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Stem Cell Research

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Stem Cell Research

Stem Cell Research

Stem cells are located deep down in our bone marrow. They have the incredible ability of "generating an endless supply of red cells, white cells, and platelets"(1). They have been called the "Mother of all blood cells" due to their ability to regenerate the entire blood supply of a persons body. Just to think that this is possible is actually pretty incredible. The man who claims to be responsible for the discovery of this gem is a immunologist from Stanford University named Irving Weissman, and his collaborators at SyStemix, (a biotech company that he cofounded in 1988, located in Palo Alto, CA). He and his company are so confident about these cells, not only have they obtained a government patent on the process by which these specific cells are separated from other cells, they have also patented the cells themselves. They have even convinced Sandoz Ltd. (a giant Swiss drug-and-chemical company) to purchase 60 percent of the stock for SyStemix for a reported 392 million dollars.

Stem cells are very valuable for many reasons, some of which are as follows: by giving patients the ability to make an entirely new supply of blood, they make it possible for the immune system to regenerate itself. In doing this, it could feasibly allow medical breakthroughs for treating diseases like cancer and AIDS. There is much controversy over who actually should have taken credit for the discovery of stem cells. Back in the 1960's James Till and Ernest McCulloch (from the Ontario Cancer Institute in Toronto ) discovered that after mice were injected with bone marrow cells their spleens developed "nodules" on them, and, upon studying these nodules they noticed that they were loaded with white and red blood cells. They also discovered that, additionally, these cells were able to reproduce themselves. These men said that, "All blood cells arise from a few hematopoietic stem cells, which are hidden away in bone marrow"(2). On the average, these cells produce an ounce of new blood (260 billion new cells) every day. Weissman was studying medicine at Stanford when the before mentioned men developed their theory, and it fascinated him. He decided to pursue the study and see where he could go with it. He soon began to study white cells backwards, from maturity to early cells. At the same time, the rest of the researcher were discovering the same thing.

One man, in particular, Jan Visser, developed a strategy for separating these stem cells from other cells in blood. He fine tuned his strategy by making small changes in what he was doing, which broke down the number of cells to smaller and smaller groups, until finally, he narrowed it down and he figured that there is approximately one stem cell per 10,000 cells. Visser had his original results published in the Journal of Experimental Medicine in 1984, and four years later, Weissman announced in the journal Science that he and his colleagues had found the mouse's stem cell. It was Weissman's article that drew headlines, while Visser's only drew polite praise. Visser notes ironically, The Journal of Experimental medicine is considered scientifically one of the best journals. Science is more popular.

It was the Weissman team that took a much more narrow approach to separating the cells, they used a variety of monoclonal antibodies, each with a specific ability to single out certain proteins on certain cells. In my opinion, this is how science works. Science is based on someone figuring something out, and another person comes along later and makes it better. It is called advancement. The problem with what Weissman did, was that he claimed all responsibility for discovering stem cells and separating cells and gave no credit to Visser or anyone else who had made huge leaps forward with the advancement of stem cell research. Since being called on doing that, it has been noted that Weissman now acknowledges Vissers work. Weissman claims to have been so wrapped up in his own research that

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