Qui a Peur des Cellules souches ?

Le 19 mai dernier, un groupe de scientifiques coréens a publié dans le magasine Science le résultat d'une recherche qui isolait pour la première fois des lignées de cellules souches embryonnaires spécifiquement conçues pour correspondre à l'ADN de patients féminins et masculins d'âges divers. Le lendemain, des scientifiques britanniques de Newcastle University ont annoncé qu'ils venaient de cloner un embryon humain en utilisant des ovocytes de donneuses et le matériel génétique issu de cellules souches.

Ces deux avancées constituent une percée étonnante dans le domaine de la recherche sur les cellules souches. Les cellules souches embryonnaires sont pluripotentes, ce qui signifie qu'elles sont capables d'engendrer n'importe quel type de tissu humain. Ces performances sont porteuses d'espoir, notamment pour les patients souffrant d'une blessure ou d'une maladie de la moelle épinière. Des années d'études, et les appels passionnés des patients du monde entier, ouvrent enfin la voie à une technique, le transfert nucléaire de cellule somatique, également appelé “clonage thérapeutique,” qui pourrait apporter des changements sans précédents pour notre santé à tous.

Non moins remarquable que ces dernières découvertes fut le moment de leur publication, qui eut lieu la veille d'un vote du Congrès des États-Unis visant à augmenter le financement fédéral de la recherche sur les cellules souches embryonnaires créées au cours de fécondations in vitro (mais jamais implantées dans un utérus). Ces deux annonces ont aussi été faites un mois avant un référendum italien, la plus grande consultation populaire sur le sujet jamais organisée, visant à modifier une loi, adoptée l'année dernière, qui interdit la fécondation in vitro et la recherche sur les cellules souches.

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