipped that part, I think is would be considered synthetic similar to how soy-burgers are supposed to be non meat hamburgers or nylon compared to silk.

I think the real problem is going to be when the scientist create a conscious life out of skin cells. Or at least attempts to. And there is probably going to be some real questions about terminating this fake life. A synthetic bunny is one thing, but a synthetic human to harvest organs from will creep a lot of people out.

Re:Next step: Embryos (1)

umbra_dweller (797279) | more than 6 years ago | (#19418007)

I think he's referring to the people who argue against using surplus in vitro embryos for research. Every time a test-tube baby is created, spare embryos are made because the procedure has a high failure rate and backups may be required. This means there are hundreds of thousands of embryos floating around in storage, many of which will eventually expire or be destroyed by parents request. There are some on the pro-life side that do not want these cells/embryos to be used for any research purpose despite the fact that they have very little hope of ever becoming a human life. This is a significant part of the debate over the source of stem cells, and is more than a mere straw-man argument as far as I can tell.

Re:Next step: Embryos (1)

JeanPaulBob (585149) | more than 6 years ago | (#19418661)

This is a significant part of the debate over the source of stem cells, and is more than a mere straw-man argument as far as I can tell.

It seems to me you haven't been paying a great deal of attention to the debate, then. In your references to those left-over embryos, you seem to be entirely unaware of the term snowflake children [wikipedia.org] and the accompanying dimension of the discussion--one that makes your accusation of straw-man argumentation rather empty.

Re:Next step: Embryos (2)

Bluesman (104513) | more than 6 years ago | (#19417713)

"After all, the usual argument is that if something can develop into a human then it should be considered to be a human even before it develops into a human."

I think the pro-lifers might have something to say about the human-intervention aspect. Namely, that something that could develop into a human being given nine months of waiting is fundamentally different than a cell used as an ingredient in a laboratory process to create embryos.

The Catholic church, for example, firmly opposes abortion but does not support continuation of any life through "extraordinary" means, to include most life-support systems.

Or maybe all those anti-abortion people are just really, really, really stupid. Certainly is easier to argue against them that way, huh?

Re:Next step: Embryos (2, Insightful)

sumdumass (711423) | more than 6 years ago | (#19417997)

Heh, those anti abortion people aren't as stupid as they are portrayed. And this is something that always confused me. Why someone who thinks they are protecting a human life automatically be considered stupid in this one position?

Re:Next step: Embryos (4, Interesting)

buswolley (591500) | more than 6 years ago | (#19418187)

Thank you. Indeed, I do see the strengths of pro-abortion supporters, however the pro-life argument is not as weak as it is made out to be.

Besides, a moderate approach would be to acknowledge that the issue is unclear, or unsolvable, and that it is probably best to error on the side of caution. Even better would be to fund the research of technologies and legislation which can make these issues less relevant.

For example, let's develop several pre-conception birth control methods which are highly effective. Then require their use in-order to have the privilege of having an abortion. --Like insurance for your car. Responsibility allows the privilege. Plus make this freely available and highly accessible to people of child baring age.

Advantages:

1. Reduces unwanted pregnancies.

2. Reduces abortions.

3. Re-frames the debate into a more moderate direction, so as to divide our country less.

4. Makes the whole issue less pressing.

Thank you for your feedback

Re:Next step: Embryos (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19418273)

Like insurance for your car.

heh, more like insurance for the garage.

Re:Next step: Embryos (1, Insightful)

david.given (6740) | more than 6 years ago | (#19418315)

For example, let's develop several pre-conception birth control methods which are highly effective. Then require their use in-order to have the privilege of having an abortion. --Like insurance for your car. Responsibility allows the privilege.

The problem with this approach is that you're punishing the children. You're rewarding being responsible by allowing responsible people to have children, and punishing the being irresponsible by forcing them to go through with their pregnancies --- in other words, you're selecting for children to be born to those people least suited for raising children.

This is not optimum.

