New Research Weakens Anti-Embryonic Stem Cell Supporters
The opponents of embryonic stem cell research have received a major setback in their arguments. New research has just shown that the alternatives that they advocated are not only not equivalent, but are decidedly inferior for the major purpose of the research–creating specialized human and animal replacement cells.
One argument against the use of Embryonic stem cells for research, in addition to the quasi moral one of using potential life forms, is that it is unnecessary because there is a scientific method of taking normal cells and treating them in the laboratory in such as way as to make them “pluripotent.” This is the property that allows the embryonic stem cell to transform into any other kind of cell. This of course is just what makes the embryonic stem cell so desirable as a research tool. And the new research shows that the alternatives are inferior–they die rapidly!
However, opponents of embryonic stem cell use argue that scientists should instead use the specially treated cells which also can be made pluripotent. From a political point of view, why upset the passionate minority who are destressed about use of embryonic stem cells when there are other pluripotent cells that can be generated.
Most biological scientists have been reluctant to give up the use of embryonic stem cells even though there are other pluripotent cells available. Their reasoning has been theoretical and practical in the sense that although both types are pluripotent, that does not mean that one will not prove superior to the other depending on the experiment and desired use. They wanted to use and did use BOTH.
However, in a new study just completed, it has been demonstrated that the treated pluripotent skin cells do differ from embryonic stem cells in one very critical respect: The pluripotent skin cells age much faster. If the objective is to grow replacement cells for different parts of the body, short lived replacements would be far inferior to the longer living embryonic stem cells.
This does not imply that pluripotent skin cell research should be abandoned. They may have other properties, that for certain functions might make them superior. The research however cuts the logical legs out of the argument that embryonic stem cell research should cease as there was a “moral ” alternative. Total equivalence of two different substances is impossible. If there were total equivalence, they would be the same substance. The argument for exclusive use of treated skin cells was scientifically irrational to begin with, just on theoretical grounds. The stopping of inquiry and learning is too high a price to pay for a tenuous moral connection of a small minority of the world to impede the progress of the rest.
There is one question I have always posed to embryonic stem cell opponents. Would you be willing to agree that, no matter what medical advances might come from embryonic stem cell research, you would agree that you, your children, and your grandchildren should never be allowed to use them?
Churches can and have changed their doctrine and beliefs over time. The Roman Catholic Church has no difficulty today benefitting from the work of Galileo. And the Church who called for teacher Scopes to be jailed for teaching Evolution in the 1920’s today themselves teach Evolution in the finest Catholic universities of the world with the approval and endorsement of the Pope.
The greatest sin is to stop or block learning except in the cases of the clear and present danger that is agreed to by the vast majority of the population, and even then is a very suspect activity. As Huxley and many others have observed, every significant scientific advance has begun as a heresy for some–including some scientists themselves.
The research was done by Qiang Feng of Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine International in Worcester, Mass. It was reported in the latest issue of Stem Cell Journal.