U.S. researchers in Boston say they have developed a technique that effectively converts human skin cells into stem cells, a development that could have both medical and political implications.
The new method, published Thursday by a team of Boston researchers, could provide a viable alternative to the use of human embryos as the primary source of stem cells.
Because of their unique traits, scientists believe stem cells hold the promise of cures and treatments for ailments ranging from diabetes to paralysis.
But critics say using human embryos for such research is immoral because it amounts to the destruction of human life and they have sued to prevent federal funding of the practice.
On Tuesday, a three-judge panel ruled the Obama administration can continue to provide funding the research while the federal appellate court considers the lawsuit.
U.S. President Barack Obama had signed an executive order last year, lifting some restrictions on funding of stem cell research imposed by his predecessor, George W. Bush.
But last month a federal judge blocked government funding, ruling that it violated an existing law that prohibits federal funding of research that could harm an embryo.
Thursday's announcement came from a team of researchers, led by Dr. Derrick Rossi of Children's Hospital in Boston. The team developed a technique using natural biological methods to transform skin cells into cells with traits identical to stem cells.
Unlike other types of human tissue cells, stems cells are capable of dividing and renewing themselves for long periods. They can be manipulated into specialized bone or tissue cells. Stem cells theoretically could be used to create new organs for transplants.
Some information for this report was provided by AP.