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Discovery could alter stem-cell funding

An embryologist examines a dish with human embryos under a microscope at the La Jolla IVF Clinic in La Jolla, Calif.

TEXT OF STORY

KAI RYSSDAL: There have been two key sticking points in the discussion over stem cells. Where would the cells come from? And who would put up the money? Until now there's been just one source -- human embryos. The news today, that scientists have been able to make stem cells from ordinary skin cells, could change the terms of the financial debate.

Janet Babin reports from the Marketplace Innovations Desk at North Carolina Public Radio.


JANET BABIN: It used to be that, scientists who wanted to conduct embryonic stem cell research had to get the cells from a human embryo. What these Japanese and American researchers did instead, was take skins cells and reprogram, or modify, them so that they act like embryonic stem cells. That means theoretically, if the cells are used to say, repair damaged heart tissue, your immune system would accept them, because they'd be your own cells.

Dr. Robert Lanza, with Advanced Cell Technology explains.

ROBERT LANZA: You start out with a cell from the patient. You create an embryonic stem cell line, and any replacement cells or organs you generate are the patient's own cells so the body will not reject them.

The new method also gets rid of the ethical controversy around using human eggs. From 1998 to 2001, there was virtually no federal funds for this work. Since then, President Bush limited the funds through an executive order. With the money gone, the talent left the field or the country, and so too went a lot of the investors. Now they may be back. George Daley's with the Harvard Stem Cell Institute.

GEORGE DALEY: The announcement's probably gonna prompt tremendous new enthusiasm and hopefully new investment.

That could foster even greater advances in stem cell biology. But even with today's breakthrough, embryonic stem cells are still years away from curing disease.

In Durham, North Carolina, I'm Janet Babin for Marketplace.

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