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Elixir of Life
by Prof. Yirmiyahu Branover

Many medical researchers look upon embryonic stem cells as an elixir of life. These cells are undifferentiated and can grow into any type of tissue, leading to hopes that they can be used to restore damaged nerves and organs, which normally do not regrow. Research into embryonic stem cells is hampered by numerous technical difficulties. Many countries have placed limitations on their use, for ethical reasons. Recently, a method has been developed by Kyoto University in Japan to get around the problem.

Their technique is to induce adult stem cells to revert to the embryonic stage. Three or four genes that are responsible for the reversion are introduced to the cell by a virus. The cells , called iPS, for induced pluripotent stem cells, can then grow into any type of cell, just like embryonic stem cells. There are no ethical issues involved, since the cells are normal adult cells. Furthermore, if a patient's own cells can be induced to return to the embryonic stage to regrow damaged tissue, there is no risk of rejection.

Scientists admit that there are still a number of issues to be worked out. For example, the genes that are introduced by viruses can cause problems later on, such as turning on or off the expression of certain vital genes and leading to tumor development. However, most scientists are optimistic that these problems can be worked out, and any cell in the body can be made to "start over" from the embryonic cell stage.

The process sounds very similar to the "resurrection of the dead," described in Torah sources as the regeneration of the body from one indestructible bone, the luz. Resurrection of the dead is a spiritual concept and will be entirely miraculous; yet, it will still be a biological process, producing an actual physical body that is a direct replacement for the body that died.          

Until the development of iPS, it was unthinkable to researchers that adult tissue could be regenerated without using embryonic stem cells. Using adult cells and causing them to revert genetically to an embryonic stage is like a dream of Geulah: to remain what you are, an adult in every sense, fully developed with an adult's maturity and wisdom, yet with the infinite capacity for growth and development like an embryo.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe added another facet to our understanding of the Redemption process: Those of us who are alive today will not have to go through death in order to experience resurrection. Rather, we will proceed directly to everlasting life, with no interruption at all. In other words, the immortal body that we will have after the resurrection is already part of us, and will be expressed during the time of Redemption, with no interruption at all in our physical life.



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