Human stem cell research leads Science's top ten list of the best scientific advances in 1999

Washington D.C. - The most important scientific advance of 1999, says Science, was the progress scientists made towards controlling how human stem cells-extraordinary cells capable of giving rise to all the other cells in our bodies-assume their identities. In just one short year, stem cells have shown promise for treating a dizzying variety of human diseases. In its annual "Top Ten" list, appearing in the 17 December 1999 issue, Science salutes this research and nine more of the year's hottest scientific developments for their profound implications for society and the advancement of science.

This was the pivotal year in which scientists and the public grappled with the ethical and scientific implications of stem cell research. Late last year, two teams of researchers managed to make stem cells from human embryos grow in the laboratory, producing bone, muscle, nerve, and other types of cells. It may someday be possible to use this approach to treat human disease in ways never before thought possible, such as growing new organs or repairing nerve damage. But, for many, using cells from a human embryo to do so is a troubling prospect. Although the debate is sure to continue, new federal rules suggest that the climate for embryonic stem cell research may be beginning to thaw.

And there are few ethical concerns regarding stem cells from adults, which may also provide fodder for important therapies. These cells, which supply new cells to parts of the body with high cellular turnover rates such as the skin, blood, or the nervous system, were the subject of a flurry of astonishing discoveries in 1999. We have now learned that under the right conditions many adult stem cells can shed their old identities and adopt new ones, for example producing blood cells instead of nerve cells-a finding just as surprising as learning that Yo Yo Ma won the Wimbledon Cup.

Science also salutes nine other research advances that made 1999 a banner year f

Contact: Heather Singmaster
American Association for the Advancement of Science

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