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New Kind of Stem Cells Reverse Sickle Cell Anemia
Date:12/6/2007

Mouse study proves these stem cells could treat diseases, though dangers remain

THURSDAY, Dec. 6 (HealthDay News) --Scientists have succeeded in using cells virtually identical to embryonic stem cells to "correct" sickle cell anemia in mice.

The breakthrough was made possible by another advance announced barely two weeks ago that scientists had created "induced pluripotent stem" (iPS) cells from human skin cells. These iPS cells are very similar, although not exactly identical, to embryonic stem cells. The process bypasses the need to use embryos, and thus circumvents many of the ethical complications surrounding this type of research.

The first research announcement had left open the question of whether iPS cells could actually be used for therapeutic purposes.

That question has now been at least partially answered by this latest report.

"This study is important as a proof of principle that these iPS cells can be used to correct mutations," said Dr. Jacob Hanna, lead author of the study, which is published in the Dec. 6 online issue of Science Express.

Hanna is a postdoctoral fellow in Rudolf Jaenisch's laboratory at The Whitehead Institute in Boston.

"It's very fascinating that they're using these reprogrammed cells to make hematopoietic cells [which can produce different blood and immune cells] to then treat the genetic defect in these mice," said Paul Sanberg, director of the University of South Florida Center for Aging and Brain Repair in Tampa.

Embryonic stem cells are pluripotent, meaning they have the capacity to develop into virtually any cell type in the body. The hope is that such cells may one day yield treatments or cures for diseases such as diabetes, liver failure, spinal injury, stroke, Alzheimer's disease and heart disease.

However, harvesting embryonic stem cells involves destroying a viable embryo, stirring much political debate. In
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