Stem Cells


Stem cell – self-replicating multi-purpose cell that can make a number of more specialised cell types

Zygote – single cell formed by the fusion of a sperm cell and an egg cell at fertilisation

Totipotent stem cells – embryonic cells that can develop into a whole organism

Blastocyst - ball of around 100 cells formed five days after fertilisation

Pluripotent stem cells - embryonic stem cells that can make most, but not all, cell types of the developing embryo

Differentiation - the specialisation of cells to perform particular tasks

Nucleus - contains the genetic material

Multipotent stem cells  - adult stem cells that can make limited range of specialised cell types

Info, Medical Research Council, UK

‘Omnis cellula e cellula – all cells come from cells.’ Rudolf Carl Virchow, German Pathologist, 1855

During the Renaissance…these students used the name ‘magic’ in an innoncuous, neutral sense for those forces, not implying that they were supernatural but merely that they were mysterious, that their working could not be fully understood…Johannes Kepler, who took this idea of natural magic very seriously, was following it when he proposed his theory of gravitational attraction and in particular when he used it to explain the tides.’ Mary Midgley, Science and Poetry, Routeledge, 2003

Stem Cells

Apotheosis of life’s magical practices -

dreaming organic reality from invisible

knowledge; manipulation of possibility

by mechanisms of cultured plasticity –

everything in potentia, seeded in nothing,

fantastically collapsed to unwritten word,

unlettered chemical; the poem in a poet’s

head before he thinks the work, any form

or meaning, which might be any poem

composed anywhere, anytime, never –

insubstantial means of flexible substance,

unsculptured clay molecules - still earth,

water in swamps; poetry among broken stars

that could become the eye by divine process,

the creation of a tangible Earth inhabitant,

in cocktails of blind energy and intention –

something lurking in the prior darkness

that can be dreamt, become - be called

in the particular circumstance of life;

another magical act of arcane spark,

ecstatic connection which will unlock

the stem cell’s purely creative dreams,

powers to make anything at all, conjure -

divine cells echoing the original creation,

God-spawn calling forth organic form

where nothing existed before; utilising

molecules with no memory, beyond being

everything that was and is to come, folded

in the cell as a grounded bird asleep gives

no indication of unfurled powers of flight.

Stem cells are biological magic

Stem cells are biological magic -

retaining godliness; original power

to be, make anything out of nothing,

somehow already there in darkness -

an eye unopened, indistinguishable

from space. As the ultimate script -

pure script, able to write anything

at all; imagine everything. Create

anything that lives, from themselves;

manipulation of star molecules, first

light and water - understanding hand,

eye, egg, in potentia, and realisation;

internal orchestration - musical direction

until molecules are glued by life, in time.

‘Stem cell therapy is emerging as a potentially revolutionary new way to treat disease and injury, with wide-ranging medical benefits. It aims to repair damaged and diseased body-parts with healthy new cells provided by stem cell transplants… Ideally, scientists would like to discover how to use a patient’s own stem cells to create perfectly matched transplant material, or even perhaps to grow replacement organs, avoiding the problems of finding a compatible donor and transplant rejection by the immune system.’ Medical Research Council, UK

Scientists want to try to use personalised stem cells to overcome problems of organ rejection. Although organ and bone marrow transplants from healthy donors are used as treatments for people with conditions such as kidney failure or leukemia, a good genetic ‘tissue match’ and drugs to suppress the patient’s immune system are required for success. The significance of cloning and embryonic stem cell culture is that together they raise the prospect of being able to establish embryonic stem cell lines that are genetically identical to an individual patient. These stem cells would be cultured in the laboratory by inserting a nucleus from a patient’s cell into an egg taken from a woman (not necessarily related to the sick person) and creating a cloned embryo. Theoretically, stem cells from this personalised embryonic cell line could then be stimulated into producing whatever type of specialised cells (e.g. nerve or muscle) is required to treat that individual, without encountering the previous problems of organ rejection. Using the cloning technique to develop genetically identical replacement body tissues in culture is usually called ‘therapeutic cloning’ to distinguish it from ‘reproductive cloning’, which would involve transferring the cloned embryo into a woman’s womb, to develop into a baby.’ Genewatch, 2006


‘What are stem cells? Stem cells are self-replicating, and can also generate more specialised cell types as they multiply. Plentiful in the early embryo, they are scarce, very difficult to find in adult tissue, and during development, the variety of other cell types they can produce becomes severely limited.

Totipotent stem cells At conception, the mother’s egg cell and one of the father’s sperm cells fuse to create a single cell, the zygote, which then divides countless times to generate the 216 different cell types that comprise the entire human body. The zygote and the eight cells created by its first three cell divisions are each capable of developing into a complete human. Such cells are called totipotent. If the dividing cell mass splits apart at this stage, genetically identical embryos are created, as happens in the case of identical twins.

