14 May 2004

Stem cells

Another demonstration of our president and public being terrifyingly scientifically illiterate is the blocking of stem cell research. When people finally catch on to what this is about, our policy will change and we will embark on some very aggressive funding. Stem cells are the #@*!! Holy Grail of new medical technologies --- the applications we can think of now are like science fiction, and there's good cause to think that a decade or two of new research and development will make those ideas look like asprin and band-aids in comparison.

Here's a recent taste:

The procedure is fairly simple. Doctors take stem cells from the patient. These are unique in their ability to form any of the tissues that make up the body. By carefully nurturing the stem cells in a laboratory, scientists can nudge the cells down a path that will make them grow into a tooth. After a couple of weeks, the ball of cells, known as a bud, is ready to be implanted. Tests reveal what type of tooth --- for example, a molar or an incisor --- the bud will form.

Using a local anaesthetic, the tooth bud is inserted through a small incision into the gum. Within months, the cells will have matured into a fully-formed tooth, fused to the jawbone. As the tooth grows, it releases chemicals that encourage nerves and blood vessels to link up with it.

Tests have shown the technique to work in mice, where new teeth took weeks to grow. "There's no reason why it shouldn't work in humans, the principles are the same," said Prof Sharpe.

The Guardian 3 May 2004