Re:Next step: Embryos (1)

buswolley (591500) | more than 6 years ago | (#19418329)

This is why making the birth control very accessible and free to everyone is essential. Put it into the high schools, etc.

Won't work. (1)

raehl (609729) | more than 6 years ago | (#19418387)

How do you verify that someone has been taking their birth control?

How do you prevent people who are not eligible to have abortions because they wern't 'responsible' from having abortions anyway?

Re:Won't work. (1)

buswolley (591500) | more than 6 years ago | (#19418445)

Welfare agencies do it RIGHT NOW. They don't give more aid for children who are conceived while on welfare unless you have proof from a doctor of being on the birth control.

Most of these birth control methods require a doctor to "install." So there is a record of it available. As for your second objection: Require the same proof that the welfare office does. A record from your doctor.

Re:Next step: Embryos (2, Insightful)

raehl (609729) | more than 6 years ago | (#19418453)

Besides, a moderate approach would be to acknowledge that the issue is unclear, or unsolvable

That would be a moderate approach.

an ... approach would be to acknowledge that the issue is unclear, or unsolvable, and that it is probably best to error on the side of caution.

This is not a moderate approach. If caution is 'towards killing babies', this is a pro-life approach. If caution is 'towards government invasion of a woman's control of her own body', then it's a pro-choice approach.

Either way, it's the same as saying "We can't agree, so we should assume I'm right in the meantime."

When you get down to it, aborting pregnancies is in general not desirable behavior. But, the government trying to force women to carry pregnancies to term is not desirable either, with various degrees of not desirable based on circumstance. (Forcing a rape victim to carry a pregnancy to term is probably less desirable than forcing a healthy 30-year old with a healthy pregnancy to carry that pregnancy to term.)

The problem is, while all of that is undesirable, which is MOST undesirable is not a statement of fact. No one has been able to put forth some sort of scientific basis for determining whether the hypothesis 'Government restriction of a woman's ability to have an abortion is preferable to terminating pregnancies' is true or not. So whether a given person believes that to be true or not is based solely on their own personal evaluation of which of their values is more important.

So what's better, letting a group of the population use the government to choose for everyone how their pregnancy should be handled, or letting each woman choose what to do about her own pregnancy?

Re:Next step: Embryos (2, Insightful)

bogjobber (880402) | more than 6 years ago | (#19418701)

5. Creates a registry of not only who's having sex, but who is using birth control. No privacy concerns there.

6. Still requires the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Sorry, try again. I, for one, would certainly not consider your proposal moderate. Drastically reducing the amount of freedom women have right now in order to placate a relatively small percentage of the population does not strike me as moderate. "A Modest Proposal" maybe, but definitely not moderate.

There's a third way. (1)

Ikester8 (768098) | more than 6 years ago | (#19418797)

OK, not exactly a third way, but there is a libertarian compromise that respects, as far as is practicable, both positions. (Granted, anyone who finds themselves in one camp or the other will disagree, but hear me out.) This compromise was worked out by Loyola professor Walter Block. It recognizes that abortion is two things: eviction of an unwanted intruder from a woman's body, and the murder of a unique human being. A woman has the perfect right to evict any intruder from her property, that is, her own body, at any time, for any reason. (Self-ownership is the first principle of liberty.) Block maintains that if the fetus can be evicted without killing it, there is a moral obligation to do so. To kill it when there are other avenues of eviction available is murder. Fetal viability comes into play, but not in the way that pro-lifers think: they think it has to be brought to term inside an unwilling woman's body once it is viable. Not so. Do a c-section and move the baby to an incubator. Happens all the time these days. Nor is anyone obligated to care for a baby so evicted, but people seem to be lining up to do just that, and good for them. Anyway, the paper is here [walterblock.com] .

Re:Next step: Embryos (1)

HeroreV (869368) | more than 6 years ago | (#19418145)

is fundamentally different than a cell used as an ingredient in a laboratory process to create embryos
Compare to artificial insemination. If scientists created an embryo from skin cells, and it could become a normal person if a woman was impregnated with it, the fundamentalists would probably claim it was a human life.

