We all begin life as a single cell. As this cell divides and multiplies, tissues differentiate and our body's framework is created. By combining an understanding of genetics, cell communications and the developmental processes that are at the core of this building process, scientists are seeking methods to stimulate the body to both maintain itself and to recover from degenerative disease and injury. In the Vision science news article, "The Three-Sided Coin," science contributor Dan Cloer explores recent discoveries and dilemmas concerning regenerative medicine, stem cell therapy and stem cell science.
"It is the human embryo that has always been at the core of the stem cell controversy," Cloer writes. "In terms of potential therapies, because cloned embryonic stem cells shared the patient's genes, implanting these cells back into the patient to stimulate tissue regeneration seemed like a good route to clinical success. Avoiding immune system rejection is a key concern when foreign cells are injected back into the body."
But this positive potential has always been married to the ethical question of using human embryos for research. From the outset of human embryonic stem cell research in 1998, the "heads-you-win" medical-advance side of the coin has been backed with the "tails-you-lose" dilemma of the purposeful creation and destruction of embryos.
"The Three-Sided Coin" outlines stem cell therapy research that is finding regenerative potential in cells that do not have embryonic origins. Research is moving forward on at least two major fronts: patient-derived endogenous stem cells, and induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC) created from patient cells.
One leader in iPSC research notes that the days of much embryo-based work may be waning. Although human embryonic stem cells will be necessary for some time to further medical understanding of stem cell biology, "My brain has completely switched to iPS," CSRMI Director Clive Svendsen, Ph.D. told Vision. "Get your stories out quick, because [that] whole era is disappearing."
The Vision article, "The Three-Sided Coin," discusses the process of cell reprogramming to create iPS cells as well as ongoing research concerning clinical trials for heart and spinal cord regeneration.
The article is linked to an extended interview with Dr. Svendsen and concludes with efforts to be taken by the International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR) to help patients avoid sham stem cell therapy when seeking medical advice.