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Breakthrough in stem cell research

Published on September 15, 2008

15 September 2008

BRUSSELS — Scientists at the University Hospital of Brussels have developed a way to extract stem cells without having to destroy the embryo.

This discovery could be a breakthrough in stem cell research in countries where it is prohibited for ethical reasons.

Hilde Van de Velde, clinical embryologist at the University Hospital of Brussels in Jette explains: "We have discovered that we can take the stem cells at an earlier stage in the development of the embryo- when it consists of just four cells. We have shown that you can take cells from just one of the four cells."

The three other cells can be further cultivated and form an embryo which can be put into the uterus for normal development.

No embryo is lost in the process and will solve the big ethical problem revolving around stem cell research, say scientists in Brussels.

Dr Van de Velde stresses this is a very important breakthrough: "There are a number of countries, including Italy, United States and Switzerland, where it’s not possible to do stem cell research – but if turns out that we can save the embryo it should open doors for stem cell research in these countries as well."

Importance of stem cell research
Stem cells are cells that are able to differentiate into specialised cell types but also retain the ability to renew themselves through cell division.

Stem cell research offers potential in the development of medical treatments for wide range of conditions with damage to the brain, spinal cord, skeletal muscles and the heart.

Treatments that have been proposed follow either physical trauma (e.g. spinal cord injuries), degenerative conditions such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer or even genetic diseases.

Stem cells act as a repair system for the body, replenishing specialised cells, but also maintaining the normal turnover of regenerative organs, such as blood, skin or intestinal tissues.

The method is controversial however because until now it has always involved the destruction of the embryo.

[ / Expatica]