It would be fun to create and destroy trillions of human embryos in a petri dish or something and make the fundys all worried about heaven filling up.

Re:Next step: Embryos (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19418395)

I think the pro-lifers might have something to say about the human-intervention aspect.

Well then they should call themselves "anti-interventioners" rather than "pro-lifers".

Namely, that something that could develop into a human being given nine months of waiting is fundamentally different than a cell used as an ingredient in a laboratory process to create embryos.

The bottom line is that a fertilized human egg cell is very very different from a fully grown human.

Now, we can quibble about whether something that develops into a fully grown human in a natural environment is somehow massively different from something that develops into a fully grown human in an artificial environment. Certainly, there are subtle ethical issues associated with the distinction between actively causing something to live, allowing something to die through inaction and actively causing something to die. On the other hand, the anti-abortion crowd typically frames the debate in terms of "human life" and it's very hard to make the case the a natural environment is different from an artificial environment for making distinctions about "human life".

Or maybe all those anti-abortion people are just really, really, really stupid.

Not stupid - just dishonest about their real objectives.

I'm sure there are a few people who oppose abortion who are genuinely "pro-life". Such people are going to be vegetarian, pacifists, opposed to the death penalty, who are committed to alleviating poverty and strongly favor contraception and sex education.

There are also probably some anti-abortion people who are genuinely "pro-innocent-human-life". Such people are going to be pacifists who are committed to alleviating poverty and who strongly favor conception and sex education.

Finally, there are the people who are genuinely anti-abortion. Such people are strongly in favor of contraception and sex education and work to make adoption an attractive alternative to abortion.

Unfortunately, most of the "pro-life" crowd only really seems to care about abortion as a way to prevent other people from having certain kinds of sex (e.g. unmarried sex) because their religion doesn't allow them to have that kind of sex themselves - the whole greed-based "if I can't have it then no one can".

Re:Next step: Embryos (3, Interesting)

JeanPaulBob (585149) | more than 6 years ago | (#19417743)

After all, the usual argument is that if something can develop into a human then it should be considered to be a human even before it develops into a human.

Ah, no.

The argument is that it can develop into a baby, and that it already is a human.

I.e., an oak acorn is not a tree, but it is an oak. An blastocyst/embryo is not a baby, but it is a human. A baby is not a toddler, but it is a human. A toddler is not a teenager, but it is a human. A teenager is not an adult, but it is a human (though barely, in come cases ^_^).

Re:Next step: Embryos (3, Interesting)

ChromeAeonium (1026952) | more than 6 years ago | (#19417747)

Well, no. Stem cells don't develop into babies if they're just out there. Stem cells forming an embryo can turn into a baby. If what you said were true, then amphibians that can regenerate limbs would be able to reproduce asexually, by cuttings. Anyway, that should throw the troll crowd for a loop.

Re:Next step: Embryos (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 6 years ago | (#19418267)

Your amphibian analogy is a bit of a non sequitur, the chopped off limbs run into the whole not having anything to digest food with thing or the not having anything to circulate blood with thing long before they run into any genetic limitation.

I mean, you could draw an analogy between the scientific equipment needed to manipulate the skin cell and the womb needed to incubate the embryo right? The potential is there for either one.

Not quite... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19417751)

> After all, the usual argument is that if something can develop into a human then it should be considered to be a human even before it develops into a human.

Not quite. You need to take better note of the verb tense. It's that if something is developing into a human, then it should be considered as human beforehand.

Well, except for the issue with the "human" part. Because we all know it's a living homo sapien. If you disagree, exactly what species is that embryo, blastocyst, or fetus? The only question is when it has a soul^W err, mind, personality and intellect worth preserving with legal force.

Okay, now you can go into flamewar mode over whether or not that's speciesist (handy hint: adding -ist or -ism automagically makes it wrong!) Won't someone please think of the great apes?

