In the field of research, the embryonic cells are prized for their Midas' touch. They have the ability to transform into every kind of cell in the body. But this seemingly miraculous trait comes with a price tag. Embryonic cloning has run into bad weather in several countries and a lot of dust is raised when dealing with the practical, ethical, political and legal obstacles. Therefore when an alternative is offered, without the hassles, who can complain?
An effort, on those lines, by a team of scientists has finally borne fruit! Dr.Yamanaka from the Kyoto University and Dr. Junying Yu from the University of Wisconsin, have successfully utilized a technique called 'direct programming' to convert ordinary skin cells into extraordinary ones, with the ability mimic embryonic cells.
AdvertisementIn Yamanaka's study, skin cells, also called fibroblasts, were taken from a woman's face. They were then converted into Induced Pleuripotent Stem cells (IPS) by introducing four pleuripotency- associated genes into them. This was done with the help of the viral vector, retrovirus. In this path-breaking find, the researchers have circumvented the obstacles associated with human embryonic cloning and have quickened the pace of stem cell research.
Reprogramming adult cells to produce IPS cells has made patient-specific, tailor-made treatments possible, without the fear of immune-rejection. However, it still remains unclear if this virus could cause deleterious mutations leading to cancer and other such diseases. Therefore this method of treatment has to be rendered safe before it can be 'unleashed' on the needy. Yamanaka has reported the study in the 'Cell' while the Wisconsin group has reported their find in 'Science'.
According to Dr.Yamanaka, the next move will be to evaluate the method by which IPS cells transform into other cell types.
Both the Japanese and the Wisconsin scientists have reiterated that research with embryonic stem (ES) cells should be continued. Both the research teams owe their success to decades of stem cell -based research as human embryonic stem cells continue to be the gold standard against which all substitute sources of human pleuripotent stem cells should be evaluated.
Hailed as a simpler alternative to embryonic cloning, this technique is not without its share of sorrows-
• IPS cells do not address the basic problem associated with embryonic cloning,which is the scarcity of raw material (or) embryos
• A lot more research involving human embryos needs to be carried out to make IPS cells therapeutically viable
• Embryonic cells are still critical as a biological back- up, in case IPS research fails
• The technique has a few inherent risks,such as the use of retrovirus,and these need to be overcome in order to make it patient-friendly.
Researchers have indicated that it will be years before the IPS cells may be employed for routine treatment. On a quicker time- frame, research is to be endeavored to study disease models, such as Parkinson's and to evaluate the role of these cells in drug screening. Overall, it is heartening to know that highly resourceful cells can be produced from a simpler and a more abundant source, taking the pressure off embryos. With their limitless ability to differentiate these cells are, indeed, a great hope for the future.