Saturday, June 30, 2012

Hope and Hype in the World of Stem Cells

If you're looking for revolutionary potential, unprecedented hype, and fierce controversy, you can't do much better than stem cells. Celebrity spokesmen praise stem cells as a miracle cure for apparently everything, while politicians argue whether the use of embryonic stem cells is equivalent to murder. As a field, stem cell biology is just starting to come into its own. A LOT more research is necessary before it can live up to the lofty expectations we've built up. But the scientific breakthroughs are coming fast.

Embryonic stem (ES) cells are controversial
Now a major advance has just been achieved by a group of scientists at the Gladstone Institute. Full disclosure: This is where I work, and I was very fortunate to actually have a small role in the project, which I'll explain in a minute. Readers of my blog know that I'm a shameless proponent of my friends' research. No shame because it's legitimately amazing. The newest study, lead by Karen Ring, will appear in the journal Cell Stem Cell next month (you can access it online now, here). Essentially what Karen and her colleagues discovered is a much better way of creating neurons out of skin cells. Newly-created neurons are the basis for hopes that stem cells might