The Near Future of Stem Cell Science

A recent article captures, I feel, the zeitgeist of stem cell science:

"Once we have found the factors by which body cells can be re-programmed into stem cells, then therapeutic cloning might become superfluous," said Hans R. Scholer, director of the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Biomedicine in Munster, Germany, at an international scientific symposium on stem cell research in Kobe, Japan.


"The fact that cell biology is becoming increasingly combined with molecular biology is a major step forward."

While first generation stem cell therapies - transplants, in effect, founded on well-educated guesswork and careful experimentation ahead of an understanding of the mechanisms involved - are on their way from laboratories and successful trials to the wider marketplace, the forward edge of research is now very much focused on understanding and controlling stem cell behavior and biochemistry ... right down there at the molecular level. As Scholer notes, knowing what makes a stem cell a stem cell is high on the priority list - being able to turn normal cells into stem cells on demand would solve a great many logistical problems for regenerative medicine aimed at repairing age-related conditions.

Fighting aging through advanced medical technology will be more than just a matter of brewing up stem cells and setting them to work, however. For example, one problem that cannot be solved with an infinite supply of your own stem cells is the effect of accumulated DNA damage, occuring in both cell nuclei and power-generating mitochrondria. This damage is happening to your stem cells as well as your other tissues, degrading their efficiency at best and creating cancer stem cells at worst.

The longer and harder you look, the more complex our cellular biochemistry becomes. It makes developing the technologies of radical life extension seem like a daunting task, to say the least. But it is important to remember that it this worthy goal is no more daunting nor difficult than curing cancer: the key is funding and public support for the science of healthy life extension.

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