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The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

Stem cell doors open, speaker says

By Linsey Fagan/reporter

New advances in stem cell research have opened new doors for scientists all over the world, a world-renowned genetic educator told a packed audience on NE Campus last week.

Sponsored by the natural sciences department and student activities, Sam Rhine presented Genetics Update: Stem Cell Research, Cloning and More, a 90-minute discussion of the latest genetic discoveries Feb. 4. Rhine has been called “the most effective human genetics educator in America today.”

“It will be amazing to see what happens in the next few years,” he said.

Until recently, the government did not fund stem cell research because it involved destroying an embryo (under 10 days old).

Last November, scientists used human skin to make “ethical” embryonic stem cells. Thus, scientists have found a way to create embryonic stem cells without destroying a embryo. This breakthrough opens new doors because federal funding is now available for these new developments, Rhine said.

“Ninety-nine percent of the funding for most scientific research is paid for by the federal government,” he said.

That money is now available to help research all of the possibilities.

In his State of the Union address Jan. 28, President Bush reversed some of his previous opinions on stem cell research because of the November discovery.

“This breakthrough has the potential to move us beyond the divisive debates of the past by extending the frontiers of medicine without the destruction of human life,” Bush said. “So we are expanding funding for this type of ethical medical research.”

So what are stem cells and why are they researched?

On its simple level, a stem cell is the most basic of cells in bone marrow and the start of all cells. Upon division, the cell produces dissimilar cells.

Rhine said stem cells are classified into two types: embryonic and adult.

Embryonic cells can become any of the 220 somatic cell types (the different types of cells in the body). They must be obtained within 10 days from an embryo, Rhine said, and the success rate of obtaining them is only 1 percent. However, they are “immortal” because they have unlimited ability to self-renew.

Adult stem cells also can become one or more of 220 somatic cells. However, the differences are vast, Rhine said.

Adult stem cells can be obtained any time and have a 100 percent success rate of obtaining. But they have limited ability to self-renew.

Rhine said the November discovery could open innumerable opportunities.

Some of the possibilities scientists are looking into and are excited about include developing therapy for Parkinson’s, correcting retinal problems, correcting heart problems, repairing brain injury after stroke and restoring damage from cerebral palsy.

The “hype” over embryonic stem cells, Rhine said, arrives mainly from their ability to become any cell in the human body.

As an example, Rhine told about a friend who has a spinal cord injury and cannot walk. Potentially, doctors could take a skin cell from his friend and send it back to its origins (square one), where it can become any one of the 220 somatic cells. From there, scientists could give signals to this cell or cells to repair spinal cord injuries. These cells would multiply until there were enough to help Rhine’s friend walk again.

Rhine said stem cell research potentially could cure diabetes. His son has diabetes, and scientists could take his son’s skin cell and send it back to that original form. From there, doctors could send a signal to this cell or cells to become the cells in the pancreas that produce a sufficient amount of insulin.

Rhine also discussed the issue of tissue engineering, combining cells with other material and biochemicals to improve or replace cells. For instance, lab-grown cartilage has been successfully used to repair knee cartilage, Rhine said.

Through tissue engineering, scientists at Wake Forest University created artificial bladders and successfully implanted them into seven test subjects.

In January, Doris Taylor and a team of scientists from the University of Minnesota Center for Cardiovascular Repair created a rat’s heart in a lab, thus paving the way for the replacement of organs by using a patient’s own cells.

“The political, ethical and religious disagreements have now disappeared,” he said.

For more information on Rhine or stem cell research, visit or

Developments in cloning:

March 1996—Cloned sheep from embryo donor cell.
July 1996—Cloned sheep from adult somatic cell.
August 1996—Monkeys cloned
August 1997—Cattle cloned
July 1998—Mice cloned
March 2000—Pig cloned
June 2000—Goat cloned
February 2002—Cat cloned*
April 2002—Rabbit cloned
May 2003—Mule cloned
August 2003—Horse cloned**
August 2005—Dog cloned
May 2006—Ferret cloned
April 2007—Wolf cloned

* at Texas A&M University
** Donor for clone was also surrogate mother. The surrogate mother delivered its own twin.

Developments in stem cell research:
November 1998—Human embryonic stem cells grown in laboratory
November 2001—Human cloned embryo
August 2006—Mouse skin cell taken back to pluripotency
November 2007—Human skin cell taken back to pluripotency

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