Monday, November 23, 2009

Fat Chance

One of the most promising scientific advancements of the last few years in any area of research has been the success of Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells (IPS). We have talked about it (here) before but, as a reminder, IPS harvests adult skin cells from the patient who requires therapy and induces those cells to return to pluripotency -- a state from which they can be coaxed into becoming almost any other kind of cell. The therapeutic value of pluripotent cells is enormously encouraging.

The beauty of this kind of research is that it honors the concerns of everyone involved in the debate on stem cell research. Not only does IPS show therapeutic promise but, more importantly, it does so without causing the morally troubling destruction of human embryos. For that reason IPS truly is the kind of win-win solution that anyone concerned about bioethical issues should be seeking.

And the future just got brighter.

In August, Stanford University surgeon Michael Longaker and cardiologist Joseph Wu teamed up to induce pluripotent stem cells from a quart of fat they had extracted from a liposuction patient. That’s right, these two researchers found a way to turn fat into a stem-cell therapy. Not only so, but transforming the fat cells into IPS cells took just 20 days -- as compared to the 8 weeks it took to do the same from skin cells -- and the process yielded 20 times the number of IPS cells.

Here’s what bothers me about this story: I read about it in the December issue of Popular Science magazine.

With the exception of a one-paragraph blurb in U.S. News and a short news release from Reuters, I could not find any mention of this breakthrough in the mainstream news media. I certainly did not hear or see any politician from either party tout it as a new way to seek common ground on the bioethical battlefield. There have been no news conferences called to announce federal funding for a program that will seek to promote this kind of therapy. I haven't even heard funding of this research offered as an amendment to the health care bill.

It is a mystery to me how anyone who is dedicated to promoting cures for disease, who cares at all about the destruction of human embryos, or who is truly seeking any kind of "common ground" where these issues are concerned, could fail to revel in a story like this one and shout about it from the mountaintops.


  1. Here's an article from March 31, 2009.

  2. Here's the correct URL. I don't know why it didn't copy earlier.


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