Progress in Stem Cell Research

By Caty Weaver

This is the VOA Special English SCIENCE REPORT.

Two new American studies report major progress in stem cell research. Stem cells can develop into other kinds of cells and tissues. Scientists believe stem cells could become extremely important in the treatment of disease and injury.

Scientists at the National Institutes of Health near Washington, D-C carried out one of the studies. They took stem cells from unborn mice. The scientists then forced the embryonic stem cells to develop into several kinds of cells found in the organ called the pancreas. The cells then formed structures very similar to the pancreatic structures that produce insulin.

Insulin is an important hormone that controls sugar levels in the blood. Some people do not produce enough insulin or the insulin does not act correctly in their bodies. These people have the disease diabetes.

The N-I-H scientists say the laboratory versions of the pancreatic structures acted like the real ones. They released insulin in the presence of sugar. The scientists injected the structures into diabetic mice. The mice's natural defense systems did not reject the foreign structures. In fact, the bodies of the mice reacted by increasing blood supplies to support the structures. The treatment did not cure the mice of diabetes. But the scientists say the mice lived longer than they would have without the treatment.

Scientists at Rockefeller University and Sloan-Kettering Institute in New York carried out the other study. The Rockefeller University researchers took a cell from a mouse tail and removed the genetic material. The researchers then removed the genetic material from a mouse egg. They put the genetic material from the skin cell into the mouse egg. In a few days an embryo began to form.

An embryo is a human or animal in the first days or weeks of existence. Stem cells from embryos can develop into all kinds of cells and tissues.

The Sloan-Kettering scientists forced the mouse embryonic stem cells to develop into brain cells that produce the chemical dopamine. These are the brain cells that are damaged in people with Parkinson's disease. Parkinson's is a progressive disease that causes people to become unable to move. Now the Rockefeller University scientists plan to test the laboratory-made cells in mice that have Parkinson's disease.

This VOA Special English SCIENCE REPORT was written by Caty Weaver.

Voice of America Special English