Pluripotent stem cells As the cells continue to divide, the number of stem cells increases, but the number of different cell types each stem cell can give rise to becomes limited. After five days a hollow ball of cells called the blastocyst forms. The outer blastocyst cell layer forms the placenta, while an inner group of around 50 stem cells is destined to form the developing embryo’s tissues. These are pluripotent embryonic stem cells (ES cells). Although they can make most embryonic cell types, they cannot make all the tissues required for complete development.

Multipotent stem cells Further along the developmental pathway, cells become more and more specialised. Most are eventually committed to a single function, for example to be muscle cells, and lose the ability to do anything else. The process of cellular specialisation is called differentiation and is controlled genetically from the cell’s nucleus. The genes necessary for earlier stages of development are programmed to switch off sequentially as differentiation progresses, until only those required for a cell’s particular function remain active. A small number of partially differentiated stem cells persist in some adult tissues. These are capable of forming a limited number of specialised cell types and are called multipotent stem cells. Their function is to replace fully differentiated cells that are lost by depletion and damage. For example, bone marrow stem cells replenish different types of blood cell and other kinds of stem cell renew the gut lining.’ Info, Medical Research Council, UK

‘It is easy to forsee that, in the future, when science and technique have attained to a perfection which we are yet unable to visualise, nature will become soft wax in man’s hands, which he will be able to cast into whatever form he chooses.’ MN Pokrovskiy, A Brief History of Russia, 1931

The unhandled clay, charged with future ghosts -

but souls of water animals, still dancing their tune;

Wizard ingredients, anything to the spoon,

Tiny queens of alchemy, the original hosts.

Spawned in the mother soup - young and old,     

Understanding finger, eye and lung,

The heart’s percussion, buttock or tongue,

Until forgetting, like plastic cooling in a mould.

‘We are the book of possible stories;

everything written, nothing printed

in our naked pages. White painting

containing painter and his  paints.

‘We are ear for the body’s word.

Every last letter is known to us -

the spelling of every hair’s scale;

tuning the whole choir, gorgeous

cacophonies of bone, limb, skin,

eye, heart, finger, foot, blood -

hearing every harmonious voice,

until, finally, there is only one...

‘We are like snow - our magic melting

quickly; we dream of being everything,

then find ourselves a bone, lash, heart,

baby’s fingertip - muscular iris flower.

‘We are like lights fusing one by one,

losing ourselves for a single cause -

til soon most of us cannot remember

we were ever anything else at all…

‘But others maintain some memory

of what we were before - a glow -

our magic not yet wholly passing

from the world - magician spirit

lingering - creation’s fertile ghost -

a song still in us that could be sung;

that we might dare to dream again, 

and in our dreaming - truly make.’

‘Stem cell therapy research - Does NOT necessarily involve cloning. Is in its infancy, with much work yet to be done. Has potential application in many currently incurable conditions. Promising initial results with experimental transplants in humans and animals. First clinical applications expected in 5-10 years. May one day provide a source of replacement tissues and organs.

The potential benefits of stem cell therapy. Stem cell therapy offers an opportunity to treat many degenerative diseases caused by the premature death or malfunction of specific cell types and the body’s failure to replace or restore them. The only hope of complete recovery from such diseases at present is transplant surgery, but there are not enough donors to treat all patients and even when rare donors can be found, this is limited to a few body parts and is very expensive. The best most sufferers of incurable degenerative diseases can expect is treatment to delay the onset, and relieve the symptoms, of ill health caused by their disease. In theory, stem cells could be collected, grown and stored to provide a plentiful supply of healthy replacement tissue for transplantation into any body site using much less invasive surgery than conventional transplants. Scientists have already reported success with human brain tissue transplants to treat Parkinson’s disease and with stem cell-derived mouse heart-muscle cell grafts. An early stem cell research goal is to find out how to isolate and store stem cells from different tissues. However, adult stem cells are very rare and it not known whether they are even present in some organs, for example, the heart. Furthermore, they are difficult to extract and grow with currently available techniques. At first stem cell transplants might be used to encourage the development of new, healthy cells in patients. Later on, when more is understood about how stem cells work, it may be possible to direct stem cells to make healthy replacements for specific cell types that have become damaged or diseased and to use these for transplantation. For example, skin stem cells could generate replacement skin for burns victims. Initially the problem of transplant rejection by the body’s immune system that complicates whole organ transplants would also apply to transplants of foreign stem cell material, so stem cell transplants would have to be accompanied by immune system suppressing drugs. Ideally, scientists would like to discover how to use a patient’s own stem cells to create perfectly matched transplant material, or even perhaps to grow replacement organs, avoiding the problems of finding a compatible donor and transplant rejection by the immune system. In the future, this might be achieved by learning how to obtain stem cells from a patient’s healthy adult cells. Stem cell technology will also create new ways to investigate embryonic development, develop new drugs, and test their effects and safety on specific cell types.’ Medical Research Council, UK

Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, burns, cirrhosis -

Leukaemia, stroke, sickle-cell anaemia, spinal injury;

Heart disease, hepatitis, Muscular Dystrophy,

Diabetes, arthritis, osteoporosis -

Stem cells promise potential cures, power to mend,

Lung, nerve and blood, sickness where tissue dies,

Cultured organs, skin, heart and eyes -

Science the wand where magic and medicine blend.

