German Scientists May Have Found Ethical Source of Pluripotent Stem Cells

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Scientists in Germany have discovered another possible source for embryonic-like stem cells that can be obtained without destroying a human embryonic life. Researchers found that stem cells taken from the testes of mice have many of the characteristics of embryonic stem cells. The scientists were able to take those stem cells and turn them into heart, brain and skin cells and successfully inject them back into mice.

March 29, 2006 
Volume 3, Number 34

By Mark Adams

Scientists in Germany have discovered another possible source for embryonic-like stem cells that can be obtained without destroying a human embryonic life. Researchers found that stem cells taken from the testes of mice have many of the characteristics of embryonic stem cells. The scientists were able to take those stem cells and turn them into heart, brain and skin cells and successfully inject them back into mice.

Opponents of embryo destructive stem cell research have long said that if scientists are truly determined and resolved to do so, they can find a way to ethically obtain embryonic-like stem cells, also know as pluripotent stem cells. In May the President's Council on Bioethics released a lengthy report on alternative sources for pluripotent stem cells.

According to a summary of the German research provided by nature.com, the scientists isolated those stem cells in the testes that turn into sperm cells. Those cells were then cultured and the resulting cells were similar to embryonic stem cells. One of the scientists behind the research admitted to being surprised at the results. If the procedure can be replicated in humans in could mean that, at least for men, there exists an endless source of pluripotent stem cells matching the individual's genetic makeup.

Like much of the research in the field of stem cells, these findings are preliminary and the nature.com report quoted an English scientist who urged caution in response to the study. "There needs to be further research before we really get excited about it," said Chris Higgins, director of the Medical Research Council's Clinical Sciences Centre at Imperial College in London.

The next step, according to the authors of the study, is to try to replicate the research in humans using cells from surgery patients or corpses. The scientists said they were unable to find cells in female mice similar to the sperm producing cells they found in male mice. But Wolfgang Engel, a co-author of the study, said he believes that egg-producing stem cells in women may prove to be the female equivalent. "I think it will be possible to find stem cells there," he said.

The new German study is not the first to indicate that ethical possibilities exist for acquiring pluripotent stem cells. In August researchers from Harvard said they believed they had discovered a way to reprogram skin cells into pluripotent stem cells by fusing them with embryonic stem cells. Though the method still raised ethical red flags, it did prompt Father Tadeusz Pacholczyk, director of education for the National Catholic Bioethics Center, to say, "I am convinced that technology does offer us opportunities and pathways that are not going to be morally problematic and we just have to be resolved at the beginning not to cross any moral lines. If we do that we can find clever solutions and

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