Seeing life from a petri dish . . .

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The idea that the fastest route to new therapies based on stem cell research must run through the use of embryonic material took another hit with yet another recent advancement in research using differenciated or "adult" cells at Harvard. Scientists were able to "reprogram" ordinary pancreas cells into a rarer cell type that churns out insulin, essential for preventing diabetes. The studies have so far only been conducted on mice but hold out hope for a number of breakthroughs that might lead to treatments like growing new heart cells after a heart
attack or nerve cells to treat disorders like ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease).

The AP reports: "It's the second advance in about a year that suggests that someday
doctors might be able to use a patient's own cells to treat disease or
injury without turning to stem cells taken from embryos.

"'The work is "a major leap' in reprogramming cells from one kind to
another, said one expert not involved in the research, John Gearhart of
the University of Pennsylvania.

"That's because the feat was performed in living mice rather than a
lab dish, the process was efficient and it was achieved directly
without going through a middleman like embryonic stem cells. . . . "