Monday, September 22, 2008

A positive end to the debate on stem cell research?

Ever since scientists began experimenting with embryonic stem cells the blood of pro-life and other activists has been boiling, and a major ethical debate has ensued. Stem cell research could lead to some of the biggest medical breakthroughs since penicillin, but the destruction of embryos to attain the cells themselves has many up in arms. Thankfully, researchers at the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC have found a new, omnipotent cell line that may be able to replace embryonic cells, allowing research to continue without crossing ethical lines.

Pittsburgh researchers, led by Bruno Péault, PhD, deputy director of the Stem Cell Research Center at Children's Hospital, have identified a new source for adult stem cells: small blood vessel walls. The cells, called pericytes, are multipotent, and have the potential to be extracted and grown into many types of tissues, according to the study published in Cell Stem Cell this month.

"This finding marks the first direct evidence of the source of multipotent adult stem cells known as mesenchymal stem cells. We believe pericytes represent one of the most promising sources of multipotent stem cells that scientists have been searching for in the quest to make regenerative medicine possible," Dr. Péault said. "The encouraging aspect of this source is that blood vessels are the one structure that all tissues in the human body have in common. These cells can be extracted easily and painlessly from convenient sources such as fat tissue, dental pulp, umbilical cord and placental tissue, then grown in culture to large numbers and, possibly, re-injected into the patient to heal a broken bone, a failing joint or an injured muscle."

Finally, stem cell research might be able to step out of the shadow of bioethical debate and surge onward uninterrupted. This finding adds to the mounting research, like the recent findings by multiple researchers of a possible method of turning skin cells into stem cells, which are finding ways around the ethical barrier to stem cell research. Hopefully the debate can be silenced once and for all.