Current Science Article Stem Cell Research in the Spotlight Once Again

T17

Recent discoveries about the role of stem cells in cancer have altered the landscape of cancer research, says Medical News Today. There is, however, a long-running philosophical rift over stem cell research at both the state and federal levels. Some groups would rather focus on adult stem cell research, avoiding the moral and ethical questions about research involving embryos. While ethical debate on human embryonic stem cells will continue, much more is occurring on the rings surrounding this bull’s-eye issue, including research in both drug development and adult stem cells.

Biologists’ understanding of new sources and uses of adult and nonembryonic stem cells is advancing rapidly. Called “niches” or “crypts,” it seems that almost anyplace one looks in the body (nose, eye, hair follicle, intestine, bone marrow, central nervous system), stem cells are being found. From such basic knowledge, it has been reported that successful animal and human therapy using patient stem cells is already occurring. As more stem cell crypts are discovered, the desire to understand how to manipulate them within the body only becomes more acute.

At the 2007 Annual Meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research, researchers presented new discoveries about stem cells in leukemia, breast and colon cancer that add to the growing evidence that perhaps cancer is, fundamentally, a stem cell problem.

Interviewed by Vision Magazine at the Stem Cells World Congress earlier this year in La Jolla, California, veterinarian and CEO of Vet-Stem, Robert Harmon, explained how his company is currently providing stem cell therapies for animals. Injected into an injury or degenerated tissue, the stem cell treatment evokes healing in unprecedented ways. As it has been since its discovery almost 400 years ago, the cell and the “vital force” that makes it the seat of biological life continues to hold attention. It is likely that there will be no end to the moral and ethical questions and investigations. Today’s new age of molecular understanding, genomics, proteomics, gene splicing and bioengineering is barely underway. It is not surprising, then, that the more we know, the more we recognize how little we understand.

The timeline of discovery has been exponential: from discovery of the DNA double helix in 1953, and the understanding of the genetic code, gene splicing and cell differentiation in the 60s, 70s and 80s, science rapidly jumped up the learning curve to the cloning of whole organisms and the discovery of embryonic stem cells less than a decade ago. The future possibilities for the application of this knowledge seem enormous.

Read the full article about Stem Cell Research and interviews with speakers at the Stem Cells World Conference at Vision.org.