The induced pluripotent stem cell breakthrough continues to be useful in the very ways that “the scientists” once said only human cloning could provide. Now, in what appears to be a very notable breakthrough, they have been used to make patient-specific, tailor made neural cells for study. More, they have even created a “mini-brain.” From the Nature story:
With the right mix of nutrients and a little bit of coaxing, human stem cells derived from skin can assemble spontaneously into brain-like chunks of tissue. Researchers provide the first description and application of these ‘mini-brains’ today in Nature “It’s a seminal study to making a brain in a dish,” says Clive Svendsen, a neurobiologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, who was not involved in the study.
Important information has already been obtained from the cells:
The researchers found that tissue chunks cultured from stem cells derived from the skin of a single human with microcephaly did not grow as big as clumps grown from stem cells derived from a healthy person. They traced this effect to the premature differentiation of neural stem cells inside the microcephalic tissue chunks, depleting the population of progenitor cells that fuels normal brain growth.
The findings largely confirm prevailing theories about microcephaly, says Arnold Kriegstein, a developmental neurobiologist at the University of California, San Francisco. But, he adds, the study also demonstrates the potential for using human-stem-cell-derived tissues to model other disorders, if cell growth can be controlled more reliably.
This is terrific but it won’t stop “the scientists” from researching human cloning. Indeed, if every disease known to man were cured by IPSCs or adult stem cells, the scientists would shrug and keep on cloning. That is the highway to Brave New World technologies such as genetic enhancement, chimeric recreationism, and fetal farming.
But just because some want to do that, it doesn’t mean society has to go along.