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Pluripotency - A Breakthrough in Science and Spirit
by Dr. Arnie Gotfryd

When a person decides to work on one cell, and to ensure that it grows and reproduces exceptionally well, this single cell may well prove to be the optimal catalyst for all of the surrounding cells. For anybody involved in this area of research, there is surely no need for any further explanation. - Rebbe's letter dated Feb. 13, 1955 (Igros Kodesh 10:332)

The "Breakthrough of the Year," according to the prestigious journal, SCIENCE, is a powerful and elegant advance in genetics that is revolutionizing medical research and making great strides toward defeating all hereditary illness. 
The excitement is about scientists discovering safe, simple and reversible ways to transform regular cells from tissue like skin or hair follicles into stem cells that can morph into any other type of cell in its environment. No longer will scientists need to tread on morally thin ice by harvesting stem cells from aborted embryos.

To understand the concept, think back to your first day, when you were a single cell in your mother's womb. Only after you multiplied your way up to a 64-cell ball did your cells really start to differentiate into different types. By the time you were born, your cells had all diversified into the full array of muscle, bone, nerve, heart, lung, and so on that make up your body today.
Traditionally that cellular destiny was considered final, or at least until 2006 when Japanese researchers turned the clock back on mouse tail cells turning them into "induced pluripotent stem cells," a.k.a. iPS cells, by injecting a tiny amount of genetic material.
Once the cells go iPS, they play out like jokers in a deck of cards. When placed among other cell types, chemical signaling from the surrounding tissue induces the iPS cells to become just like their neighbors, only healthier, thus promoting health in the whole organism.

By now the application has been broadened to include a diversity of cell types and a diversity of animals as well, including humans, mice and monkeys. Already therapeutic success has been recorded with healthy new tissue being generated to replace diseased cells. For example, insulin-producing pancreas cells have been created that can replace the ones destroyed by diabetes.

The methods are rapidly becoming simpler and safer as well, with the use of short- lived, chemical and biological carriers that deliver a few activator genes that get the cell's own DNA to become pluripotent. In fact, in some cases a culture of iPS cells can be created by the injection of just one gene.

*   *   *   *   *

In 1927, the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe had been sentenced to death for the 'crime' of spreading Judaism in Soviet Russia. On Gimel Tamuz his sentence was commuted to exile in a far-flung Russian village. No one knew what would become of him and it was only later understood that the exile was a stage in his liberation,  which eventually led to the liberation of Russian Jewry as a whole.
What can we learn from this, and how does it relate to iPS cells?

One of the Previous Rebbe's adages was "l'alter l'teshuvah, l'alter l'geulah" that immediate repentance would lead to immediate redemption. 

But what is teshuvah all about? We start off as kids, pure and innocent. We grow up, indulge, mess up and corrupt ourselves. Soon we are set in our ways with no apparent way out. True, we've got the inherent ability to improve but our spiritual genes have turned themselves off.

Enter Teshuvah, that little injection, the thought of return. Once allowed access to the mind, like the injected gene snippet accesses the DNA 'brains' of the cell, that little injection will arouse our sleeping genes and restore our youthful pluripotency, where everything is truly possible once more.

The next step is to get transplanted into the right environment, to integrate into the Jewish community, absorb the vibes and resonate with the Torah and mitzvos around us until we fit right in. Beyond all that, a properly integrated baal teshuvah, like an iPS cell, can help heal the very environment that matures him.

More recently, Gimel Tamuz took on further significance. In 1994, the present Lubavitcher Rebbe passed on to another stage of life, one that leaves his flock wondering where the shepherd is. As with the Previous Rebbe's exile in 1927, this event leaves us hanging. Where will it lead? How will it work out?

The Rebbe taught us that the Previous Rebbe's liberation on Yud-Beis Tamuz is proof that retroactively, Gimel Tamuz was actually the beginning of his redemption and therefore a cause for celebration. But how can we celebrate today, when our suffering is so intense that our hereditary faith got corrupted? The truth is we need an injection, but what?

The Hebrew word for exile is Golah - גולה, while the Hebrew word for Redemption is very similar, Geulah - גאולה, the difference being just the insertion of a single letter, the alef, representing the Creator. The injection we need is a little G-dliness in our lives, and that will reawaken our dormant faith, restoring our pluripotency to take on whatever the world throws our way and transform Golah to Geulah once and for all - iPSo facto.



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