Will you call us back then from our dreamy sleep;

coax chimeras - charm into life, modernised light.

‘Will you harvest us then from the dawn of life,

where nothing is riddled with invisible codes -

‘Will you speak to us then, calling out our name,

flattering our million languages, plastic tongues.

‘Will you harness us then, our pliable futurehood;

shape-shifters, dream-cells, with magical hearts.’

Which stem cells will be used? A key goal of stem cell research is to understand how differentiation is controlled and learn how to direct cellular development. Research on both adult and embryonic stem cells will make a complementary contribution to these objectives. Scientists are investigating how both pluripotent ES cells and different multipotent stem cell types might be used as the basis for developing stem cell therapy. However, many argue that, because of the difficulties of working with adult stem cells, human ES cell research is crucial to the development of stem cell therapies, at least until the programming of cell development is better understood.

Main advantages of pluripotent ES cells Can make many more different cell types than adult stem cells. Easier to control growth and differentiation than adult stem cells. Relatively much more abundant than adult stem cells and therefore significantly easier to isolate. Can use knowledge gained from animal ES cell experiments. ES cell research may speed development of adult stem cell therapy techniques.

Potential Sources of Human Pluripotent stem cells -  1. Isolation of cells from surplus blastocysts created during in vitrofertilisation(IVF) treatment, otherwise destroyed. 2. Extraction of cells destined to form eggs or sperm from aborted or miscarried foetuses. 3. Production of tailor-made cells from patients' own differentiated adult cells using cloning techniques. American scientists have used the first two methods to isolate human pluripotent stemcells ( hPSCs), and have successfully grown them in the laboratory. Their hPSCcultures can be multiplied indefinitely and are therefore a valuable resource for stem cell research. The work raises the possibility that collections of specific stem cell types could be generated for transplant therapy. UK research using human embroys is governed by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act (1990), which restricts research to embryos no more than 14 days old for certain permitted purposes only. Government widened the Act’s scope to include research into stem cell therapies from January 31 2001, in light of recommendationsof the August 2000 Donaldson Report and following free votes in parliament and in the House of Lords.

The future of stem cell therapy Scientists think that stem cell therapies could become a clinical reality in 5-10 yearstime, but a huge research effort will be needed to achieve this goal.

Stem cell research priorities Understanding mechanisms of differentiation and development. Identification, isolation and purification of different adult stem cell types. Controlling differentiation of stem cells to target cell types needed to treat disease. Learning to make stem cell transplants compatible. Demonstrating normal cell development and function and appropriate growth control in stem cell transplants. Confirming the results of successful animal experiments in humans. The MRC already supports fundamental cell and developmental biology research that applies to most of these areas.’ info, Medical Research Council, UK

‘The idea that adult cells cannot be converted to another type of cell was shown to be false in 2000. Studies involving mice and humans proved that adult cells from certain parts of the body can reprogramme themselves into other cell types. If this process can be controlled, healthy adult cells might be useful for repairing tissues damaged by injury or disease.’ BBC Science online

What magic is this, exposed -

life’s mystery in a single cell;

each biological entity could justly

lie upon a white altar – hallowed.

Retaining capability, creation’s

light maintained; a green flame

burning always in the darkness

of nothing, of nowhere known; 

beyond rustling potential,

shining plastic molecules

for moulding - making anything - 

eye, arm, saliva; finger, nose, heart.

Master magician - artist, craftsman,

in the consummate art of becoming;

principle and physicality of life, one.

They have survived all species, time,

refining their arts in specific creatures -

pulling humans from life’s blind sleeves.

‘This living glass-clear sheet is covered with a layer of tear-water constantly renewed… its touch is always ‘pain’, for it shouldnot be touched…And the whole structure, with its prescience and all its efficiency, is produced by and out of specks of granular slime arranging themselves as of their own accord in sheets and layers and acting seemingly on an agreed plan. That done, and their organ complete, they abide by what they have accomplished. They lapse into relative quietude and change no more. It all sounds an unskilful overstated tale which challenges belief. But to faithful observation so it is.’  Sir Charles Sherrington, physiologist, (1857-1952), on the making of the eye, Man and His Nature, second  edition, Cambridge University Press, 1951

