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Healing harvest

The case for adult stem cells is stronger than ever


Healing harvest

A new study just revealed that the process of turning adult cells, even those from the elderly, into stem cells reverses aging, upending the controversial idea that embryonic stem cells are superior.

An increasing average life span, now above 80 years in most Western countries, and advances in research for degenerative diseases will no doubt create a growing demand for stem cells in geriatric medicine. Researchers think stem cells, which can differentiate and grow into almost any tissue type in the body, can offer many therapeutic options in regenerative medicine. But that raises the question of what type of stem cells doctors should use.

So far, most researchers have favored stem cells harvested from embryos because they have not yet acquired the damage that comes from aging. But harvesting them necessitates killing a human embryo, a process that forces the young to give up their lives for the sake of the old.

In 2006, researchers discovered a way to avoid the use of embryos by deriving induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPSCs, from adult cells. Like embryonic stem cells, iPSCs can differentiate into almost any cell type in the body. And researchers can take them from a patient’s own cells, reducing the risk that the patient’s body will reject the tissues they produce. Still, most researchers argued iPSCs derived from elderly patients would not prove viable.

But a study published earlier this year in Frontiers in Cardiovascular Medicine shows that iPSCs from older adults, even those 100 years of age, show a reversal of aging and function just as well as those from embryos.

Therapies using iPSCs could prolong and improve the quality of life for many elderly people suffering from degenerative or chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, chronic heart or kidney failure, Parkinson’s disease, or Alzheimer’s disease, the researchers said.

This study offers one more example that the false barriers some scientists try to erect to the use of iPSCs are falling down, David Prentice, vice president and research director for the Charlotte Lozier Institute, told me, adding that the use of iPSCs “is hands down the winner when it comes to the ethics of research or treatment.”

An ancient burial site for child sacrifice victims in Peru

An ancient burial site for child sacrifice victims in Peru Associated Press/Photo by Gabriel Prieto/National Geographic

Horrifying history

Archaeologists unearthed the heartbreaking evidence of what may represent the world’s largest child sacrifice at a burial site in northern Peru. The researchers excavated the skeletons of 140 children between the ages of 5 and 14, as well as the skeletons of 200 llamas, sacrificed on the same day about 550 years ago. They also found footprints revealing the children and animals walked to their deaths from a city about a mile away.

Lesions on the breastbones of the children and dislocated ribs suggest that their killers used a knife and attempted to extract their hearts. The researchers believe the people sacrificed their children and buried their bodies facing the sea to appease mythological gods when floods ravaged the Peruvian coastline. They buried the llamas facing the Andes Mountains to the east.

Gabriel Prieto, the archaeologist who led the excavation, said the people offered the llamas and the children because both represented a costly sacrifice. The economy depended on the llamas, their only beast of burden, and the children symbolized their most cherished possession.

“They were possibly offering the gods the most important thing they had as a society, and the most important thing is children because they represent the future,” Prieto said.

As gruesome and obviously evil as this practice was, if Prieto is correct, at least the people recognized that in the murdering of their children they destroyed the most precious thing they could. Can a society that everyday callously sacrifices its unborn for the sake of human convenience say the same? —J.B.

An ancient burial site for child sacrifice victims in Peru

An ancient burial site for child sacrifice victims in Peru Associated Press/Photo by Gabriel Prieto/National Geographic

Monkey business

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last month upheld a lower court’s ruling that a selfie-taking monkey does not posses copyrights to the photographs it accidentally snapped.

The appeals court ruled that the monkey, Naruto, cannot sue under the U.S. Copyright Act, which confers such rights only on humans. But the court also stated animals have a constitutional right to sue humans, just not for copyright issues. Referring to an earlier case, Judge Carlos Bea wrote in the majority opinion, “We cannot escape the proposition that animals have Article III standing to sue.”

The case began when the photogenic monkey happened to push the right button on an unattended camera and snapped a picture of his own apparently smiling face. The photographer who owned the camera believed his company should own worldwide commercial rights to the photos, one of which later went viral. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals sued the photographer in 2015 on behalf of the monkey, claiming that the court should grant them financial control of the photographs for Naruto’s benefit.

“This case is so important it should be brought to the Supreme Court, where, if it grants a hearing, I am pretty confident the 9th Circuit decisions will be reversed by a ruling that animals can never—and should never—come under the umbrella of the Constitution,” Wesley J. Smith wrote on the Discovery Institute’s blog. “Human exceptionalism and basic sanity demand it.” —J.B.

Sensory breakthrough

Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, have developed an instrument to project holographic images into the brain to trick it into thinking it has experienced sensations it hasn’t, like touch or hearing.

So far, researchers have tested the technique only on mice. The brain modulator can activate or suppress possibly thousands of neurons at once, hundreds of times each second. The scientists hope to use the device to determine the patterns and rhythms of cell activation that take place when the brain receives information from the various senses. Then they will create a holographic image to mimic those patterns and fool the brain to think the unreal is real.

“This is one of the first steps in a long road to develop a technology that could be a virtual brain implant with additional senses or enhanced senses,” Alan Mardinly, one of the researchers, said in a statement.

The technique has the potential to help compensate for neurological damage caused by degenerative diseases or injury, said Ehud Isacoff, a Berkeley molecular and cell biologist: “By encoding perceptions into the human cortex, you could allow the blind to see or the paralyzed to feel touch.” —J.B.

A case of mistaken identity

Nearly every child has had the disappointing experience of believing something is real only to discover it is fake. But curators at the Buffalo Museum of Science in New York recently experienced the shocking discovery that a fully intact, 3-pound, 12-inch-tall egg mistakenly labeled as a model was actually the real deal. The giant egg came from the now-extinct elephant bird. The flightless creature, native to Madagascar, grew to 10 feet tall, weighed up to 1,100 pounds, and laid the largest eggs of any vertebrate, including dinosaurs. —J.B.

Julie Borg

Julie is a WORLD contributor who covers science and intelligent design. A clinical psychologist and a World Journalism Institute graduate, Julie resides in Dayton, Ohio.

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