Genetic TIme Machine
Written by David R Jennings   
Tuesday, 20 November 2007


Keeping abreast of technology, science and design is a key goal of mine which I enjoy sharing in this column, so I'm always on the lookout for stories that push boundaries in each of these fields. (Even if the "design" is more in-step with creative science rather than the creative arts).

Two groundbreaking papers published today have effectively removed the embryonic stem cell debate that has both tantalized and angered so many over the past decade. A paper by Shinya Yamanaka in the journal Cell in Kyoto Japan, and another by James Thomson of the University of Wisconsin demonstrate that each scientist has independently achieved the same feat of reprogramming a normal human cell back to an embryonic stem cell. Dr. Thomson accomplished this feat using only a normal cell from the cheek of a human female.

This discovery has several effects worthy of note. It allows scientist to continue investigating the genetics of embryonic cells without the nasty side effect of enraging every right-to-life advocate, and it presents a strong argument that it could one day be possible to roll back the time clock on other cells, groups of cells, or organisms. This makes the futuristic sci-fi concept of a pill to re-grow a liver or a kidney a "might happen in our lifetime" concept rather than something for Spock and McCoy to debate in the future.
"I think this is the future of stem cell research," says Dr. Gearhart, the biologist who first discovered human fetal embryonic stem cells. "It's absolutely terrific."
Neither scientist Yamanaka from Japan or Thomson from Wisconsin believe these cells are quite ready for patients... but they can now start talking about when rather than if.

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