Analysis; Stem-Cell Science Still Far from Cures

Article excerpt

Byline: MAGGIE FOX Reuters, Health and Science Correspondent

WASHINGTON -- Which is better -- an adult stem cell or one taken from an embryo?

Politicians, activists and religious leaders who are opposed to experimenting on human embryos argue that adult stem cells are not only a more ethical route to transforming medicine, but they are in fact the better route.

But most researchers familiar with stem-cell science disagree. It does not matter which one is better, they say, because it is important to work with both kinds.

All sides are clamoring to get their voices heard ahead of a scheduled US Senate vote on three different bills on Tuesday, one of which would expand federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research.

"They hold promise in different areas today," said David Meyer, co-director, of the Cedars-Sinai International Stem Cell Research Institute, which is set to formally open in Los Angeles on Monday.

"Adult stem cells will lead to cures much sooner than embryonic. However, the potential for embryonic, once we understand the biology, will be the greater," Meyer said in a telephone interview.

Groups such as the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and the American Association for Cancer Research say work with embryonic stem cells is vital to understanding how to regenerate diseased or damaged cells, tissues and organs.

And the federal oversight could help prevent abuses -- such as the fraudulent claims made by South Korean researchers last year that they had cloned human embryos and extracted stem cells from them.

Opponents call the work a slippery slope to unethical, immoral and even damaging experimentation.

PROGRESS REPORTED

Researchers are already working with various forms of stem cells. Although any real treatments are years away, some teams have reported real progress.

-- On July 3, a team at the University of California at Los Angeles reported they had transformed human embryonic stem cells into immune cells known as T-cells -- offering a way to restore immune systems ravaged by AIDS and other diseases.

-- In June, a team at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore transplanted stem cells from mouse embryos into paralyzed rats and helped them walk again. …