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Quick Uptakes
January 26, 2000

Stem Cells Take Top Honor

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JAMA. 2000;283(4):470. doi:10.1001/jama.283.4.470-JQU90012-4-1

The promise of "dazzling medical applications" from last year's flurry of research on how stem cells differentiate into specialized cell types earned "Breakthrough of the Year" honors from the journal Science. The burst of stem cell studies in 1999 was the outgrowth of research in late 1998 in which stem cells from human embryos were cultured and their development was halted before differentiation took place. The work spurred no less than a dozen major research articles on how stem cells eventually become organ, skin, nerve, and other types of cells. Potential medical applications from these studies are enormous, perhaps someday revealing ways to produce new organs or repair damaged nerves for patients with life-threatening illnesses and life-altering disabilities.

But as ethical debates on the use of stem cells taken from human embryos arose, additional studies showed that adult stem cells taken from the brain and other sites in animals could become blood and other types of cells. The findings have marked what Science called a "turning point" for a new research endeavor.