Stem cell finding does not end debate

Shinya Yamamata cautioned that the new stem cells haven't been fully tested, and they were produced using retroviruses, even cancer genes, which would make the resulting tissue unsuitable for transplant.

Stem cell image from Wellcome Trust of the United KingdomThe discovery of regulator genes which can turn skin cells into stem cells does not end the scientific debate over the use of stem cells from human embryos, according to the scientists who made the discovery.

(The picture of a human stem cell is from the Wellcome Trust of the United Kingdom.)

This fact was buried in last week's reporting of the event, where it was spun as either the possible end of the political debate (as at this blog) or a vindication of conservative positions on the matter.

Shinya Yamamata cautioned that the new stem cells haven't been fully tested, and they were produced using retroviruses, even cancer genes, which would make the resulting tissue unsuitable for transplant.

Instead the new stem cells will be used to study the disease process, which could lead to conventional cures.

It is also possible that the new stem cells could be produced using chemicals or benign viruses, but that is not yet certain.

All this illustrates the vast distance between scientific and political debate, something which must be closed in order for discoveries to become cures.

There are now hundreds of labs around the world working on the reprogramming technique pioneered by Dr. James Thomson at the University of Wisconsin and Dr. Yamamata, who works at Kyoto University in Japan and UC-San Francisco in the U.S.

There are also thousands of politicians across the U.S. looking to take political advantage, credit, or controversy off the discovery, and it will be interesting to see which political arguments gain traction over the next few months.

But not scientifically interesting. And if things get too politically interesting, it's still possible most of this work will migrate offshore.

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