Reprogrammed Skin Cells Treat Huntington’s in Rats

by The Center for Bioethics and Culture on May 31, 2012

By Wesley J. Smith, J.D., Special Consultant to the CBC

Good science and good ethics go together like bread and butter. Now, scientists have used cell reprogramming to treat Huntington’s disease — which killed Woodie Guthrie and remains incurable — in rats. From the Michigan Live story:

A stem cell treatment investigated for Huntington’s disease holds out hope that scientists will someday be able to reverse damage caused by the degenerative brain disorder.The technique, which uses reprogrammed skin cells from a Huntington’s patient, successfully restored motor functions in rats, said Dr. Patrik Brundin, a Van Andel Institute researcher who was involved in the study . . .

Scientists from Sweden, South Korea and the U.S. collaborated on the study, which was published online Monday in the journal Stem Cells. Brundin said researchers took stem cells derived from the skin of a patient with Huntington’s disease and converted them to brain cells — or nerve cells — in culture dishes in the lab. The cells were transplanted into the brains of rats that had an experimental form of Huntington’s, and the rats’ motor functions improved. “The unique features of the (stem cell approach) means that the transplanted cells will be genetically identical to the patient,” Jihwan Song, an associate professor at CHA University in Seoul and co-author of the study, said in a statement released by VAI. “Therefore, no medications that dampen the immune system to prevent graft rejection will be needed.”

The scientists say Parkinson’s might be next.

These continuing breakthroughs — realize this is still very early and might never reach the clinical stage — are the very benefits we were once told would require human cloning research to obtain, e.g., tailor made, patient specific regenerative treatments that will not cause tissue rejection. And whether they can ever be used in treatments, they are already being used to study disease progression, in drug testing, and for other very beneficial purposes.

But it’s funny: Now that embryonic stem cell research is not breaking through, the media has stopped trumpeting stem cell stories about CURES! CURES! CURES! And ironically, this at a time when ethical science actually offers that very real potential.

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