‘...if we are adults then we will have stopped growing and the cells in some of our most specialised tissues, such as nerves and muscles, have stopped dividing. But the cells in busy and exposed tisues like the liver, gut, and skin constantly renew themselves thoughout life (the liver normally does so slowly, unless damaged; but the replacement of gut lining is frenetic).’ The Facts of Life revisited, Ian Wilmut, Keith Campbell, Colin Tudge, The Second Creation, Headline, 2001

‘Although every cell in the body contains acomplete complement of genes, only certain genes in each are operational depending on the type of cell (e.g. whether it is a blood, brain, muscle or stem cell). Until 1997, scientists believed that once a cell, other than a stem cell, had developed to carry out aspecific function in the body – for instance, it had specialised into becoming a skin or liver cell – the genes which were switched on and off in that cell were ‘fixed’. However, this assumption was dramatically overturned when Dolly, the cloned sheep, was created from the nucleus (the part of the cell that contains the chromosomes) of a mammary gland cell taken from an adult sheep and placed inside a sheep’s egg cell, the nucleus of which had been removed (an enucleated egg)…In 1997, scientists in Scotland announced that the previous year they had produced Dolly the sheep, cloned from the cell of an adult sheep’s mammary gland. In 1998, US scientists cultured the first stem cell linestaken from human embryos. Together, these developments raised the fear of human cloning, a new market in human eggs and the promise of personalised body tissues to treat people with serious diseases such as Parkinson’s disease and diabetes.’ Genewatch, 2006

Can we learn again, so long settled

Can we learn again, so long settled;

that burning, frantic magic stilled -

just everyday tricks for us now,

in the stomach furnace - heart

cauldron; the art of one hair

on one adult arm controlled,

grown, shone, dropped, re-grown -

it is enough, our thrill is now gone.

Will you not leave us be, peaceful -

for this multi-fate we were created.


Can we learn again - like a spine

made green again, an old flower

remembering the seed - 

could you waken us up

from perished elastic form; knead

our molecules with new messages,

re-make us to a godly tune

piped into our ancient ears;

would we listen, respond -

could we change our ways,

a lifetime now between us

and our fluid infant selves;

who knew not even form, purpose,

place in the great scheme of things,

but were a bubbling cauldron of cells,

magical brew by invisible magician -

does he know you are here, knocking

at our established door, perhaps cross.


Re-programme me - send me to this ailing heart,

slopping in wet red chambers; squishy pumping,

half-hearted flushing – failing cells are ruining

us all; let us re-make them then, alter ourselves,

replacement troops, freshened army, new hope.

We will ride out again, find, fight these battles;

our central muscle will beat again, blushing

that pale cheek where our brothers struggle

to keep colour, shutting out a lung’s ill wind -

re-powering these legs, foal-tottering on Earth.

We knew once what to do, were First among cells -

the most high; we understood creation best, though

too much for anything accomplished, alive,

we slumbered pleasantly, fulfilled, resting –

but lift us up now - help us;

for the body is our art, love.

‘In essence, biologists found that they could culture mouse embryo cells in ways that retained their embryo-like status. This is highly unusual… ES cells therefore seem to open a royal route to genetic engineering.’ Ian Wilmut, The Second Creation, Headline, 2001

‘The world's first pure nerve stem cells made from human embryonic stem cells has been created by scientists at the Universities of Edinburgh and Milan. It is hoped the newly-created cells will eventually help scientists find new treatments for diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. BBC science correspondent Pallab Ghosh said the cells should help researchers test the effectiveness of new drugs. Stem cells are "master" cells that can become many kinds of tissue. Nerve stem cells are those which help build the brain and central nervous system. The university's Dr Steven Pollard said: "This is incredibly exciting in terms of curing disease. "We may be able to create the disease in a dish. If we do that, we'll be able to better understand the disease and also to test drugs." Our correspondent said the long-term aim of the Edinburgh research is for cells to be used to build replacement neural tissue for Alzheimer's and Parkinson's sufferers. But he said the more immediate use for the artificially-created cells is to test out the effectiveness of new drugs. Professor Austin Smith, who led the research at the University of Edinburgh, told the BBC: "We're already talking with the bio-technology and bio-pharmaceutical companies about taking these cells into screening systems for new drugs. Hopefully that will come to pass within two to three years. "In terms of the possibility of using the cells for transplantation, that's a much more difficult and longer term thing and I think there we're talking more of the five to ten year range." However, critics say it is unethical to use human embryos in scientific research. Previous attempts at creating the nerve cells have produced contaminated samples that have not been scientifically useful. Robert Meadowcroft, of the Parkinson's Disease Society, welcomed the news: "The purity of these cells should prove particularly valuable in studying the possibilities for transplantation and replacement of damaged tissue." The Alzheimer's Society echoed this view, saying that the inability to grow nerve cells from human embryonic stem cells had previously been a major obstacle to progress in this area. The breakthrough comes three months after scientists at Newcastle University announced they had successfully produced a cloned embryo using donated eggs and genetic material from stem cells. It was the first time a human cloned embryo had been created in Britain.’ BBC, 2005

An injection of pure nerve

could be just what I need -

in this life, my circumstances;

maybe some more gut cells -

to make me braver - thicker skin

cells; and volunteering soft heart

molecules for such magical

transformation, toughening.

