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America's Culture War: Stem-Cell Research

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Adult Stem Cells Match the Potential of Embryonic Stem Cells

by  Caleb Colley, Ph.D.

For years, ethical issues have plagued the development of embryonic stem-cell research in America (cf. Bush, 2001). Despite its slight potential for therapeutic benefits in the distant future, embryonic stem-cell research has been shown to be unethical because it necessitates killing people (see Thompson and Harrub, 2001; cf. Gibson, 2007; Colley, 2007). Scientists also have known for several years that adult stem-cell research has yielded greater results than embryonic stem-cell research (see Harrub and Thompson, 2004; Miller, 2007). Unlike embryonic stem-cells, however, adult stem-cells are only partially pluripotent, “capable of forming several cell types—principally blood, muscle, and nerve cells. It has been possible to recognize, select, and develop them to the point that they form mature cell types with the help of growth factors and regulating proteins” (Lillge, 2001; cf. “Stem Cell Basics,” 2006).

Now, it has been demonstrated that adult skin cells not only can be “reprogrammed” to assume earlier levels of development, but they actually can be transformed into “blank slates that should be able to turn into any of the 220 cell types of the human body, be it heart, brain, blood or bone” (Kolata, 2007). This method allows for the development of truly pluripotent cells without resorting to “therapeutic” cloning or the destruction of embryos (see Kolata, 2007). Stem-cells from adults may offer hope of developing therapies for patients suffering from diseases such as diabetes, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s (see McIlroy, 2007).

Kyoto University’s Shinya Yamanaka and his colleagues “used a retrovirus to ferry into adult cells the same four genes they had previously employed to reprogram mouse cells” (Vogel and Holden, 2007, 318:1224). Yamanaka’s group reported on November 21:

Human iPS [induced pluripotent stem—CC] cells were similar to human embryonic stem (ES) cells in morphology, proliferation, surface antigens, gene expression, epigenetic status or pluripotent cell-specific genes, and telomerase activity. Furthermore, these cells could differentiate into cell types of the three germ layers in vitro and in teratomas. These findings demonstrate that iPS cells can be generated from adult human fibroblasts (Takahashi, et al., 2007, 131:1 parenthetical item in orig.).

James Thompson of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and his colleagues were performing similar experiments and reported their findings at virtually the same time (Vogel and Holden, 2007). He told Science that the reprogrammed adult skin cells “act just like human ES cells” (Vogel and Hogel, 2007, 318:1225).

Researchers agree that the next step is to learn how to reprogram cells without inserting new genes (318:1225). Stem-cell researcher Douglas Melton of Harvard University, commented: “It’s almost inconceivable at the pace this science is moving that we won’t find a way to do this without oncogenes or retroviruses” (quoted in Vogel and Holden, 318:1225). Gibson’s observation that adult stem-cells are “superior to both umbilical and embryonic stem cells” carries even more weight in light of current developments (2007). In view of the general desire to develop cures for major diseases, and the respect for the sanctity of human life, we suspect the pattern of developing nonviolent means of therapeutic research will continue. As it does, we will continue to be impressed by the striking evidence for an intelligent Designer, and recall His strictures against murder (see Miller, 2003).

REFERENCES

Bush, George W. (2001), “Remarks by the President on Stem-Cell Research,” [On-line], URL: http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2001/08/20010809-2.html.

Colley, Caleb (2007), “Therapeutic Embryonic Stem-Cell Research ‘Just Not Realistic’,” [On-line], URL: http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/3504.

Gibson, Robert (2007), “Stem Cell Research Is Good News for Heart Patients,” The Epoch Times, [On-line], URL: http://en.epochtimes.com/news/7-10-11/60678.html.

Harrub, Brad and Bert Thompson (2004), “Presidential Elections, Superman, Embryonic Stem Cells, Bad Science, and False Hope,” [On-line] URL: http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/2621.

Kolata, Gina (2007), “Scientists Bypass Need for Embryo to Get Stem Cells,” The New York Times, [On-line], URL: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/21/science/21stem.html.

Lillge, Wolfgang (2001), “The Case for Adult Stem Cell Research,” 21st Century Science and Technology Magazine, [On-line], URL: http://www.21stcenturysciencetech.com/articles/winter01/stem_cell.html.

McIlroy, Anne (2007), “Stem-Cell Method Hailed as ‘Massive Breakthrough’,” The Globe and Mail, [On-line], URL: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20071121. wstemcells21/BNStory/Science/home.

Miller, Dave (2003), “Abortion and the Bible,” [On-line], URL: http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/1964.

Miller, Dave (2007), “Adult Stem-Cell Research,” [On-line], URL: http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/3272.

“Stem Cell Basics” (2006), The National Institutes of Health, [On-line], URL: http://stemcells.nih.gov/info/basics/basics5.asp.

Takahashi, Kazutoshi, et al. (2007), “Induction of Pluripotent Stem Cells from Adult Human Fibroblasts by Defined Factors,” Cell, 131:1-12, November, [On-line], URL: http://images.cell.com/images/Edimages/Cell/IEPs/3661.pdf.

Thompson, Bert and Brad Harrub (2001), “Human Cloning and Stem-Cell Research—Science’s ‘Slippery Slope’ [Part III],” [On-line], URL: http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/2510.

Vogel, Gretchen and Constance Holden (2007), “Field Leaps Forward With New Stem Cell Advances,” Science, 318:1224-1225, November 23.




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