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» 12/04/2007
JAPAN
Kyoto University scientists break stem cell safety barriers
by Pino Cazzaniga
Dr Shinya Yamanaka’s research team eliminates the risks of cell mutation and the danger of tumors. Now it is working on finding a safe artificial genetic factor.

Tokyo (AsiaNews) – At Kyoto University the Institute for Frontier Medical Science team under Shinya Yamanaka, which found a way to convert human cells to embryo-like stem cells, is now working on eliminating the risk of tumors.

Dr Yamanaka’s first breakthrough, which AsiaNews  announced on November 23, showed how stem cells could be produced without using embryos, thus eliminating any ethical problems. The technique consists in re-programming human adult cells by inserting four genetic factors which a play a role in embryo development.

Many scientists have welcomed the discovery as a great breakthrough because it opens the way to the development of therapies based on replacing worn-out tissues with new ones.

However, we are still a long way from any therapeutic application of this discovery. Dr Yamanaka himself urges prudence.

“From about 50,000 transfected human cells, we obtained approximately 10 iPS cell clones,” he said. Indeed, he is conscious that it will take time before therapies can be developed based on the use of stem calls. And stem cell safety issues will have to be addressed since undesirable mutations like tumors can be caused.

Yamanaka and his team have moved however on a fast track. Last Friday US medical journal Nature Biotechnology reported that the Kyoto University group was able to re-program human skin cells and create induced Pluripotent Stem cells (iPS cells) without using c-Myc, the oncogene that can cause cancer.

This was not achieved in the ten days, that is between announcement of the team’s first and second breakthrough. Over a period of a hundred days (crucial in tumor development) they developed iPS cells with only three genetic factors, without inserting the c-Myc. Unlike mice that received the four genetic factors, none of those tested without c-Myc died from cancer. However, the iPS cells generated this way were less powerful that those created with the c-Myc. The next step for the research team is to find an artificial genetic factor that can take the place of the c-Myc.

Beyond the science it is important to highlight the ethical import of the Kyoto University team’s research programme.

It is well-known that embryonic stem cell research is easier and quicker because there is no need to rejuvenate cells since they are by definition embryonic. But in the case of human embryos such a solution implies not only manipulating something that is ethically inviolable but also killing the heart of those who accept it. It is much better and smarter as well as ethically acceptable to rejuvenate old cells. In the first case, there is death; in the second, regeneration.

It is also a consolation to find that the path chosen and tenaciously held by Yamanaka’s team is increasingly accepted in biotech institutions around the world, Italy included.

Carlo Alberto Redi, scientific director of the Fondazione Irccs-San Matteo in Pavia, stressed that “it is worth remembering that in 2001 that the Dulbecco Commission report, ordered by then Health Minister Umberto Veronesi, indicated that this was the way to go, insisting on the importance of funding genetic stem cell re-programming to avoid using embryos. As always in Italy funding remains a problem but this is a promising area of research.”


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See also
11/19/2004 UNITED NATIONS - VATICAN
Human cloning, science's dominion over life
by Lorenzo Fazzini
11/23/2007 JAPAN
Sacrifice of human embryos no longer “necessary”
by Pino Cazzaniga
12/18/2007 KOREA
The false “cloning pioneer” wants to work on stem cells again
11/29/2006 SOUTH KOREA
"Cloning pioneer" want to manipulate human cells again
by Theresa Kim Hwa-young
01/12/2005 SOUTH KOREA
S Korea approves cloning research

Editor's choices
IRAQ-ITALY
"Adopt a Christian from Mosul," the thanks of the Patriarch Louis Sako; the concerns of the Bishop of Kurdistan
by Bernardo CervelleraThe head of the Chaldean Church is grateful for the AsiaNews campaign and hopes that "this chain of solidarity will reach far and wide”. Helping refugees to remain in Iraq. But many want to flee abroad. The bishop of Amadiyah where thousands of displaced people have found haven in churches and homes: We also help the Arabs (Muslims), and Yazidis, for free and without looking at our confessional differences.
ITALY - IRAQ
"Adopt a Christian from Mosul" to respond directly to Iraq's emergencyAsiaNews is launching a fundraiser to support Christians targeted by the Islamic State, thus responding to a request by the Patriarch of Baghdad and Pope Francis's urgent appeal "to guarantee all necessary assistance - especially the most urgently needed aid - to the great multitude of people who have been driven from their homes, whose fate depends entirely on the solidarity of others." More than 100,000 people have been forced to flee their homes leaving everything behind and now have nothing to live on. To help them, five euros a day are enough. The funds raised will be sent to the Patriarchate of Baghdad, which will distribute them according to the needs of each family.
CHINA - VATICAN
Wenzhou bishop and priests slam government's campaign against crosses and churches in Zhejiang
by Eugenia ZhangFor Mgr Vincent Zhu Weifang, from the official Church, the campaign of destruction is increasing social instability. It is real persecution against the Christian faith. The bishop apologises for failing to intervene sooner. He was hoping that the campaign would end quickly. Catholics and Protestants suffer injuries as they attempt to defend their sacred buildings. For priests in Wenzhou, the campaign is unfair and touches buildings that have all the right papers. Such "stupid acts" by the government are undermining social harmony.

Dossier
by Giulio Aleni / (a cura di) Gianni Criveller
pp. 176
by Lazzarotto Angelo S.
pp. 528
by Bernardo Cervellera
pp. 240
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