An important step forward in adult stem cell research has offered hope of new medical treatments without any need to use human embryos.
This will fuel calls to reject embryo research which, after a decade of work, has failed to produce any treatments.
In this latest advance, scientists at Harvard Medical School used cells from the skin of adults suffering from diseases to produce stem cells that act like those taken from embryos.
Stem cells are the body’s ‘master’ cells, which can be grown into various kinds of body tissues. Scientists hope to use them to repair damaged tissues.
This latest breakthrough will allow researchers to gain insights into the cause of illnesses including Type 1 diabetes, Down’s syndrome and Huntington’s disease.
Researchers hope that by ‘rewinding’ the stem cells from patients with diseases to this embryonic-like state they will be able to learn more about the way the diseases develop.
Scientists around the world are increasingly moving towards non-embryonic stem cell research.
Stem cells from sources such as bone marrow and umbilical cord blood have now been used to successfully treat at least 72 conditions.
Breakthroughs, like this one from Harvard, have led a number of scientists to move away from embryonic stem cell research.
The scientist behind the Harvard work, Willy Lensch, said: “This will help us understand the environmental causes that push these undefined cells to become diseases.
“We can look at what is happening to the hormones, the genes, the growth factors, and compare that to cells that don’t have the mutations – learn new things.”
Mike Judge, Head of Communications at The Christian Institute, said: “This shows the stem cells debate is not ‘religion versus science’. There are differing opinions within science itself on the best way to advance stem cell research.
“Those of us opposed to the Government’s plans to allow more research on human embryos are not anti-science. We are very much in favour of successful, ethical science which does not destroy human embryos.
“In terms of treatments, adult stem cell research has shown itself to be more successful than embryonic work. The Government should be putting taxpayers’ money into this area of study, not the highly-controversial research using human embryos which has so far led to no treatments.”