George Bush, Promoter of Stem Cell Research

Partha Desikan

 The title of this blog means exactly what I intended it to mean. I do not propose to go into the ethical questions stirred up by the dawn of this discipline towards the end of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first.

On Aug 9, 2001, barely a month after US scientists had created human embryos exclusively for harvesting stem cells (SC), President Bush announced that federal funding would be available only for such work from the 64 embryonic cell lines created up to that date.

In Nov that year US scientists had cloned a human embryo for the first time, using the somatic cell nuclear transfer technique (SCNT), also known as parthenogenesis. In Feb 2002, they created a monkey embryo from an egg through SCNT. By Feb 2003, scientists knew how to manipulate genes in SC, a key step towards studying how genes functioned in them. In May 2003, US scientists harvested SC from blastocytes created by SCNT. The key genes responsible for making SC very long lived (immortal!) were identified around the same time. In Nov 2004, the State of California granted a spending of 3 billion dollars over 10 years on hESC research. An American investigation succeeded in coaxing hESC to become heart muscle cells. It is now known that hESC can become any one of 250 odd different kinds of cells.

 
In UK, the concerned regulatory authority granted licenses in Mar 2002 to develop SC from hE (human embryos). The first cell line using hESC was grown in UK in Aug 2003. By May 2004, the first stem cell bank in the world had opened in UK to store SC for research and treatment. The regulatory authority granted the first license to create ESC by using the SCNT in Aug 2004.

 
As UK, Japanese and US scientists continued to make significant advances in stem cell research, President Bush was on the scene again. He vetoed legislation in July 2006 to expand federal funding for hESC research.

 
With hESC research stifled, US scientists turned their attention to adult hSC. They have achieved a lot in this area. The initial limitation that adult cells could become only a few human body-part cells in comparison with the versatile ESC was overcome by the development of a new technique called induced Pluripotent Stem Cell (iPSC) technique.

This initially involved the use of viral vectors to introduce the four prescribed modifier genes into the adult SC. Even this need has been overcome by recent research in Kyoto, Japan.

 

While it will take a few more years before entire organs would become available by these techniques, the use of these with adult hSC will go a long way in the understanding of how diseases set in, how they progress and how they can be treated.

 
Need I draw attention to the identity of the one world citizen who is responsible for all these developments?

 

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