Big Gains for Adult Stem Cells Announced 10/04/2010
Oct 4, 2010 — Ever since Shinya Yamanaka figured out how to coax skin cells to become pluripotent stem cells in 2007 (something for which he is being considered for a Nobel Prize, see PhysOrg), other researchers have been improving on his idea. Three big gains were announced recently.
PhysOrg and New Scientist reported work by Derrick Rossi of the Children’s Hospital Boston, who found that programmed messenger RNA (mRNA) can safely insert the cocktail of genetic switches into a cell without modifying the DNA with virus vectors. PhysOrg said that the resulting induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC) are “apparently identical to human embryonic stem cells, the initial building blocks of all the organs of the body.” Science Daily said the new method is “remarkably efficient.”
Another remarkable finding that could speed up the production of adult stem cells was made in Australia. PhysOrg reported that researchers at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and the University of Sydney has “found a way to increase the number of blood-forming stem cells when growing them outside of the body.” The secret is to put them on a unique stretchy surface that mimics their own natural environment in the body. Combining this factor with the previously-used hormone treatments produced two to three times more stem cells in culture. The more they can be grown in the lab, the less they must be harvested from the body – umbilical cords, bone marrow, and other sites – and the more patients can benefit.
In another breakthrough, researchers at the University of Buffalo have found a way to keep adult stem cells from aging. Science Daily said a team has engineered mesenchymal stem cells to “grow continuously in culture, a discovery that could speed development of cost-effective treatments for diseases including heart disease, diabetes, immune disorders and neurodegenerative diseases.” This will not only help bring down the price of stem cell therapies, but permit the production of individually-tailored cell lines. Dr. Techung Lee envisions a day when “one can generate a line from each ethnic group for each gender for people to choose from.”
PhysOrg reported on a presentation at MIT on the progress being made with stem cell therapy. The ability to reprogram adult stem cells to behave just like embryonic stem cells really “electrified the field,” said biologist Rudolf Jaenisch. Some of the hurdles he mentioned with iPSCs in his lecture are being overcome by the announcements from Boston and Sydney. This is great news, because “Using reprogrammed body cells to treat disease would overcome one of the major hurdles to using embryonic stem cells, which is that embryonic cells would likely cause an immune reaction in the patient.” Adult stem cells also overcome the major ethical hurdle of using human embryos for research. It’s onward and forward for reattaching teeth (Science Daily), treating stroke (PhysOrg), repairing damaged hearts (PhysOrg), and who knows else might come from these wonder cells.
This is good science as it should be done: pure research that produces understanding, and looks ahead to the possibility of improving our lives. “Do no harm” states the Hippocratic Oath. A corollary of that is “Do no Darwin” (example).Watch a Darwinist explain living fossils: see the 10/13/2004 entry.
Next headline on: Cell Biology • Health • Politics and Ethics
Then, we find out what Barack Obama is going to do about it...
What are the issues involved?
Published: 19 March 2009(GMT+10)
The Risks of ESC TreatmentThe recent case of an Israeli boy who was injected with embryonic stem cells by Russian doctors highlights the dangers of treatment with embryonic stem cells. Embryonic stem cells are pluripotent, which means they are able to change into more types of tissue than adult stem cells, but they are also less stable. In the case of the Israeli boy, the injections caused tumors in his spine and brain.
Even U.S. News and World Report (by no means a conservative or Christian stronghold politically!) calls embryonic stem cell research ‘obsolete’. While the tumors caused by embryonic stem cells do not seem to be anomalous, adult stem cells, which are multipotent, do not cause these tumors; the worst that happens is that they might die off without producing the hoped-for cure, but they do not seem to have any ill effects. And unlike embryonic stem cells, adult stem cells have actually produced over 70 cures—see detailed documentation of some of them in Stem cells and Genesis.
Why ESCs are unnecessaryIn 2007, scientists discovered a way to force adult stem cells to revert to a pluripotent state, making them like embryonic stem cells without the destruction of human life. What’s more, these induced-pluripotent cells are cheaper than embryonic stem cells while remaining relatively easy to produce, rendering embryonic stem cells inefficient and expensive, comparatively. (Note, however, these induced-pluripotent stem cells, like embryonic stem cells, can cause tumors.)
The Ethical Issues
Indeed, many Americans from every side of the political spectrum oppose embryonic stem cell research. For instance, Democrats for Life of America, associated with Obama’s own political party, said that they stood “against President Obama’s decision, period. There are workable and successful options available to private sector research operations that use umbilical cord blood and non embryonic stem cells. To frame this decision as a necessity to cure finding medical research is not accurate. While we have zero confidence that a call for reversal of this Executive Order will prevail, we are hopeful that the President will heed our call for common ground solutions in dealing with pro-life Democrats.”
This demonstrates that the stem cell debate is far from a political, “right-wing issue”. Their organization’s article about stem cells raises the same problems with embryonic stem cell research showing that this is primarily an ethical, not a political, debate.
Cloning and Embryonic Stem CellsOne issue that complicates embryonic stem cell research is that of tissue rejection. If the stem cells are genetically different from the patient’s own cells, for instance, if they came from an embryo who was discarded from a fertility center, there is a high risk of complications linked to tissue rejection. One way to circumvent this is to clone the patient, thereby gaining embryonic stem cells that are genetically identical to the patient. However, this compounds the immorality of embryonic stem cells by intentionally creating a life to be destroyed.