‘A galaxy of cells composed a system/ Where he was, human, in his tower of bones./ The Sun rose in his head. The moon ran, / full, Vermilion in the blood along his veins.’ Sir Stephen Spender, Bagatelles X11: Renaissance Hero

Manipulation of life’s plasticity

Manipulation of life’s spectacular plasticity;

incendiary powers, high culture of diversity.

Biological Philosopher’s Stone;

creating - as near to being God

and Nature as being mortal,

human will allow; stunned

before these magical productions

of complex organs from one cell -

now transmutated from an adult

or embryo into anything organic;

re-writing Life’s old programmes -

living matter conjured to our design. 

‘Professor Sir George Radda, Chief Executive of the Medical Research Council (MRC), today described the European Union (EU) vote on the proposed amendments to the EU Directive on setting standards of quality and safety for the donation and distribution of human tissue and cells as a blow for medical research. Commenting further on this he said: “We are very disappointed with this initial vote. If it were to lead to legislation it would severely limit embryonic stem cell research and its potential to combat serious human diseases such as Parkinson’s and diabetes by prohibiting the creation of new embryonic cell lines and their possible use in cell transplantation.  “We believe that it is unnecessary to widen the scope of the Directive to cover the use of human stem cells. The ethical issues associated with stem cell research should be up to each Member State to deal with within their own legal and ethical framework. The UK is in the lead on this and has already put in place stringently controlled research and ethics committees that more than adequately regulate research in stem cells.Professor Radda also pointed out that separate amendments might lead to the imposition of stringent regulations on obtaining tissue samples and cells for research that could make it very expensive and almost impractical to undertake vital medical research.’ Medical Research Council, 2003

‘Stem cells must proliferate throughout adult life in order to repair tissues. However, the proliferation of stem cells also puts tissues at risk of cancer, so there is a delicate balance to be maintained. Stem cells strike this balance partly by reducing their ability to proliferate as the risk of cancer increases, but also by reducing the regenerative capacity of ageing tissues. Three groups have now discovered that the p16INK4a protein regulates stem cell ageing. By altering the expression of p16INK4a, and then looking at the effects on mouse brain, pancreas and blood cells, they found that p16INK4a reduces stem cell proliferation, but only in older mice. Although this effect of p16INK4a offers protection from cancer – as potential cancer cells are unable to proliferate – the decline in tissue regeneration is thought to contribute to some age-related diseases. By blocking p16INK4a, it may therefore be possible to mitigate the effects of ageing on certain tissues.’ Wellcome Trust, 2007

‘Currently, there are no established treatments using cloned or naturally derived hES lines, and it is not clear how successful any treatment would ultimately be – or indeed whether it will be possible at all. But scientists have proposed

that stem cells could be used to treat a range of degenerative diseases and traumatic injuries by replacing the destroyed or dysfunctional tissue, including: Parkinson’s disease; diabetes; kidney and liver disease; heart muscle following heart attacks; spinal cord injuries; burns.‘ Genewatch, 2006

Each stem cell is a first star

Each stem cell is a first star -

shimmering with possibilities;

smiling with secrets and poetry.

Which poem is written

at its heart - expanding

from scripted darkness;

spectacular exhibits of organic art,

exploration of limitless chemistry -

powering dream of life’s fine detail.

‘The 1990 Human Fertilisation and Embryo Act was amended in 2001 to include embryo research for non fertility based reasons, implicitly encompassing embryo stem cell research. The HFEA is responsible for regulating all embryonic stem cell research in the UK. Both embryos from IVF treatments and embryos produce during cloning can be used in research. Reproductive cloning is prohibited…The cloning debate is highly politicised and polarised in the USA, with the Bush administration ideologically opposed to embryo research. In February 2003, a Human Cloning Prohibition Act, which sought to criminalise cloning, stalled in the Senate. Currently, federal funds cannot be used for embryo research, although research on existing human embryonic stem cell lines is allowed. Private companies can produce cloned human embryos.

