Video: Stem cell advance
updated 8/22/2005 5:05:17 PM ET 2005-08-22T21:05:17

In a potential new breakthrough in stem cell research, Harvard researchers say they may have found a way to create useful stem cells using adult skin cells.

This offers the possibility of using controversial embryonic stem cells is a manner that could be met with less controversy.

Dr. Bernadine Healy, the former director of the National Institute of Health, spoke with MSNBC-TV's Alison Stewart on Monday about how the research could change the stem cell debate.

To read an excerpt of their conversation, continue to the text below. To watch the video, click on the "Launch" button to the right.

ALLISON STEWART, MSNBC-TV ANCHOR: Can you explain to me in the simplest terms, what this new thing is, and how it is used.

DR. BERNADINE HEALY, FORMER DIRECTOR OF THE NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF HEALTH: What is happening, and it’s actually fairly simple, is an adult skin cell is fused with preexisting embryonic cells that has been growing in a laboratory.

The two kinds of cells, the embryo cell and the adult skin cell, are fused, and during the process of that fusion, one cell is created. Remarkably, the embryonic cell that has been growing in the culture, reprograms the adult cell’s nuclear material, which is the blueprint for that cell, makes it behave like an embryonic cell. So that adult cell is basically thrown back in time, and becomes a young embryonic cell just by the association that it keeps, by being part of the fusion with that embryo cell.

Why this is exciting Alison is that is bypasses the need to grow the embryo and then suck out the stem cells from the embryo.

STEWART: What do you believe the political ramifications of this discovery will be?

HEALY: If this becomes the way that we are going to generate embryonic stem cells that are the same type as the original patient, which is what you would like if it is for therapy, you want it to be the exact same genetic type so there is no rejection.

If this works, what it means is that we will be focusing on the science of stem cells and not the politics of stem cells. Which I do believe has distracted a lot of people, and taken out eyes off the ball.

STEWART: Could there be any other kind of controversy created by this, by the reprogramming of cells? Could this become another issue?

HEALY: I don’t think so, because this is really new science Alison, I think we’re all really astounded how the adult chromosome can be reprogrammed into a primitive form. So I think a lot of research has to be done here.

The other thing that is very important, this fused cell has twice as many chromosomes, so before this can be used therapeutically, you have to get rid of those original embryo DNA, you don’t want that, you just want the patients DNA. Normally we have 46 chromosomes, but because it’s a fusion, they have 92. We don’t want 92 in our cells, we’ll have to suck out the 46 that came for the embryonic stem cells.

So there are a lot of technological hurdles ahead. But Alison, one very good thing for women is that women would not have to be producing eggs in order to harvest these cells. This also bypasses the need for human eggs, which is a rather elaborate procedure. It’s not as easy as a sperm donation.

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