FaithWorld

South Korea back in stem cell spotlight with new adult cell treatment for hearts

(A researcher uses a microscope during a photo call at an aseptic room of the FCB-Pharmicell laboratory in Seongnam, near Seoul, June 28, 2011/Jo Yong-Hak)

More than five years after South Korea’s scientific reputation was shattered by a cloning research scandal, the country has approved medication from adult stem cells in the form of a treatment for heart attack victims for the world’s first clinical use. South Korea all but put stem cell research into the deep freeze after a pre-eminent scientist, Hwang Woo-suk, was found guilty of fraud for his work in the field in 2005.

The state Korea Food and Drug Administration’s (KFDA) approval for the sale of the Hearticellgram-AMI treatment, developed by FCB-Pharmicell, from July 1 signals an ambitious new push to put research in the field back on the frontline. “This marks the government opening the road for progressive development in stem cell research,” said Oh Il-hwan, professor of molecular biology at the Catholic University School of Medicine in Seoul. “It is expected to make it more accommodating for clinical research in this field,” said Oh, who previously sat on KFDA panels overseeing stem cell research.

Unlike embryonic stem cells, the use of somatic — or adult — stem cells, as in this case, is not ethically controversial as they are derived from adult tissue samples and not destroyed human embryos. Stem cells are the body’s master cells and the source of all cells and tissues. Because of their ability to generate different types of cells and multiply and self-renew, scientists hope to harness them to treat a variety of diseases and disorders, including cancer and diabetes, and injuries.

The use of somatic stem cells in treatment is not unprecedented for patients who do not respond to conventional therapy. Countries such as the United States and Germany are using this radical form of treatment in a ‘research’ capacity. What puts the South Korean team ahead is that it has shown the treatment as being good enough to win regulatory approval and make it available for clinical use.

Who wants to live forever? Scientist sees aging “cured” by stem cells

(An elderly couple stroll through Tiergarten central park on a sunny autumn day in Berlin October 29, 2010./Fabrizio Bensch)

If Aubrey de Grey’s predictions are right, the first person who will live to see their 150th birthday has already been born. And the first person to live for 1,000 years could be less than 20 years younger. A biomedical gerontologist and chief scientist of a foundation dedicated to longevity research, de Grey reckons that within his own lifetime doctors could have all the tools they need to “cure” aging — banishing diseases that come with it and extending life indefinitely.

“I’d say we have a 50/50 chance of bringing aging under what I’d call a decisive level of medical control within the next 25 years or so,” de Grey said in an interview before delivering a lecture at Britain’s Royal Institution academy of science. “And what I mean by decisive is the same sort of medical control that we have over most infectious diseases today.”

Imperfections mar hopes for “ethical” reprogrammed stem cells

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(Institute of Cellular Medicine, in San Jose, Costa Rica, May 18, 2010/Juan Carlos Ulate )

When scientists announced five years ago they could reprogram ordinary skin cells into behaving like embryonic stem cells, religious conservatives and others who opposed the use of stem cells cheered the advance. But while they have proven to be a powerful new way to study human disease, the reprogrammed cells — known as induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPS cells — are no substitute for embryonic stem cells.

“This has strong policy implications,” Dr. George Daley of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute and Harvard Medical School said in a telephone interview. “It has not ever been a scientifically driven argument that iPS cells are a worthy and complete substitute for embryonic stem cells. Those arguments were always made based on political and religious opposition to embryonic stem cells.”

Obama signals open to change on stem cell policy

U.S. President Barack Obama signaled on Tuesday that he would be open to policy changes on stem cell research if the science on adult stem cells determined that thorny ethical issues could be avoided without harming medical advancement.

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Obama lifted restrictions on federal funding of human embryonic stem cell research earlier this month, angering abortion opponents but cheering those who believe the study could produce treatments for many diseases.

Asked at a White House news conference if he wrestled with the ethics of the issue, given the promise in adult stem cell research, Obama said: