He is both a goat and a hero. James Thomson, a University of Wisconsin researcher, isolated the first embryonic stem cell, igniting the stem cell revolution and contentious debate about whether embryos should be destroyed for research purposes. Thomson also co-discovered induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells), an ethical means of reprogramming ordinary skin cells to have the same attributes as embryonic stem cells with no destruction of human life.
The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reports that Thomson is this years Gold winner in the Wall Street Journal Technology Innovation Awards contest. The award is for his work with ethical iPS cells. Thomson’s company, Cellular Dynamics (CDI) is making literally billions of heart cells using iPS research. “Our hope is it’ll make the drug-discovery process faster and cheaper and lot safer for people,” says Thomson.
The WSJ article states: “CDI says not only is it able to manufacture more than one billion heart cells a day, it also is capable of making cells from any particular individual, which would be critical if stem cells were being placed in a patient for therapeutic purposes. The ability to generate heart cells from a patient’s own skin or blood cells, for instance, would eliminate the potential that the immune system would see the cells as foreign invaders and reject them.” And, therein, lies the beauty if iPS cells — patient-specific cells which the body will not reject. Embryonic stem cells, since they come from a different member of the human family, would be rejected.
Progress and profits from ethical stem cells provide great hope for the future and a win-win outcome. No one is destroyed in the research process, and the patient benefits from ethical research using his/her own cells. Is Thomson a goat or hero? You decide.
Read the Wall Street Journal article here.