Ethical considerations plus the ambiguity of the Biotech Directive are factors influencing the patentability of totipotent stem cells, says Andrew Sanderson.
It has for some years been possible to create pluripotent stem cells (stem cells capable of differentiating into many, but not all, other cell types of the body) from fully differentiated adult cells (so called ‘induced pluripotent stem cells’ [iPS cells]).
Recent advances by the tumour suppression group of Centro Nacional de Investigaciones Oncológicas (CNIO) in Spain have resulted in the production of iPS cells with totipotency features, raising the hope that induced totipotent stem cell (iTS cell) technology could become a practical reality. Previous to this discovery, the only practical source of totipotent stem cells (stem cells capable of differentiating into any other cell type of the body) was embryonic tissue.
The possibility of producing iTS cells from adult cells could abolish the current need to use embryos to obtain totipotent cells, thereby removing many ethical concerns associated with this field of research, and perhaps allow the engineering of recipient-derived tissues that are insusceptible to transplant rejection. Hence, it is important to be able to secure patent protection for iTS cell technologies in order to attract the investment necessary to develop them into mature, practical tools.
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Stem cells, Totipotent stem cells, patentability, Biotech Directive