Stem cell treatments have proven successful for many diseases, and there is great promise that new treatments will emerge to combat even more maladies. These successful treatments involve inserting correctly functioning stem cells into tissues where native mutated cells have caused disease.
Researchers have typically used viruses to deliver specific genes to cells during the conversion of ordinary skin cells into pluripotent stem cells, which are able to differentiate into a variety of tissue types. These genes cause the cells to wind back their clocks from “differentiated” skin back to “undifferentiated,” or undecided, cells. But using viruses increases the risk of cancer and other side effects.
Now, scientists have successfully delivered the “clock-reversing” genes using a new technique that uses a transposon instead of a virus. Transposons are segments of DNA that have the ability to cut out and then splice into different, but usually specified, places on chromosomes. They are one of the many gene-shuffling mechanisms that God placed into living organisms to give them the potential for rapid variation (even in just one generation!). In many cases, this variation has increased the survival chances of those with a combination of genetic elements that can produce descendents that best fit their environment.
With the results of this new research, yet another reason for God to have implanted transposons is possible: He foreknew their potential to combat disease. As mutations build up over generations, incidences of illness increase. It is conceivable that the Creator God would manifest His grace by providing transposons to use in medicine. In this way, not only is the risk of cancer reduced, but so is the need to destroy unborn humans by harvesting embryonic stem cells.
- Hirschler, B. Researchers find safer way to make stem cells. Reuters, March 2, 2009.
* Mr. Thomas is Science Writer.
Article posted on March 16, 2009.