NRL News

New Study Show Critical similarity between Embryonic Stem Cells and Ethical Alternative

by | Sep 14, 2011

By Dave Andrusko

Prof. Joshua Coon

A study out of the University of Wisconsin released late Sunday night concludes that embryonic stem cells (ESCs) and induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) are 99% identical. While caution should always be exercised, the potential impact is enormous.

ESCs are lethally extracted from human embryos. iPSCs come from the patient’s own body in a process by which an adult cell—typically a skin cell—is reprogrammed and induced to revert back in time. The former is laden with ethical controversy; the latter is burdened with none.

In the past couple of years new technologies have shown that the two types of stem cells to be similar. But until now, nobody has had the ability to look at the proteins, the molecules that do most biological functions, said Joshua Coon, an associate professor of chemistry and biomolecular chemistry who directed the project, in a statement.

New technology (“cutting edge proteomic technologies”) allowed researchers to measure the way the cells regulate their proteins. In a study that appeared online in Nature Methods, Coon’s team looked at four embryonic stem cells and four IPS cells.  

“We looked at RNA, at proteins, and at structures on the proteins that help regulate their activity, and saw substantial similarity between the two stem-cell types,” Coon told By “substantial” he meant 99% similar! The team measured more than 6,000 individual proteins.

Not only are iPSCs free of ethical controversy, because they come from the patient’s own body, it circumvents the issue of tissue rejection.

While this is very encouraging news, it’s also important to remember that there is already in use a proven alternative to embryonic stem cells: adult stem cells from bone marrow, umbilical cord blood, and other tissues. They are treating thousands of patients around the globe, with an estimated 50,000 adult stem cell transplants occurring annually worldwide.

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