"[G]ood news on stem cells is flowing fast again," including a recent announcement by Toronto scientists that "they could safely turn a fragment of skin into all-purpose stem cells," according to an editorial from London's Financial Times. The discovery -- which involves "induced pluripotent stem cells," or iPS cells -- is a process that "would have seemed like biochemical magic just a few years ago: take adult cells, add genes, and hey presto, you have reprogrammed the cells back to an embryonic state without involving an actual embryo," the editorial says. There are also "encouraging developments on the political and regulatory fronts, notably the [FDA's] authorization of the first clinical trial of embryonic stem cells to treat spinal injury," according to the editorial.

Opponents of embryonic stem cell research are now arguing that "the latest developments are a reason to abandon embryonic stem cells," the editorial says. However, politicians should "reject" this argument, the editorial continues, noting that the iPS discovery "was based firmly on work with human embryos, and every scientist in the field insists that its future depends on continuing to work on embryonic stem cells." According to the editorial, it is time for President Obama to "demonstrate his oft-stated support for embryonic stem cell research by lifting" former President George W. Bush's restrictions on federal funding for the research.

Although it might be possible in the future to "reap the rewards of regenerative medicine without using embryos as a source of stem cells, ... no one should imagine that all ethical issues would then disappear," the editorial says. It continues that scientists and their supporters should "be on guard against a frenzy of hype of the sort that occasionally overtakes biomedical research," adding that "it will be many years before we see the most talked about applications [of stem cells], such as replacing lost brain cells in Alzheimer's and Parkinson's patients." The editorial says that "initial hopes" of new biomedical research are "always exaggerated," concluding, "We do not want stem cells to lose public and political support because scientists have promised too much too soon" (Financial Times, 3/3).

Reprinted with kind permission from nationalpartnership. You can view the entire Daily Women's Health Policy Report, search the archives, or sign up for email delivery here. The Daily Women's Health Policy Report is a free service of the National Partnership for Women & Families, published by The Advisory Board Company.

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