Stem cell breakthrough

Speaking of stem cell research, a friend has alerted me to the following story. Prolifers have been arguing for years that research on embryonic stem cells is both immoral and unnecessary (See my essay on the topic written in May 2002). Of course, advocates of embryonic stem cell research remain unconvinced. As I stated in my essay, we all want to find cures to diseases. Some of us, however, would like to avoid sacrificing innocent lives in the process.

NEW YORK – Scientists have created the equivalent of embryonic stem cells from ordinary skin cells, a breakthrough that could someday produce new treatments for disease without the explosive moral questions of embyro cloning.

Research teams in the United States and Japan showed that a simple lab technique can rival the complex and highly controversial idea of extracting stem cells from cloned embryos.

It was a landmark achievement on all fronts, defusing one of the most divisive debates in modern medicine and religion. It was lauded by scientists, ethicists and religious groups.

“This work represents a tremendous scientific milestone — the biological equivalent of the Wright Brothers’ first airplane,” said Dr. Robert Lanza, whose company, Advanced Cell Technology, has been trying to extract stem cells from cloned human embryos.

“It redefines the ethical terrain,” said Laurie Zoloth, a bioethicist at Northwestern University.

“It’s a win-win for everyone involved,” said the Rev. Thomas Berg of the Westchester Institute, a Roman Catholic think tank. “We have a way to move forward which … brings the kind of painful national debate over this controversial research to very much a peaceful and promising resolution.”

At the White House, President Bush, who vetoed two bills to allow federal funding for stem-cell research, was described as “very pleased.”

“The president believes medical problems can be solved without compromising either the high aims of science or the sanctity of human life,” said a statement from his press secretary.

The new technique reprograms cells, giving them the chameleon-like qualities of embryonic stem cells, which can morph into all kinds of tissue, such as heart, nerve and brain. As with embryonic cells, the hope is to speed medical research. For example, one day an ailing patient might benefit from genetically matched healthy tissue that would replace damaged cells.

The research was published online Tuesday by two journals, Cell and Science. The Cell paper is from a team led by Dr. Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University; the team published by Science was led by Junying Yu, working in the lab of stem-cell pioneer James Thomson of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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3 Responses to “Stem cell breakthrough”

  1. Brandon says:

    How did you feel about embryos from in vitro discards being used for research, prior to the current breakthrough?

    Where is your personal definition of life? Due to the continuum of biology (nonevent), I’m wondering where you “decided” to place that marker.

    What religion do you consider yourself to be?


  2. casey says:

    I didn’t agree with embryos from in vitro discards being used for research, either. I understood the reasoning, but I would have preferred that the embryos be given up for adoption instead.

    I don’t have a “personal” definition of when life begins. I go by the one given by scientists:

    “Fertilization is a sequence of events that begins with the contact of a sperm (spermatozoon) with a secondary oocyte (ovum) and ends with the fusion of their pronuclei (the haploid nuclei of the sperm and ovum) and the mingling of their chromosomes to form a new cell. This fertilized ovum, known as a zygote, is a large diploid cell that is the beginning, or primordium, of a human being.”
    [Moore, Keith L. Essentials of Human Embryology. Toronto: B.C. Decker Inc, 1988, p.2]

    “The development of a human being begins with fertilization, a process by which two highly specialized cells, the spermatozoon from the male and the oocyte from the female, unite to give rise to a new organism, the zygote.”
    [Langman, Jan. Medical Embryology. 3rd edition. Baltimore: Williams and Wilkins, 1975, p. 3]

    My religious convictions on the matter are that it is wrong to deliberately rob an innocent individual of their life. I’d say most people can agree with that.

  3. childlife says:

    Great response to your question Casey!

    I think it’s interesting to note that had there been no opposition to this issue, there would have likely been little support for efforts to find more ethical approaches.