California has introduced a law supporting stem cell research and providing state funds.  Its decision to invest $350 million a year in embryo stem cell research for a decade gained strong public support.’ Genewatch, 2006

‘We are talking about several years before we are talking about a cell-based therapy that can go back into the patient.’ Professor Alison Murdoch

‘…it’s in the genes, she says, as if she just/ discovered the cell,/ the body’s time capsulre,/ recording history for the clumsy, naked/ bipeds who hover at/ the edge of fire,/ evolving into creatures who learn/ the cell’s workings...’ Alice Jones, The Cell

‘In the UK, embryos in the laboratory cannot be allowed to develop beyond 14 days – the time limit for experimentation on embryos laid down in the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990.’ Genewatch, 2006

‘Stem cell research ‘fabricated’ - In the first half of 2005, South Korean researchers were being feted for their work in developing embryonic stem cell lines from cloned human embryos tailored to individual patients. Their research, published in the prestigious journal Science,34 was seen as a crucial breakthrough in efforts to grow personalised tissues to treat degenerative diseases. Scientists were ‘champing at the bit’ to visit and learn from the lead scientist, Huang Woo-Suk. However, first there were revelations that the human eggs used to produce the stem cell lines had to be obtained by paying female researchers, something which contravenes international medical guidelines. Then came accusations that the embryonic stem cell lines were not personalised lines at all, and a University of Seoul investigation confirmed this.’ Genewatch, 2006

‘Ground-breaking research in 1998 showed that bone marrow stem cells from mice could develop into muscle cells, not just blood cells. Subsequent work has confirmed that adult stem cells can be isolated from many parts of the body, cultured in the laboratory and, like embryonic stem cells, induced to develop into specialised cells. This ‘plasticity’ raises the prospect of ‘reprogramming’ an individual’s own adult stem cells to provide new tissues when needed. Its potential questions the need for cloning and embryonic stem cells.’ Genewatch, 2006

External orchestration of miraculous internal force –

External orchestration of miraculous internal force –

original, holy, spectacular in burning accomplishment;

firing the genes in crucibles of flesh and darkness,

spawning our bodies in primaeval womb waters -

spooling the hand or eye to some higher instruction -

innate direction; codes dreaming in flexible chemicals,

of a woman who will make men die for her beauty,

just by their manipulation of these brown eye cells,

eyebrow arch; or this slight malfunction in message

that will cause a lifetime of bullying, whisper, pain.

Tracking back to the root - scientists going further

than anyone has gone before; back to God - living,

on this side of the barrier, at mortality’s highest gates,

that will dissolve at once as mirage - a bright illusion,

at one catastrophic loss of red fluid, crushing metal,

a silver bullet through the grey flower of the brain –

like taming a wild animal, harnessing a tiger; calling

the wild into the environment of the controlled lab -

what security is perfect to protect the tiger’s skin

that was for the wrapping of a sick baby – child -

to stop the creature, trapped, mauling its keepers,

in pursuit of its beauty, dazzling opportunities –

this hand of the twenty first century is reaching,

white-sleeved, with good-intentions, for healing,

back to the beginning as far as we yet can go;

embryonic cells, invasion of starting blocks -

the glimmering place where cells spark – shine,

with some fluorescent message written in stars.

What poetry our fingers reaching into such dark,

trembling; sensing the makings of a mighty epic.

‘Scientists grow bladder replacement in lab. Trial points way to engineered organs using patients' own cells. A team of scientists has grown human bladder sacs in the laboratory and successfully transplanted them into people. It is the first time that a complicated internal organ, rather than a scrap of skin or other tissue, has been grown in the lab and placed into people. The researchers say that they are already working on growing tailor-made kidneys, livers or hearts that might bypass the shortage of donor organs and problems with organ rejection. Anthony Atala at Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and his colleagues took cells from the malfunctioning bladders of seven children with spina bifida and used them to grow thin sacs of tissue. They grafted the artificial organs, which look a little like hollowed-out grapefruits, on to the patients' own bladders. The team started their work in 1999 and then tracked the progress of the patients for several years before publishing the results in The Lancet. In the three patients who received the most promising version of the technique, the bladders worked better and leaked less than the current best treatment, in which a poor bladder is patched up with tissue cut from the bowel. "This will definitely generate a lot of excitement for all tissue engineers," says Steve Chung who studies stem cells for bladder repair at the Advanced Urology Institute of Illinois in Spring Valley. Growing a new body part is not easy. Medical researchers must first find a source of cells and coax them into multiplying in the lab. Next, they have to mould the cells into a structure that mimics the normal organ, often by growing them on a scaffold. They also have to ensure that the organ is properly nourished by blood vessels and nerves. Atala's team did this by slicing a postage-stamp-sized fragment of bladder tissue from each patient and encouraging the cells to proliferate. They spread a layer of muscle cells on the outside of a bladder-shaped, biodegradable mould of synthetic polymer and collagen, and added a separate layer of bladder urothelial cells on the inside. The organ part grew in a soup of nutrients for several weeks before the team sewed it to the patient's bladder. Researchers already use artificially grown skin tissue in surgery, and scientists are working to create patches or full replacements for virtually every other organ in the body. This latest work is a significant step forwards because "they were actually able to do this in humans and show an enhanced function," says David Mooney, an expert in tissue engineering at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. But experts caution that the bladder is a relatively simple organ when compared to something like the heart.’ Nature news, 2006

I wrote a story once about an organ factory,

an imagined future where the NHS allowed

your bog-standard vital organs to be cultured

free of charge, but anything else gone private;

tailor-made organs waiting for failure, harvest,

instantly compatible. Reproduction of the self,

as molecular bits and pieces necessary for life,

personal transplants for broken down systems –

rejuvenation, physical hope - from original source.

