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For all of the talk about ESCR and therapeutic cloning, in just two short years, induced pluripotent stem cells are already achieving what remains only a theoretical possibility in ethically problematic approaches: Tailor made, disease specific, stem cell lines have been created which are being used to learn disease mechanisms and test potential drug treatments. From the story:

Stem cells generated from patients with a rare neurological disorder are helping scientists dissect the underlying mechanism of the disease and test several candidate drugs. The study, published today in Nature, is the realization of one of the major goals in stem cell research: using induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells—stem cells derived from reprogrammed adult cells—to study the effects of disease in a patient’s own cells, which are otherwise impossible to access...

The idea is simple: Take skin cells from patients with a particular disease, turn those cells into stem cells, direct those stem cells to become a cell type of interest—for instance, the dopamine-releasing neurons that are affected by Parkinson’s disease—and see how those cells behave and react to different drugs. A spate of recent papers has demonstrated the development of disease-specific stem cells for conditions such as Down syndrome, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, spinal muscular atrophy, and Parkinson’s disease. The new study is the first to use cells derived from iPS cells to test drugs for their effect against a disease.

What a shame that President Obama revoked President Bush’s executive order requiring the government to fund research into pluripotent stem cell “alternatives,” such as the IPSC.  As I wrote at the time, the Bush policy was the very kind of bridge that our president said during the campaign he wanted to enact.  Perhaps if he’d kept to that approach, his poll numbers wouldn’t be dropping like a stone.

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