Re:Next step: Embryos (1)

DragonWriter (970822) | more than 6 years ago | (#19417841)

After all, the usual argument is that if something can develop into a human then it should be considered to be a human even before it develops into a human.


Well, no, that's a frequent characterization of the argument by people who themselves believe that an entity does not become human until it emerges from the womb and who fail to understand that not everyone shares that belief, and who therefore create a rationalization for their opponents arguments based on a premise that those opponents reject, and pretend the argument is about treating things that the opponents believe is not yet human as human.

Re:Next step: Embryos (0, Troll)

G-funk (22712) | more than 6 years ago | (#19418093)

Bah! There's no such thing as pro-life. The word you're looking for is prudish mysoginst. Think I'm full of it? Ask them if it's OK for a woman to take the morning-after pill if she's been raped.

They want to punish women for having sex. Nothing more, nothing less.

Re:Next step: Embryos (1)

Plekto (1018050) | more than 6 years ago | (#19418157)

Yes, cell-lifespans wold be limited and of course, cancer would be much more likely. But say, for a heart transplant. If you gave a person a brand new 50 year old(biologically) heart to replace their failing one, it would still give them many, many years of service. Or a new Pancreas. Many of our organs have no "age" limit so much as a stress/workload limit. They wear out instead of "age-out". So this is a perfect example of how it could be applied - and probably within the next 5-10 years.

Re:Next step: Embryos (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19418513)

As an individual who is the product of an unwanted pregnancy after a sexual assault, I would say that there is a lot more to the desire to rule out abortion in the case of rape than simply punishing the woman.

I have a PhD, meaningful (as in to everyone, at least I hope) work, a lovely spouse, two college-age kids, and am caring for my terminally-ill mother who lives with us. Yep, I'm sure she wishes she'd had my brains sucked right out. Would have been so much better.

Nothing more or less than punishing the woman for having sex? Intentional denial of the fact of my humanity makes your argument foolish at best.

You're FULL of it (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19418583)

> They want to punish women for having sex. Nothing more, nothing less.

Inventing evil motives for those who disagree with you is intellectually dishonest. I've yet to see even one pro-life person claim that as their motivation. Ever. Let alone all of them. If you can't disagree without inventing a reason to hate those who hold it, you are well outside the bounds of rational discourse.

There's a word to describe you: bigot [google.com] .

Believe it or not, that word has an actual meaning, although I wonder if anyone knows what it means given how carelessly it gets thrown around these days.

Re:Next step: Embryos (1)

Karsaroth (1064806) | more than 6 years ago | (#19418249)

Anyway, that should throw the anti-abortion crowd for a loop: "Oh no, he's cut his skin. He's killing babies!" After all, the usual argument is that if something can develop into a human then it should be considered to be a human even before it develops into a human.

That isn't entirely true. Most people who believe that abortion is wrong think that an embryo is already a human, not a potential human.

In any case, this technique can only be used to develop stem cells, not embryos from what I have read.

Man or mouse? (2, Funny)

Maniakes (216039) | more than 6 years ago | (#19417573)

A straightforward procedure using mouse fibroblasts harvested from the skin can be used to produce pluripotent stem cells [...] Stem cells produced using this procedure, however, can not be use to safely to make genetically matched cells for transplant.

I think I found the source of the problem.

Re:Man or mouse? (1)

meatpan (931043) | more than 6 years ago | (#19417981)

I think I found the source of the problem.
Research like this shouldn't be discounted because it uses a non-human organism. Since so little is known about the structure and organization of cells and genomes, understanding simple properties of *any* organism will ultimately provide a major boon to research relating to humans.

Consider some advantages of performing an experiment with mouse cells. Mouse cells are easy and relatively inexpensive to acquire, and you can control reproduction and breeding to ensure the experimental samples you use in 2 years will be similar to your current samples. Imagine the horror and ethical issues raised by attempting this type of experimental control with a human population.

