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Genetic engineering and stem cell science: What the next 30 years may bring

In honor of its 30th anniverary, the October issue of DISCOVER includes a section on 11 prominent scientists' predictions about the next 30 years. Biologist Ian Wilmut, PhD, was chosen to share his thoughts on the future of genetic engineering and stem cell research, and he strikes a hopeful tone:

The coming together of a number of different biological fields - stem cell biology, molecular genetics, and chemical engineering - will provide lots of new medical opportunities. Over the long term we should be able to control degenerative disorders like Parkinson’s, motor neuron disease, and heart disease. We will have the opportunity to understand the molecular basis of these diseases and to identify drugs that may be able to prevent symptoms, or to identify stem cell populations that can be implanted to replace damaged or dead cells.

Wilmut goes on to mention the work of Stanford's Marius Wernig, MD, who recently transformed skin cells directly into nerve cells. "Techniques like that may lead to novel therapies while avoiding the primary downfall of stem cell therapies: the development of tumors," Wilmut notes.

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