Vol. 5 Num 295 Sat. March 26, 2005  

Scientists grow stem cells from nose

With the help of the Catholic Church, Australian researchers have successfully grown adult stem cells harvested from the human nose, avoiding the ethical and legal problems associated with embryonic stem cells.

Australia bans creating human embryos to harvest stem cells but scientists may use embryos left over from IVF (in-vitro fertility) treatment. Stems cells harvested through other means, such as from the nose, is legal.

Head researcher Alan Mackay-Sim of Griffith University said the adult stem cells taken from inside the nose could potentially be used to grow nerve, heart, liver, kidney and muscle cells.

"We have got an adult stem cell which is accessible in everybody and we can grow lots of these cells and turn them into many other cell types," Mackay-Sim told Reuters.

"Apart from neural and brain cells, they look like they can turn into blood cells, heart muscle and to skeletal muscle," he said in an interview.

Scientists believe stem cell research could eventually lead to cures for a range of serious ailments, including Parkinson's disease and spinal cord injuries.

The Catholic Church, which views the use of embryonic stem cells as a form of destruction of human life, helped fund the research through a A$50,000 ($39,500) grant, which was approved by Sydney's Catholic Archbishop George Pell.

"The significance of this is manifold. This represents a significant advance and I think this will bring a great blessing for people," Pell told Reuters on Thursday.

Australian Health Minister Tony Abbott said the new nose adult stem cells avert the ethical problems surrounding embryonic stem cell research.

"It seems at least on the basis of this research that we may well be able to obtain multi-potent stem cells from adults and that we don't need to use embryos to obtain these important cells," Abbott told reporters.