Some of the most exciting research in biology is based on the mouse organism. Check out the Allen Brain Institute's [alleninstitute.org] effort to create an interactive map of the brain, or the many individual research institutions that are releasing results of mouse genome experiments [ucsc.edu] to the public.

Papers (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19417607)

Actual papers for those interested (it was published simultaneously by three groups): (Nature probably requires subscriptions, the first one is free access)

Nimet Maherali, Rupa Sridharan, Wei Xie, Jochen Utikal, Sarah Eminli, Katrin Arnold, Matthias Stadtfeld, Robin Yachechko, Jason Tchieu, Rudolf Jaenisch, Kathrin Plath, and Konrad Hochedlinger
http://www.cellstemcell.com/content/article/fullte xt?uid=PIIS1934590907000203 [cellstemcell.com]

Keisuke Okita, Tomoko Ichisaka & Shinya Yamanaka
http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/vaop/ncurrent /full/nature05934.html [nature.com]

Marius Wernig, Alexander Meissner, Ruth Foreman, Tobias Brambrink, Manching Ku, Konrad Hochedlinger, Bradley E. Bernstein & Rudolf Jaenisch
http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/vaop/ncurrent /full/nature05944.html [nature.com]

Skin Cells Turned Bionic... (1)

creimer (824291) | more than 6 years ago | (#19417651)

Who needs high tech when your skin cells can turn you into a bionic person. I just can't wait for the IPO!

Interesting stuff (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19417741)

They claim they can reprogram cells with only 4 factors. The system only "correctly" reprograms a small percentage of cells.

They use a new technique that adds antibiotic resistance near markers for what they consider the properly reprogrammed cells. Antibiotics are used to kill off the baddies.

The fact that nearly 1/4 of the lines go on the form cancer, indicates the reprogramming is far for perfect.

Methylation Errors? Errors somewhere else in the chromatin? Something from the retroviruses they use to do some of the heavy lifting? Something we don't know (of many, many things) of other epigenetic mechanisms when gametes aren't involved?

In any case it sounds like interesting progress. In the end, science will end the political controversy, as we gain understanding, we will be able to turn any cell into any other cell. Embryos can rot in the bin, we won't need them given time.

Why didn't they START with human cells? (2, Interesting)

Bryan Ischo (893) | more than 6 years ago | (#19417775)

Why are they running these experiments on mouse cells? Why aren't they starting with human skin cells and developing their techniques there? It would avoid the secondary step of having to transfer the technique from mouse tissue to human tissue.

I always assumed that the reason that experiments are done on mice and other animals is that they are easier to obtain than human subjects and that we can do things to them that would be considered unethical when done to a human (leaving aside some people's feelings that they are unethical when done to animals too).

But with skin cell experiments, I don't see the reason to do the research on animals. Human skin cells ought to be readily available, ethical to obtain, and ethical to experiment on.

Why start with mice on this? Why not start with humans and cut one step out of the process?

Re:Why didn't they START with human cells? (1)

DrLudicrous (607375) | more than 6 years ago | (#19417899)

My guess is that these are not just any mice they are using, but "lab grade" mice, whose "properties" are well understood. I am not a biologist, so if someone could help explain this better, please jump in. But basically the mice need to be well characterized so you have some notion of a control when comparing results. That is much more difficult to accomplish with humans.

Re:Why didn't they START with human cells? (1)

Greyfox (87712) | more than 6 years ago | (#19417917)

Here's what happens when the ask for volunteers:

Scientist: Can we 'ave your skin, then?
Subject: Sod off you plonker!

Mice don't tend to respond that way. Well they do, but we don't have to listen to mice.

