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Stem cells

New Stem Cell "Breakthrough" Actually Results in Growth of Cancer Cells

Wednesday, December 12, 2007 by: David Gutierrez, staff writer
Tags: stem cells, medical technology, health news


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(NewsTarget) A new technique for producing stem cells that has been hailed as "breakthrough" actually produces stem cells that cause cancer in organisms that grow from them.

Two different teams of scientists announced a new technique for developing stem cells in the same month. In an article published in the online edition of the journal Cell, Dr. Shinya Yamanaka and colleagues said that they had transformed human skin cells into stem cells by using a virus to inject the skin cells with four specific genes.

Yamanaka and his colleagues at Kyoto University in Japan had formerly turned mouse skin cells into stem cells through a similar technique. Yamanaka is now setting up a lab at the Gladstone Institute of Cardiovascular Disease, which is associated with the University of California at San Francisco.

At roughly the same time, a team of researchers from the University of Wisconsin at Madison announced in the online edition of the journal Science that they had turned human skin cells into stem cells through the same technique, but using a different four genes.

Stem cells are cells that retain the ability to transform into any other kind of cell. This ability has made them the focus of a great deal of research, out of hopes that they can be used to regenerate destroyed tissue for victims of severe injury or degenerative diseases. Because many stem cells are derived from destroyed human embryos, however, much stem cell research has been dogged by controversy from anti-abortion activists, as well as women's rights advocates who object to the invasive procedure required to harvest live eggs for the process.

While less controversial, the stem cells produced by the new technique appear to be carcinogenic. When Yamanaka's team implanted the cells into mouse embryos, those embryos developed as expected -- with the DNA of the original stem cell, not of the embryo. But mice cloned in this fashion eventually developed neck tumors.

"It seems that everyone in the mainstream media is so excited about this new stem cell technique that they forgot to notice the fact that it leads to the growth of cancer tumors," said consumer health advocate Mike Adams.

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