Stem cell distinction without a difference

In the debate over the use of embryonic stem cells vs. so-called adult stem cells, I’ve believed all along that research eventually would reach the point where there is a distinction with no practical difference between the cell types.

As sophistication for manipulating these mighty cells grows, every cell increasingly has the potential to create a whole mouse — or, getting to the crux of the debate — a whole person. Conversely, every cell has the potential to be deployed for the specialized mission of repairing damaged and diseased tissues.

Further support for this view comes today in the journal NatureResearchers at the UK’s Cambridge University have shown that stem cells taken from mouse epiblast (outer layer of an embryo after its cells have begun to specialize) can be coaxed to a state where they are “pluripotent.”

In other words, cells that had developed to the point where their destiny should have been limited to creating specialized body components such as eyes and ears were turned back to the point where they could give rise to all of the body’s various parts.

Nature observes that this development will provide a model for studying how a cell could be reprogrammed to regain the considerable power of pluripotency, which an early embryo loses very quickly.

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