Re:Why didn't they START with human cells? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19418001)

For one thing, part of the validation procedure required demonstration that these cells could contribute to the tissues of a grown animal after being injected at the early embryo stage. Troubleshooting that in humans to the stage they are at now in mice would have raised some objections. Not that porting to humans at this stage will be easy, but they will probably be able to avoid a lot of mistakes because of the kinks worked out using an animal model.

there are just too many things that could go wrong (1)

feepcreature (623518) | more than 6 years ago | (#19418031)

Why not start with human cells, thus saving the effort of transferring the techniques later?

A bit like saying why deploy changes onto a test system instead of straight onto the live system - after all, you'll only have to migrate to live later?

There are too many things that could go wrong - I'm not a molecular biologist, but I guess it's possible that if cells are persuaded to change their pattern of development (by switching on/off certain areas of the DNA, in a process that is not fully understood), a set of cells that briefly become, say, liver cells, could switch again to something altogether less benign? A tumour, say? Or maybe something that could spread and infect other regions of the body, or other people?

I'm sure a proper specialist could think of more plausible potential problems - but the point is, it's seriously unproven technology, and experimenting on humans would be highly unethical.

If DNA is like a library of code, would you install on your own system patches with lots of unknown and untested system calls, that you'd got from some site on the net?

Unless you run windows update, I guess ;-)

Re:Why didn't they START with human cells? (4, Informative)

tyler_larson (558763) | more than 6 years ago | (#19418359)

Why are they running these experiments on mouse cells? Why aren't they starting with human skin cells and developing their techniques there? It would avoid the secondary step of having to transfer the technique from mouse tissue to human tissue.

Simplicity. Protocol. Reproducibility.

Labs that experiment on mice use specific inbred genetic lines that are widely available with limited genetic diversity. This limits the amount of experimental error that can be attributed to the variations in the traits of the animals. It also means that other labs attempting to reproduce the same results will have a greater chance of success because they'll be starting with an organism that genetically is nearly identical to the ones used elsewhere.

See Model Organism [wikipedia.org] .

Re:Why didn't they START with human cells? (2, Informative)

mark-t (151149) | more than 6 years ago | (#19418553)

Because then they could be left with an ethical quandry about what to do with any unexpected human embryos that might be produced from the experiments.

Yields are fairly low (2, Informative)

WillAffleckUW (858324) | more than 6 years ago | (#19417893)

"The four transcription factors used by Yamanaka reprogramme cells inconsistently and inefficiently, so that less than 0.1% of the million cells in a simple skin biopsy will be fully reprogrammed."

As noted, the major problem is not just the inconsistency, but the locating of the modified cells.

However, unlike many other slashdot articles, this is is in a peer-reviewed journal, it is based on a technique which has been run for a while and altered based upon other followup work, and it might prove a useful addition for labs to do research, while of limited use in therapeutics.

But that also depends on cost. People forget that a successful research lab has got to get costs per experiment down - if it costs me $20 per sample and I have a plate of samples, I'll go broke trying to run any sizeable research of any note, especially that with significant data that can answer more than 2 basic questions of statistical significance.

Cell Life Length an Issue? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19417935)

As a cell ages, divides, ages some more, there is a particular section (damned if I can remember which) that shortens till it reaches a point that the cell is somehow considered too old and dies off. So, making stem cells from skin cells may have the effect of developing pre-aged cells. I wonder if that has been considered or addressed.

With so many unquestionably moral methods (-1, Troll)

Ogemaniac (841129) | more than 6 years ago | (#19417937)

of creating stem cells on the very near horizon, what is the justification for using public money for research that tens of millions of people consider murder? Why not limit public funds to the tens of thousands of research projects (health-related or otherwise) that virtually no one disputes? Additionally, no stem-cell research that I know of is focused on any public health concern such as communicable diseases; rather, it is focused on private health issues such as cancer or Parkinson's disease. Hence, it is debatable whether such research is the domain of government at all. If the government is going to intrude so deeply into the private sphere, should it not do so under only the most benign of manners? I say this because some would argue, for example, that some military research is immoral. That may be true, but what is not particularly debatable that military affairs are the domain of government...indeed, one of its primary roles. The government MUST do military research, and inevitably, some will disagree. In contrast, there is no compelling reason for the government to fund stem-cell research at all...and even less so, given its controversy.

