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Al Gore firm boosts stem cell alternative

For a Q&A about stem cell research click here .

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Former Vice-President Al Gore announced April 14 his involvement in a venture reportedly worth $20 million that will boost research in a major alternative to embryonic stem cells strongly supported by pro-lifers.

The research will focus on induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS), which are made by reprogramming everyday skin cells to act like embryonic stem cells. Some researchers believe iPS stem cells are more promising than embryonic stem cells. One of the several benefits iPS stem cells offer is that embryos are not used in their creation and the process therefore poses no ethical dilemma.

The collaboration involves a partnership between the San Francisco-based biotechnology company iZumi Bio Inc. and Japan’s Kyoto University. Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers, a venture capital firm where Gore is a partner, will help fund the research. Although a press release didn’t put a price tag on the firm’s involvement, USA Today said the firm would contribute $20 million.

The research initially will focus on finding treatments for Parkinson’s disease, spinal muscular atrophy and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

“Stem cell research holds great promise for the creation of new therapies that could revolutionize the treatment of disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, diabetes and muscular dystrophy,” Gore said in a statement. “The discovery that iPS cell technology brings, that ‘stem cell-like’ cells can be generated from a small amount of human skin rather than from embryos, opens a new door for stem cell research and its application to therapeutic discovery.”

Despite President Obama’s executive order in early March lifting the Bush policy on federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, iPS research seems to be gaining just as much momentum, if not more. In late March, medical doctor Mehmet Oz — better known as Dr. Oz — told Oprah Winfrey and her television audience the stem cell debate is “dead” because iPS stem cells show greater promise and because embryonic stem cells are difficult to control and “can become cancer.”

The first human iPS stem cells were developed in 2007 by researchers at Kyoto University and the University of Wisconsin — with federal funds approved by President Bush partially funding the U.S. side of the research — and major advances have since been made. Researchers like using iPS stem cells because, unlike their embryonic counterparts, iPS stem cells provide a genetic match to the patient and are less likely to be rejected.

“I just think it’s a very important breakthrough that is filled with promise and hope,” Gore told USA Today. “I think this is one of those good news stories that comes along every once in a while.”

In the news release, Gore said the collaboration is “a critical step” in “turning stem cell research into therapeutic realities sooner.”
Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press.

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