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New research on stem cells



Published: Fri, August 26, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



San Jose Mercury News: Medical researchers are fond of saying that they've only begun to scratch the surface of our potential medical knowledge.

That is especially true for stem-cell research, which is why breakthroughs in the promising field are welcome and why we should continue to support further developments.

Harvard researchers announced Sunday that they had discovered a technique that turns ordinary skin cells into what appear to be embryonic stem cells. This is a potentially significant accomplishment that could mute ethical concerns about the process of harvesting embryonic stem cells.

The Harvard scientific team noted that immense hurdles remain, including the need to "extract" the stem-cell DNA from the hybrid cells that are created in the application of the technique.

The uncertainty means that stem-cell researchers should continue embryonic stem-cell research efforts to discover new therapies for many of our most devastating diseases.

New techniques

Some members of Congress are encouraging scientists to stop embryonic stem-cell research in the hope that new techniques -- like the one being developed at Harvard -- will no longer require scientists to destroy days-old embryos to get stem cells.

President Bush continues to oppose any loosening of his restrictive embryonic stem-cell research policies, even though he approves of in-vitro fertilization, which also involves the destruction of thousands of embryos.

It's far too early to determine which, if any, of the stem-cell processes now being researched will result in cures for maladies ranging from diabetes to Parkinson's to paralysis. That's why a range of efforts are needed to develop the technology.

The U.S. Senate should pass legislation already approved in the House to encourage embryonic stem-cell research. Just don't expect the president to sign the bill anytime soon, despite the growing number of Republicans signing on to the legislation, including Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., who is a medical doctor.

Hardly a month goes by without an announcement of a major breakthrough in stem-cell research. Every advancement only further illuminates the president's stubbornness and the wisdom of California voters' last fall in passing $3 billion in bonds to further the research.




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