Researchers make breakthrough with adult stem cells
The battle over stem-cell research is fraught with spin and counterspin, and it's not just limited to embryonic stem cell issues. As others have noted, research into adult stem-cells has been ignored or grossly misrepresented as partisans attempt to convince the public that scientists must create and destroy human life for research purposes.

Predictably, major news that researchers at The Scripps Research Institute have made a breakthrough in turning adult cells into "precursor cells" has gone almost completely unmentioned by the mainstream media (it may have as much to do with its Christmas announcement as with media bias). But the discovery may make the debate over embryonic stem cell research wholly obsolete.

The scientists found that a small synthetic molecule called reversine can be a kind of cellular fountain of youth, turning cells normally programmed to create muscles around on their "differentiation pathway," turning them into the immature, malleable cells they started as.

"This has the potential to make stem cell research more practical," researcher Sheng Ding said. "This will allow you to derive stem-like cells from your own mature cells, avoiding the technical and ethical issues associated with embryonic stem cells."

In fact, says the Scripps Research Institute press release, this approach may be better than embryonic stem cells for more reasons than ethical ones:

Stem cell therapy would be most effective if you could use your own stem cells, since using one's own cells would avoid potential complications from immune rejection of foreign cells. However, in general it has proven very difficult to isolate and propagate stem cells from adults. Embryonic stem cells (ESCs) offer an alternative, but face both practical and ethical hurdles associated with the source of cells as well as methods for controlling the differentiation of ESCs. A third approach [which may be developed from Ding's research] is to use one's own specialized cells and dedifferentiate them.

The Washington Times yesterday took note of several other promising developments in adult stem-cell research and problems in embryonic research. "I think what we're going to see is that the science is going to continue to show success with the adult stem cells, whereas we have seen no results in patients with embryonic stem cells, precious little in animals with embryonic, and frankly, negative results in animals with cloning," David Prentice, a cell biologist at Indiana State University, told the paper.

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Vatican envoy murdered:

N.T. Wright's comments on Iraq, Israel, and other topics:

2004 presidential election:

  • Putting God back in politics | As the Democratic candidates for president attend religious services for the holidays, their celebrations may be tempered by an uncomfortable fact: churchgoing Americans tend to vote Republican (Jim Wallis, The New York Times)

  • Moving south on the sawdust trail | Dean's comments on religion sound about as clumsy, and about as convincing, to the born-again Christians who have thought about it as the governor's back-headed tribute to the Confederate battle flag sounded in the ears of the good ol' boys in their pickup trucks (Wesley Pruden, The Washington Times)

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Christmas in Iraq:

  • Iraq Christians alter plans for Christmas | For Baghdad's small Christian community, the major Mass will not be celebrated at midnight but in the late afternoon on Christmas Eve (The New York Times)

  • In Baghdad, Christmas brings jolliness, jitters | The Christian minority experiences a 'completely different' winter holiday, with 'lots of new freedoms and … troubles' (Los Angeles Times)

  • Tradition upheld amid war | The more than 100,000 U.S. military personnel serving in Iraq as well as Iraqi Christians tried to uphold their Christmas traditions despite a surge of violence that left at least four American soldiers and six Iraqis dead over the holiday (The Washington Times)

  • Celebrations muted for Christians in Iraq | Rockets, grenades shake Baghdad (Chicago Tribune)

Christmas in Bethlehem:

  • Protests mix with festivities in Bethlehem | The tortured politics of the Middle East seeped even into Christmas Eve festivities here on Wednesday, when schoolchildren banged their drums and blew bagpipes while leading clerics on a parade through Manger Square (The New York Times)

  • Palestinians dispirited in birthplace of Christ | Despite its relative autonomy, Bethlehem seeks deliverance from occupation and intifada (Los Angeles Times)

  • Barrier haunts holiday in Bethlehem | As Bethlehem put on its traditional holiday parade with whining bagpipe bands and twirling batons, ghosts of a Christmas future hemmed in by Israel's security barrier were haunting many of the Palestinians in this holy city (The Washington Times)

  • Bethlehem's muted Christmas cheer | Israeli authorities eased travel restrictions in the area to allow Palestinian Christians to celebrate Christmas in the town. But the conflict has affected tourist numbers, with fewer visitors coming to Bethlehem this year than last (BBC, video)

  • Bethlehem & beyond | Hope and fear in the Holy Land (Paul Marshall, National Review Online)

Christianity in China:

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  • In China, pews are packed | Beijing is wary as Christianity counts up to 90 million adherents (The Christian Science Monitor)

  • Do they know it's Christmas? | David Aikman on Christianity in China (National Review Online)

  • China's Catholics: Far from Rome | At dawn in the Dengchi Valley, deep in the wild mountains of south-west China, local farmers have already been walking for hours through the darkness, bundled up in padded cotton jackets and woollen caps (BBC)

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