|In March, California scientists were able to specifically
alter the gene of the HIV receptor CCR5 in living cells. This
means that they can find new therapeutic approaches in treatment
of AIDS. In April, scientists from Washington announced they
had been able to regrow damaged brain cells in Alzheimer’s
patients—finally offering a ray of hope to patients suffering
from the disease, and their families and caretakers.
In Norway, in March, researchers proved it possible to produce
nerve cells, on a large scale, from the bone marrow of adults.
It was already known this was possible with cells from human
embryos, but so far scientists hadn’t been able to accomplish
this with cells from adults. The breakthrough came when scientists
took stem cells and attached these to the bone marrow of chicken
embryos. There the cells grew until harvest time, when they were
tested and found fully functional as human nerve cells. This
will make further research easier, and make irrelevant some of
the moral issues people have had regarding the use of human embryos
for this purpose. (Of course, it still does not resolve the problem
of all those unwanted embryos which are not and can never become
human beings: see pages 14 and 15, this issue.)
The recent discovery that fat cells contain a cosiderable number
of stem cells, perhaps even more than bone marrow, was also exciting.
To harvest cells from bone marrow is excruciatingly painful and
is viewed, by many, as risky. This has made a lot of people reluctant
to donate cells from their bone marrow. Another source, with
fewer complications, is therefore welcome.
Unfortunately for those whose life can depend on this research,
most countries have restrictions on it or do not allow it at
all. In March the United Nations actually passed a resolution
strongly urging that all member nations ban the cloning of human
embryos for stem cell research. Great Britain was among the few
to vote against the resolution, as the British delegation felt
it would seriously harm science’s chance to find therapeutic
cures for diseases.
The UN vote was a step back, but things are also moving forward.
Research on embryonic stem cells is legal in four countries;
Sweden, England, Belgium, and Spain.
In the United States, the ban against federal funds being used
for stem cell research was lifted by the Clinton Administration,
in 1993. The present Bush Administration became, during Bush’s
first term, the first U.S. Administration ever to finance even
limited stem cell research. And in the November election, California
voters of California approved proposition 71, the Stem Cell Research
and Cures Initiative, a $3 billion bond measure to fund stem
cell research. The passage of Prop. 71 is expected to make California
the global leader in pioneering stem cell research.
|Through stem cell research, new theraputic approaches
in the treatment of AIDS and neural damage may be available.
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