Monday, May 21, 2007

Stem Cells Fulfilling Promise

By Ruth Kava, Ph.D., R.D.

New research has brought us one step closer to demonstrating the value for human health of embryonic stem cells (ESC) -- not merely adult stem cells, which some politicians have touted as a sufficient substitute. This has been one of the most bitterly debated and divisive topics of recent years. Opponents of ESC use argue that the potential benefits of ESC are just that -- mere potential ones yet to be demonstrated. This is substantially correct, as the science is still in its infancy. But progress is definitely being made.

According to a recent report, researchers from a biotech company in California, Geron, in cooperation with Canadian colleagues, have succeeded in producing insulin-secreting cells from human ESC. The cells they produced were similar to human pancreatic cells -- the ones that produce insulin and several other hormones. Even more impressive, the cells responded by producing insulin when the glucose level in their lab dishes was increased. This is exactly what the intact human pancreas does, and what the pancreases of diabetic humans cannot do.

While these cells are a long way from being "the cure" for type 1 diabetes (they will have to be tested in animals before they can be used in humans), they are an important step in that direction. It's possible to foresee a time when people with diabetes will be free of the necessity of injecting insulin or worrying about the sugars in the foods they consume. Slowly but surely, the promise of ESC is being fulfilled.

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Stem cell research shot in arm for Geron Treatment shows promise easing type 1 diabetes

Geron Corp.'s scientists turned human embryonic stem cells into clusters of cells that responded to sugar by making insulin, a step in developing a diabetes treatment. The company's shares rose the most in five months.

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