Monday, June 06, 2005

Stem Cells Without the Embryos

I'll leave it for our resident bioengineer to anlyze, but this looks interesting:
"Stem Cell Advances May Make Moral Issue Moot."

"In recent months, a number of researchers have begun to assemble intriguing evidence that it is possible to generate embryonic stem cells without having to create or destroy new human embryos.

"The research is still young and largely unpublished, and in some cases it is limited to animal cells...Yet the gathering consensus among biologists is that embryonic stem cells are made, not born -- and that embryos are not an essential ingredient. That means that today's heated debates over embryo rights could fade in the aftermath of technical advances allowing scientists to convert ordinary cells into embryonic stem cells."

From a political standpoint, this offers an way around the current and bitter embryonic stem cell debate. In my own amateur opinion, politicians and activists on all sides should get behind this and push hard. There's still a ways to go - but it could unlock the potential of stem cell research while eliminating the ethical problems that a significant portion of Americans have with the technology. Wouldn't that be easier for everybody?


At 4:03 PM, Blogger Nathan said...

My first thought about this article was that the author was just as confused about stem cells as the majority of America. The article was not consistent within its own apparent definition of stem cells, leading to possible confusions all over the place.

For one, there is legal stem cell research conducted in this country right now. All Pres Bush did was to stop all federal funding for NEW stem cell lines. Cell lines that existed at the time he signed the legislation are still being researched.

Usually the term "embryonic stem cell" refers to a cell that has not yet undergone differentiation to become a specific tissue (heart, lung, bone, etc.) It comes from the cell blob of an know, when a sperm fertilizes an egg. Researchers want to use these cells and 'train' them to become specialized cells (like insulin producing beta islet pancreas cells).

Although the media has exploited embryonic stem cells as the 'cure all' of the new millenium, it is not necessarily true. Other treatments and methods have also showed equal, if not greater, promise in treating most conditions.

The true ethical dilema with stem cells is the same as abortion...when does life begin? If you believe that life begins at conception, then using embryonic stem cells would be equivalent to abortion. Essentially, Pres Bush has stood morally fast with what he thinks is right regarding this issue.

Also, we should not disregard research being done to promote de-differentiation. That is making specialized cells, like skin cells, become generic again in the hopes of using them for a different tissue like heart or bone. This research is also quite promising and does not involve embryos in any way. This route is being researched heavily, regardless of its lack of media attention. I think this is the most promising area of research because it allows you to use your own cells to treat yourself. No moral issues. And no immune rejection either.

At 10:24 PM, Blogger Bradley said...

Prior to the publication of the article cited in this post, NPR's Science Friday had a story on this topic with Leon Kass of the President's Council on Bioethics. Ira Flatow, the host of the show, openly doubted Kass's claim of stem cells generated from an adult. You can find information on the show here and audio here.


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