Let's spend the money on cellulitic ethanol, or a new super-collider, or anti-AIDS vaccines instead.

Re:With so many unquestionably moral methods (3, Insightful)

TheMeuge (645043) | more than 6 years ago | (#19417989)

<blockquote>what is the justification for using public money for research that tens of millions of people consider murder</blockquote>
Frankly, I think we should do it just out of spite... for people who would spout the kind of self-important ignorant garbage that just evacuated itself from the barren environment of your skull.

Name-calling will surely win you arguments (1, Informative)

Ogemaniac (841129) | more than 6 years ago | (#19418045)

I love the irony of your post. I wish I believed it was intentional.

This isn't as special as many think. . . (1, Interesting)

Fantastic Lad (198284) | more than 6 years ago | (#19417991)

Cells in salamanders can de-differentiate. That's how they can re-grow arms.

When studied, it was discovered that very low level DC currents were measured throughout the body and at the wound area on tested salamander. Later tests determined that artificially stimulating the cells with DC current triggered the cells to de-differentiate.

Interesting!

Even more interesting, the cells of more complex organisms, (humans), also react to low level DC current, and in fact, naturally occurring DC current plays a role in the normal growth and healing cycles of cells. All manner of tests have been performed, leading to a variety of strange discoveries, such as the finding that human cancer cells increase their growth rate by several orders of magnitude when exposed to electrical fields.

Why has this never been studied in depth? Well, the multi-billion dollar cancer and stem cell research industry would be upset if new and simple knowledge were to come to light. Conspiracy theory? Who cares. Salamanders can re-grow arms and nobody in the main-stream scientific community seems to have bothered to look at this closely. Apparently, the scientific explanation for how Salamanders do this is slip-shod at best; the semi-official explanation is that Salamander cells don't really de-differentiate, but rather, somehow, new stem cells migrate through the blood to the region of the wound. (This by people who have not actually looked at the puzzle closely, but who would lose stem cell research grant money if it were accepted that Salamander cells can do the 'impossible' (de-differentiate). How's that for the grand and noble scientific community?

You can read all about this, and all manner of other fascinating elements of electromagnetics as they relate to biological life in Robert O. Becker's book [amazon.com] on the subject.

Incidentally, EM from cell phones and powerlines is covered in some depth, and several mechanisms by which low-power EM pollution can have a profound impact on living tissues, and the nervous system.

Typically, however, most people don't like to hear stuff like that as it means their cell phones and WiFi and other beloved toys are suddenly suspect. Awww.


-FL

Re:This isn't as special as many think. . . (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19418879)

Yes, and yeast can clone themselves by budding. It's a very efficient way of generating matched donors if they ever get in an accident.

Instead of reading crackpot science, you should read some of the real stuff. Amphibian dedifferentiation has been studied extensively. Unfortunately, we ain't salamanders.

Now look at all the money CA Wasted (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19418003)

They wasted a billion on Embryonic Stem Cell Research.

Stupid!

Leave it to the market to decide, they find cheaper and better solutions over the long run.

Bush was right but for the wrong reasons (has a tendency to be that way the few times he is right).

This sounds very good! (1)

Karsaroth (1064806) | more than 6 years ago | (#19418047)

Wow! If this technique is researched further, it may not be necessary to use embryonic stems cells any more. This sounds good on many levels, and will probably make both sides of the argument happy.
I know TFA says that these cells cannot be transplanted into a patient, it is too dangerous. I wonder if improvements in the technique could lower these dangers to an acceptable level however...after all, embryonic stem cells are in the same boat as far as I know.

Sepultura (1)

Night Goat (18437) | more than 6 years ago | (#19418367)

I thought this article was going to be about Sepultura and their song "Dead Embryonic Cells" being some sort of inspiration for science. Maybe it was, the scientists just didn't want to cop to it.
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