Any legislation that slows human embryonic stem cell research is likely to also seriously harm the study of induced pluripotent stem cells, according to a new study by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine, the Mayo Clinic and the University of Michigan.
The finding strongly refutes the idea that embryonic stem cell research can be abandoned in favor of the less-controversial iPS cells, which are derived from adult human tissue.
“If federal funding stops for human embryonic stem cell research, it would have a serious negative impact on iPS cell research,” said Stanford bioethicist Christopher Scott, citing a “false dichotomy” between the cell types. “We may never be able to choose between iPS and ES cell research because we don’t know which type of cell will be best for eventual therapies.”
Scott, who directs Stanford’s Stem Cells in Society Program, is the first author of the study, which compared the patterns of scientific publication on human embryonic and induced pluripotent stem cells. The study was published in the June 10 issue of Cell.
The researchers also concluded that human embryonic stem cell research does not siphon federal funding away from studies of iPS cells, as has been claimed by the two plaintiffs in an ongoing Washington, D.C., district court case under consideration by Judge Royce Lamberth. Instead, studies of the two types of stem cells are likely to occur in tandem as established embryonic stem cell researchers rush to buffer themselves against a possible loss of federal funding.
“We’re finding that scientific decisions are being made not because of science, but in response to other constraints, such as which cell types qualify for federal funding, how many lines are available and which can be obtained quickly and easily,” said Scott.
As a result, the fields have become so tightly intertwined as to be inseparable; any loss of funding for these researchers will negatively impact all the work in their labs, including iPS cell research, Scott and his colleagues conclude.
Unlike embryonic stem cells, which are derived from human embryos, iPS cells can be created from adult tissue such as skin cells. They look and act like embryonic stem cells, but recent research has suggested that there are significant differences between the two cell types that may affect how they can be used for research and eventual human therapies.
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