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The controversy over stem cells has now thrown its shadow over three national elections. While adult and umbilical stem cells have contributed to actual therapies, embryonic stem cells have not -- and yet their flexibility has presented a tantalizing subject for medical researchers for several years. The leadership of the Democratic Congress is widely expected to propose federal funding for human embryonic stem-cell (hEsc) research, setting up a showdown with the Bush administration.
Now, however, researchers at Harvard have found stem cells with the same flexibility as hEsc, but without the need to damage embryos in any way:
Scientists say they have discovered a new source of stem cells that could one day repair damaged human organs. The Harvard University team say they have recovered functioning stem cells from amniotic fluid - the liquid that surrounds the baby in the womb. ...
The Harvard scientists say the stem cells they found in amniotic fluid seem to have many of the qualities of embryonic stem cells. The scientists, from Wake Forest University School of Medicine, were writing in the journal Nature Biotechnology.
They say they have managed to turn the stem cells into functioning muscle, fat, blood vessel, nerve and liver cells. In tests, these newly made cells seemed to restore some function in brain-damaged mice.
This could solve the entire political standoff over the research methods involved in retrieving hEsc for study. Five months ago, another research group discovered a method of extracting a single cell from an embryo without killing it. Now it turns out that stem cells can be isolated in amniotic fluid, and could therefore be isolated without any injury or even contact with an embryo or fetus.
If Harvard has this correct, it should end the controversy. Researchers wanting federal funding for their hEsc research would simply use this source rather than the embryos themselves. The Harvard study has already produced results, and others could use their work as a springboard for even more promising developments.Sphere It View blog reactions
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