President Obama has said:
“I will oppose ideologically driven efforts by government to restrict certain types of medical research or to intervene in doctor-patient relationships. While I oppose human cloning, I also oppose federal restrictions on therapeutic stem cell research.”It is (perhaps intentionally) unclear whether the president would lift restrictions on human cloning for stem-cell research, his opposition to any restriction of embryonic stem cell research overriding his opposition to human cloning. However, his statement against cloning for reproductive purposes was much clearer: “we will ensure that our government never opens the door to the use of cloning for human reproduction. It is dangerous, profoundly wrong and has no place in our society, or any society.” So ironically, he seems to be categorically opposed to cloning only if it results in a live baby! In any case, the statement is absurd; human cloning is by definition a form of ‘human reproduction’, whether one is reproducing a human to implant in a uterus, or to rip it apart for its stem cells. (See Legalized Cloning in Australia: What are the issues? The basic arguments apply equally well to America.)
Obama’s anti-life ideology
There is one protection for human embryos still in place: the Dickey Wicker Amendment, included in spending bills each year since 1996, explicitly states that “research in which a human embryo or embryos are destroyed, discarded, or knowingly subjected to risk of injury or death” cannot receive federal funding. Yet pro-abortion politicians are trying to get this last protection overturned.
Unfortunately, this is not the only anti-life action of the Obama administration. In fact, Obama from the very beginning of his term has acted consistently according to his extreme anti-life record in Congress and the Illinois state senate, which led NARAL2 to give him a 100% rating 3 years in a row. This extends even to support for infanticide (see my previous article Bioethicists and Obama agree: infanticide should be legal).
Less than a week after his inauguration, he withdrew the ‘Mexico City Policy’ which withheld federal funds from organizations which provide abortions overseas. This means that American taxpayers are forced to fund overseas abortions whether or not they wish to do so. And less than three months into his presidency there are fears that he may pass the Freedom of Choice Act, which would not only overturn all restrictions states have put on abortion, such as partial-birth abortion bans, parental notification laws, and laws against transporting a minor across state lines for the purpose of an abortion, but would also force doctors and nurses who are pro-life to either violate their conscience and perform abortions, or quit practicing medicine. This would mean that Christian hospitals would likely have to close, and Christian doctors would have to give up their practices for their pro-life views.
Genesis and stem cellsThe arguments against embryonic stem cell research are very similar to those against abortion, the basis of which are found in texts throughout the Bible, starting in Genesis. While it is acceptable to do medical research using animals based on man’s God-given dominion over the rest of creation, man was not given the same authority over other human beings. This means that there is a distinction between what is permissible to do to an animal and what is permissible to do to a human being (recognizing, of course, that man’s dominion over animals is no excuse for cruelty).
The reason human life is more valuable than animal life is also explained in Genesis: unlike animals, mankind is created in the image of God. This means that human life is intrinsically more valuable, and that an attack on life is in a sense an attack on the image of God. That is the basis for the death penalty that God imposed for murder in the covenant He made with Noah after the Flood (Genesis 9:6).
Though it could hardly be a conscious move on the choice of the pro-abortion crowd, it is not surprising that many of the people who are most opposed to any sort of restriction of abortion, which has caused the largest mass-slaughter of human beings in history, or embryonic stem cell research, are also avowed atheists.3 Conversely, Norma McCorvey, better known as the Roe of Roe v. Wade, became pro-life after her conversion to Christianity in 1995.
The basic issuesEmbryonic stem cell research treats a class of human beings not as individuals whose lives have intrinsic value, but as commodities to be used or disposed of for the convenience of others. Embryonic stem cell research has shown almost no promise, unlike adult stem cells which do not destroy a human life. Moreover, the risks involved with embryonic stem cell research make it a very risky form of treatment. But even if these obstacles could be removed, this would not make the act of sacrificing vulnerable human beings for medical advances acceptable, because the basic argument against the use of stem cells is that such research inevitably leads to the destruction of a human life.
- In the sense of not having committed a crime deserving of death, not a denial of the sinful nature of the pre-born human being, from Latin in nocens = not harming. Return to text.
- NARAL was founded in 1968 by Bernard Nathanson, Larry Lader, and Betty Friedan, as an acronym for National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws. After the US Supreme Court invented a hitherto unknown “constitutional” right to abortion in the infamous Roe v Wade case (1973), the name was changed to the National Abortion Rights Action League, then the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League. In 2003 they dropped acronymy completely in favour of NARAL Pro-Choice America. Return to text.
- For example, Humanist Manifesto II (1973) states: ‘The right to birth control, abortion, and divorce should be recognized.’ Its signatories include Alan Guttmacher of Planned Parenthood, Betty Friedan of the National Organisation of Women — both leading pro-abortion organizations — and Henry Morgentaler who was at the forefront of the Canadian push for abortions. Etienne Baulieu, the developer of the abortion pill RU-486, properly known as a human pesticide, is a signatory to Humanist Manifesto 2000. And in New Zealand, a major leader in liberalizing the abortion law was the abortionist Jim Woolnough, who was a member of the NZ Humanist Society. As already documented, Peter Singer uses atheism to attack a sanctity-of-life ethic — not only for unborn babies, but also for newborn babies and elderly people with Alzheimer’s disease. Return to text.