11/23/2007, 00.00
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Sacrifice of human embryos no longer “necessary”

by Pino Cazzaniga
Positive reactions to the Japanes-US discovery of human cells with “unlimited potential” made from skin tissue. Catholic Church and Bush praise advance along with Chinese Academy of sciences and “father of Dolly the sheep”.

Tokyo (AsiaNews) – The discovery by a Japanese and US team of scientists, shows that stem cells can be produced from human skin tissue, instead of human embryos, has been widely praised, particularly by those scientists who are careful of the ethical consequences of their research.   This new technique not only eliminates the problem of the destruction of human embryos, but it also improves the quality of the stem cells that are produced, because their very origins greatly reduces the possibility that they will be refused.

Msgr. Elio Sgreccia, president of the Pontifical Council for Life has defined the discovery as “historic”.  “Now – he added in an interview with Vatican Radio – there is no further need to use embryos, neither is there a need of the so-called ‘therapeutic cloning’, thus a page of acute controversy and bitter opposition is closed”.    US President George W. Bush, has also praised the discovery, underlining how it has come about in “full respect of ethical limits”.

Even Ian Wilmut, known as the “father of Dolly the sheep”, has come out in favour of the advance, as well as the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

The discovery was made by a group of research scientists from Kyoto University who succeed in producing stem cells from human skin tissue rather than embryos.   The merit belongs to scientist Shinya Yamanaka , Professor at the Institute for Frontier Medical Science, aided by assistant professor Kazutoshi Takahashi and a research team. “We are still a long way from finding cures or therapies from stem cells but now who hope to move on to the clinical application of the stem cells and improve safety standards”.

Yamanaka’s discovery has succeeded in overcoming the ethical questions posed by the destruction of human embryo’s, up until now believed to be the only source of stem cells.  In fact,  convinced that stem cells with multiple potential could be produced by manipulating the genetic code of adult tissue cells, he continued down his own road.  His team of researchers drew the attention of the entire scientific world when in 2006 they announced that they had succeeded in producing stem cells by introducing four genes into cells from rat skin.  This was the first major breakthrough in the journey.  The second, major objective was reached this year, when they succeeded in inserting four genes into the cells of a persons facial tissue.

Ian Wilmut, who was the first to make known the technique being used by the Kyoto group, has acclaimed it as the “most acceptable to society” and also declared that he has given up the method of therapeutic cloning.

The merit of the Japanese Professor’s discovery is however, shared by a group of researchers from the University of Wisconsin (United States) who under the direction of Professor James Thomson arrived at the same result. According to Thomson “the cells grown in a laboratory, beyond having he same function as the embryonic stem cells, seem clinically safer and therefore run a smaller risk of being rejected by the patient”.

Chinese researchers have announced their desire to work alongside these teams in the advance of this discovery.  Pei Duanqing, vice director of the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Guangzhou Institute of Biomedicine and Health has described it as “a moment which will shape human history”.


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See also
Kyoto University scientists break stem cell safety barriers
Korean bishops urge prayers for national unity and Christian rebirth
Authorities deny Hwang Woo-suk the right to conduct research on human embryos
Nobel Prize for Yamanaka, scientific research and ethics must go hand in hand
South Korea, adult stem cells "a valid alternative to cloning of embryos"