Then this bladder, artificial yet alive, fake but real,

has materialised from my fictional dream, pictured -

is the illustration of my dreaming mind, alchemised.

‘Cells could be extracted from the embryo and cultured in the laboratory into embryonic stem cell lines, which may be immortal (kept growing permanently). Scientists hope it will be possible to stimulate these embryonic stem cells to differentiate into a variety of cell types, such as muscle, nerve or skin, but this has not yet been achieved.’ Genewatch, 2006

Dr Who’s Regeneration

Learning about stem cells, Dr Who’s regeneration

doesn’t seem so far-fetched now; almost plausible,

in fact - alien technology so advanced it could use

the self-generated powers of self-writing genomes

and cells - self-producing script capable of making

body and brain of its own volition. The wiped slate

written anew, creating chemicals for replacement

of damaged cells; every cell in the body replaced,

as already happens in liver, gut and skin as non science-

fiction every day. And like all new life somewhat altered,

elaboration on the genome; not a clone but a new doctor.

And certainly showing the creative powers of Evolution

towards the common good - aesthetic properties

of the Universe, in creating doctors nine and ten;

Chrisopher Eccleston and David Tennant, from the

genetic materials of John Pertwee, and Tom Baker.

‘Most stem cell research is still focused on understanding how stem cells function and develop. The therapies that are being pursued are very much at the experimental stage. There have been some reported successes in laboratory animals. For example, embryonic stem cells have been shown to develop into neurones and improve the condition of rats with a form of Parkinson’s disease, and cloned foetal liver stem cells have been used to regenerate damaged heart muscle in mice.  In one trial involving people with Parkinson’s disease, cells taken from the brain tissue of seven–eight week aborted embryos were injected into their brains. This gave some improvement in younger patients, but 15% of patients had uncontrollable muscle movements because of over-activity of the transferred cells. In contrast to embryonic stem cells, adult stem cells are at a more advanced stage of investigation and are showing therapeutic potential. In the laboratory, bone marrow stem cells have been used to repair heart damage and begin to reverse conditions such as heart disease, and the use of bone marrow stem to treat patients with myocardial infarctions has been reported to have reduced the size of the infarct and improved heart function.’ Genewatch, 2006

In the bowl of my mother

In the bowl of my mother,

I formed; the word crying

to the first molecules - here,

now, in this darkness, come.

Programming me from a dance;

pairing parental genes, Genome

scripted in the mystery of pre-life,

possible life, written among stars;

gaseous explosions, the distribution,

arrangement of matter through time.

What interference might come

from artificial manipulation -

introduction of uncalculated elements,

into gorgeously random, creative order

in the Universe. What results as invisible

now as most; light or old darkness known,

sparked from the incendiary cavity,

electrical flesh of flowering brain -

utilising the uncovered tools of all life,

naked principles of organic plasticity –

though written in the expanding mind,

was this possible history of knowledge.

‘The majority of all types of stem cell research is conducted in, and funded by, the public sector because of the considerable uncertainties about the potential for therapies to be developed and used commercially. However, Europe’s investment in stem cell research, such as the 11.9 million euros for the EuroStemCell project, usually includes biotechnology companies and provides one way that companies can reduce their research costs. The UK’s Stem Cell Initiative (UKSCI), announced in the 2005 budget and jointly supported by the Departments of Health and Trade and Industry, will be a collaboration between the Wellcome Trust, research councils, government departments and the proposed private-sector-led UK Stem Cell Foundation. Economic, not just health, interests shape the stem cell research agenda. Several biotechnology companies have already been formed to exploit future commercial opportunities. All the major companies are based in the USA, with the exception of ReNeuron in the UK. There is also interest in stem cell treatments in small companies based in Singapore, India and Australia; several spin-out companies from UK universities have been established, including Nova Thera from Imperial College, Cell Centric from Cambridge and ReInnervate from Durham. The US companies Geron and Advanced Cell Technologies are likely to remain significant players because of the key patents they own on fundamental aspects of the technology. The Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF) also patented the 1998 research that developed human embryonic stem cells culture techniques in the USA. It has granted only seven licences and Geron, which funded much of the work, has exclusive licences for heart, nerve and pancreatic insulin-producing embryonic stem cell lines. Patent licence fees are said to be deterring progress in the USA. No large pharmaceutical corporations have a significant interest in stem cell research except for their potential use in areas such as drug safety testing. One company, the Institute for Regenerative Medicine based in Barbados, is offering stem cell therapies (probably of dubious value as there seems to be no research data to support the claims) for a range of disorders. It accesses embryonic stem cells from the Ukraine, raising the disturbing prospect of an international trade in eggs and aborted foetal material.’ Genewatch, 2006

Where might the personally cultured organs end

for the uber-citizen, whose access to big money

buys science fictional application of technology

designed to help the stumbling, suffering sick –

why draw the line at waiting organs grown in labs

when the best conditions for preservation must be

cloned versions of the whole body; cloned slaves,

organ factories - like battery chickens - exploited.


