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ss triple helix - winter 2007,  Stem cells

Stem cells

Positive research outcomes show how useful adult stem cells could be

The last few months have yielded much good news on the adult stem cell front. Several ground-breaking research projects have announced successful results.

There is hopeful news for diabetics. In New Orleans, human bone marrow stem cells have been shown to repair defective insulin-producing pancreatic cells in diabetic mice. [1] Three weeks after injection, the treated mice had lower blood sugar and were producing more insulin than untreated mice. Furthermore, glomerular damage in their kidneys was halted. The research team leader is optimistic that their success in using human stem cells to cure research mice can be successfully transferred to human diabetics. Dr Wilson, research director of Diabetes UK, said, 'This is interesting work…Theoretically, pancreatic beta cells produced from a patient's own bone marrow could be used to treat diabetes, overcoming the requirement for immunosuppression following islet transplantation'.

Funded by the Medical Research Council, a team from University College London and Moorfields Eye Hospital has successfully transplanted precursor cells (a type of more developed stem cell), taken from the retinas of three day old mice, into the eyes of partially sighted mice. [2] Once treated, these animals (which mimic human conditions such as age-related macular degeneration) showed light reactive pupils and optic nerve activity. [3] Unfortunately, unlike newborn mice, the equivalent type of human retinal precursor cell is found only in second trimester fetuses; but thankfully, in attempting to transfer their success to human eyes, the team is now looking at the potential of certain cells on the periphery of adult retinas.

Heart attack patients arriving at the London Chest Hospital and the Heart Hospital may soon be offered more than streptokinase and an angiogram. [4] Doctors are launching a trial to see whether injecting a patient's own bone marrow stem cells into recanalised coronary arteries during angioplasty reduces the risk of developing post-infarction cardiac failure.

So, with all these encouraging results from adult stem cell research, it is somewhat disappointing that Australia's parliament recently felt the need to lift its ban on the cloning of human embryos for the purpose of stem cell research. [5] Now that they have the legal go-ahead, Australian researchers are free to indulge in therapeutic cloning. It is sad that, in their pursuit of the admirable aim to cure serious adult diseases, many scientists prefer to create and sacrifice other human lives rather than use patients'own resources.

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