Small step in stem cell research a giant leap for mankind?

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A multinational team of stem cell researchers published a groundbreaking report in the recent edition of the journal Nature, describing the production of functioning liver-type tissue derived from a mixture of several types of induced pluripotent stem cells after implantation into mice.

The researchers found that a mixture of human liver precursor cells and two other cell types can spontaneously form three-dimensional structures dubbed liver buds. In the mice, these liver buds formed functional connections with natural blood vessels and were able to perform some liver-specific functions, including breaking down drugs in the bloodstream and releasing enzymes typical of liver-cell activity. In effect, these tiny buds were human mini-livers, observed in mice.

"The real breakthrough here is that the tissues revascularized, growing new blood vessels, after being implanted. That's amazing, a very good result," says researcher Alejandro Soto-Gutierrez of the Center for Innovative Pediatric Regenerative Therapies in Pittsburgh, who was not in the study s research team, which was led by Takanori Takebe of the Department of Regenerative Medicine, Yokohama City University Graduate School of Medicine, Japan.

ACSH has been a fervent advocate for supporting research progress in ESCs (embryonic stem cells) for years, despite the controversy involving the objections of some to using human embryonic tissues in research. In a recent discussion of a parallel breakthrough in May, when scientists in Oregon produced tissue-identical cells using stem cell technology to allow replenishment of a baby s immune system, ACSH S Dr. Gilbert Ross had this comment: This development has the potential to completely revolutionize the way we treat not only genetic diseases, but a wide range of potentially treatable conditions requiring replacement of degenerated tissues or organs irreversibly damaged by toxins or cancer. This breakthrough is the holy grail of stem cell research, albeit in its very early stages.

We would say the same thing about this latest breakthrough.