U.S. appeals court reinstates stem cell suit

WASHINGTON Fri Jun 25, 2010 12:44pm EDT

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. appeals court on Friday reinstated a lawsuit that challenges an Obama administration policy for federal funding of some human embryonic stem cell research.

The unusual suit against the National Institutes of Health, backed by some Christian groups opposed to embryo research, argued that the NIH policy takes funds from researchers seeking to work with adult stem cells.

It also argues that new Obama administration guidelines on stem cell research are illegal.

The three-judge federal appeals panel did not rule on the merits of the lawsuit itself, but said two of the doctors involved had legal standing to file it.

A federal district court had earlier rejected the lawsuit, saying the challengers had no standing.

Stem cells are the body's master cells. There are several kinds, including those taken from days-old human embryos, which can give rise to all the cells and tissues in the body.

Some people oppose working with human embryonic stem cells, but President Barack Obama's administration reversed a policy that severely limited federal funding of such work.

The NIH will now pay for research using the cells, although it will not pay for the actual process of making the cells, which does involve human embryos. The use of federal funds to pay for the destruction of human embryos is forbidden by law.

The NIH also funds work with so-called adult stem cells, immature cells found throughout the body.

Dr. James Sherley, a biological engineer at Boston Biomedical Research Institute who opposes the use of embryonic stem cells, had argued that the guidelines violated the law by permitting research on stem cells derived from human embryos and would harm their work by increasing competition for limited federal funding.

Sherley and Theresa Deisher of Washington-based AVM Biotechnology were joined in their challenge by the Christian Medical Association, which opposes federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, and an adoption agency called Nightlight Christian Adoptions, which had argued that the guidelines reduced the number of embryos available for use in adoption.

(Reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky and Maggie Fox; Editing by Julie Steenhuysen and Vicki Allen)

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Comments (11)
selluwud wrote:
Crazy whacko religious right screwing with everyone else’s right to scientific medical advances. There are still a lot of folks living in the middle ages, believing in supernatural beings and mystical nonsense, and that covers just about most all religions. Man always had to have someone more powerful than himself to have answers to the questions he couldn’t figure out. Too bad he never got the answers, he had to figure it out for himself. Stem cells will one day be our way to conquering disease and debilitation. Please let common sense prevail????

Jun 25, 2010 8:24pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
KarlQ wrote:
All of the successful treatments in stem cell research has resulted from the use of adult stem cells. Further, it has well been demonstrated that all of the exciting features of embyonic stem cells can be obtained from adult stem cells by tricking them to revert to their more immature form.

Not only are the “induced” polypotent stem cells as potentially effective in providing cures, because they are derived from the patient’s own DNA, there is little or no problems with “rejection” of the tissue via the immune system.

Given they are better, safer, cheaper and require no waiver from the government, why should a researcher want to avoid adult stem cells in favor of embryonic stem cells with rejection-inducing DNA differences? Just to prove a point? Out of religious intollerence or hatred?

There is a justification based on comparing embyonic stem cells and induced stem cells as to effictiveness in real life. This can easily be done using animal testing. In fact, it can be done more quickly since the shorter life times allow multi-generation studies.

So the facts seem to be on the side of shifting investment into adult stem cell research (when dealing with people) or doing research more quickly and cheaply with animal embyonic stem cells.

The science seems to be clear.

Jun 25, 2010 9:09pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
selluwud wrote:
Not so fast, say other researchers, who contend that not all iPS cells are equal. “The differences are real, but one shouldn’t overinterpret them,” says James Thomson of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, who is a co-author of the second paper. “When you go back and tweak the conditions, [iPS cells] seem to have the same potential” as ES cells, he says. The differ- ences, Thomson and others explain, are probably due to imperfections in the reprogramming process that occur when scientists activate several genes to convert a differentiated adult cell into an iPS cell. “There’s going to be a lot of noise” in the data as scientists work to diagnose and overcome reprogramming’s weak spots, Thomson says.

The latest stem cell skirmish started on 12 February with an online paper in Stem Cells in which researchers including Lanza and Shi-Jiang Lu of Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine International, another biotech company based in Worces- ter, compared the ability of eight human iPS cell lines and 25 hES cell lines to differentiate into several kinds of blood and endothelial cell types. In one test, the hES cells made more than 1000 times more of the desired cells than the iPS cell lines. They also found that, in contrast to cells derived from hES cells, various cell types produced by iPS cells started to undergo cellular aging and programmed death after a short time in culture. Such observations are especially worrisome, Lanza says, as scientists hope to use stem cells in indus- trial quantities—either for drug testing or for eventual cell therapies. (Most of Advanced Cell Technology’s intellectual property portfolio focuses on ES cells and nuclear transfer techniques.)

In the second study, Su-Chun Zhang, Thomson, and their colleagues at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, compared the differentiation of hES and iPS cells into neuronal cells. The two stem cell types behaved very similarly as they became neurons and glia, expressing the same genes at the same time, the researchers reported online 16 February in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. And both hES- and iPS-derived cells acted like normal brain cells in lab tests. But more than 90% of the hES cells responded to the chemical recipe for making neural cells, whereas the iPS cells’ response was more variable: In some lines, only 15% of cells turned into neuronal cells, in another, 79%.

In contrast to the Wisconsin group’s results, Hans Schöler, a stem cell biologist at the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Biomedicine in Münster, Germany, says he and his colleagues have noticed no differences between ES and iPS cells as they differentiated into neural stem cells. But, he adds, a member of his lab did try unsuccessfully for nearly 3 years to prompt murine iPS cells to form a healthy live-born mouse—the ultimate test of pluripotency that mouse ES cells achieve without a problem. Other groups succeeded, but the effi- ciency was still low, he notes. In addition, several groups have already reported differences in global gene expression between hES and human iPS cells.

Such observations highlight that cellular reprogramming is still an inexact science. Like Thomson and other stem cell scientists, Schöler thinks that incomplete reprogramming still mars many iPS cells. The first iPS techniques involved using viruses to insert extra copies of reprogramming genes into target cells, but the inserted genes may affect the cells’ behavior after reprogramming. Indeed, Lanza says that more-recent studies by his colleagues suggest that cells reprogrammed with newer virus-free techniques are better at differentiating.

Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University in Japan, who was the first to successfully reprogram mature mouse cells into iPS cells, says that he has also observed that the differentiation performances of iPS and hES cells vary from line to line. But his lab has not seen systematic differences between the cell types. He and his colleagues are searching for a way to accurately identify more fully reprogrammed iPS cell lines. He predicts that adding additional factors to the reprogramming mix should produce more dependable iPS cells.

Clearly, these findings do not settle the debate, says Miodrag Stojkovic of the Prince Felipe Research Centre in Valencia, Spain “We’re all very excited to work with iPS cells,” he says. “But first the science has to determine how they are similar and what is different.” –lear as mud!!

Jun 25, 2010 10:03pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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