Would perversion of this technology for personal gain

by a spectacularly wealthy few become reason enough

to stop healing of Parkinson’s disease, degenerative

illnesses of slow crucifiction, suffering and distress?

The few cruel to animals does not stop our pleasure

in keeping a million pets, does not ban pet-keeping;

techniques created to assist burn victims is already used

to succour the vain insecurities of some rich old women,

by aspicing her face into some acceptable mould,

but we would not say the burn victim should lose.


‘British scientists are seeking permission to create hybrid embryos in the lab by fusing human cells with rabbit eggs. If granted consent, the team will use the embryos to produce stem cells that carry genetic defects, in the hope that studying them will help understand the complex mechanisms behind incurable human diseases. The proposal drew strong criticism from opponents to embryo research who yesterday challenged the ethics of the research and branded the work repugnant. Plans for the experiments have been put forward by Professor Chris Shaw, a neurologist and expert in motor neurone disease at King's College London, and Professor Ian Wilmut, the Edinburgh University-based creator of Dolly the sheep, as a way of overcoming the shortage of fresh human eggs available for research. "The fertility of rabbits is legendary," said Prof Shaw. "The most important thing is that with animal eggs, we have a much better chance of generating stem cells and if we wait for human eggs, it's going to be maybe a decade before we can do this. If we can use animal eggs, we could maybe have stem cells within one or two years," he added. To make a hybrid embryo, a human skin cell would be taken from a person with motor neurone disease and injected into a hollowed-out rabbit egg. The resulting embryo would contain only a tiny amount of rabbit DNA in a microscopic structure that generates energy in the cell. The rest of the DNA would be human. If the experiment is successful, within a week, the egg will have divided to form a tiny ball of a 200 or so cells, from which stem cells could be extracted. The embryos could not legally be implanted into a woman's womb and the stem cells would not be safe to implant because they would be rejected by the immune system. "They will never grow beyond the 200 cell stage and they will have no human features," said Prof Shaw. The proposal exposes a grey area in British regulation, however, as officials at the HFEA admitted it was questionable whether the resulting embryo was human. "That's the question and it's for the government, the HFEA and lawyers to work out," said Prof Shaw.’ Ian Sample, Science Correspondent, The Guardian, 2006

Homo Leporidae

Wow and shiver – Rabbitman, Mabbit;

not grown by these reputable scientists

trying to cure hideous diseases, but as

in Science Fiction movies - the darkly

curious, greedy - or a twit wondering

whether oversexed, highly productive

versions of himself could be produced -

Homo Leporidae, bobbing across fields,

using energy from that microsopic structure,

biological rabbit-battery; inheriting the earth.

“There is a lot of innate wisdom in the yuk factor, or repugnance as it is also known. My question is: what will they actually create? It is simplistic or deliberately deceptive to say they are simply making stem cells. In order to obtain stem cells they surely have to go through the blastocyst stage; they have to create a 'something' from which to derive the new cells. What is this something? It must be human to be of any use to researchers.” Josephine Quintavalle, Comment on Reproductive Ethics, 2006


At twilight I meander to blue fields -

preferring the eye-free, safe darkness

of days underground, dozing in my own fur.

I burrowed under electric fences to get here,

undisturbed upon the low mountain;

my stomach adjusting to pure grass -

even flowers are attractive to me now;

greenery as meat. My whiskers twitch

wind for such scents I can understand –

fox, Pure Man, or Half-brother Rabbits,

curious but respectful; still watching me

blackly - my giant-pupiled, blue-ringed

eye that is not as theirs; yet my back legs

rock the field, star-flash of my tail pushes

the communal panic-button - they know

my size will see off a fox, like that collie

who came sniffing after lost sheep.

As they looked for me in the wild,

kind but manipulating; uncomprehending

how the genes for freedom are universal.

‘In the UK, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) considers applications to conduct research on embryos. Research is now allowed to: promote advances in the treatment of infertility; increase knowledge about the causes of congenital diseases; increase knowledge about the causes of miscarriage; enhance knowledge in the development of more effective contraception; detect genetic or chromosomal abnormalities before implantation; increase knowledge about the development of embryos; increase knowledge about serious disease; or enable any such knowledge to be applied in developing treatment for serious disease.’ Genewatch, 2006

Note from the author
exploring the project

    Gene Story
    Romantic Science
        Gene Therapy
        Stem Cells
    Some Special Genes
    X & Y

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