Stem Cells

Stem Cells: cells that upon division replace their own numbers and also give rise to cells that differentiate further into one or more specialized types. Posts in this category pertain to the moral, ethical, legal, scientific, and philosophical matters regarding the use of adult and embryonic stem cells in research and treatement.

Think For Oneself, Come To The Right Conclusion

Filed in Politics, ScienceTags: Media Bias, Stem Cells

At least, that's what happened for Jason Kotecki of the Escape Reality blog:

A lot of really good scientific information is out there, if you look for it. And yet I’m still left scratching my head. If adult cells have a proven track record for making people better, why all the hullabaloo about the embryonic incarnations? Why the big push for embryonic stem cell research when it clearly involves tinkering with life and has nowhere near the track record of the other types of stem cells anyway? Why all this talk about being "for" or "against" stem cell research? In my estimation, we should all be for it. But why aren’t the distinctions between the types of stem cells spelled out in the media? Is it because the media can’t resist the juiciness of pitting two sides against each other? Is it because an accurate distinction between the different types doesn’t fit nicely into a 30-second sound byte? And why do politians always feel the need to jump in and muddy the waters?

My advice, Jason: follow the money.

Ayn Rand Institute Hypocrisy

Filed in Politics, Science, Social IssuesTags: Clone The Truth, Cloning, Media Bias, Sanctity of Life, Stem Cells

Mary Meets Dolly parses a despicable attempt at rationalization of the inhumanity of human embryos by David Holcberg and Alex Epstein of the Ayn Rand Institute.

The authors use several tactics. Here is the first:

But embryos used in embryonic stem cell research are manifestly not human beings--not in any rational sense of the term. These embryos are smaller than a grain of sand, and consist of at most a few hundred undifferentiated cells. They have no body or body parts. They do not see, hear, feel, or think. While they have the potential to become human beings--if implanted in a woman's uterus and brought to term--they are nowhere near actual human beings.

Unfortunately for them, human embryos are, by unbiased definition, human beings. Genetically, they are fully human. They are not "potential" humans. The self-direct their growth and development, meaning the human embryo manifestly exhibits initiative toward that end. Just because some activist SCOTUS judges arbitrarily conferred "personhood" on human beings only upon the point of birth does not change the scientific evidence, knowledge, and general belief that life exists intrinsically at the moment of conception.

The second tactic is as follows:

The "pro-lifers" accept on faith the belief that rights are a divine creation: a gift from an unknowable supernatural being bestowed on embryos at conception (which many extend to embryos "conceived" in a beaker). The most prominent example of this view is the official doctrine of the Catholic Church, which declares to its followers that an embryo "is to be respected and treated as a person from the moment of conception; and therefore from that same moment his rights as a person must be recognized."

But rights are not some supernatural construct, mystically granted by the will of "God." They are this-worldly principles of proper political interaction rooted in man's rational nature. Rights recognize the fact that men can only live successfully and happily among one another if they are free from the initiation of force against them. Rights exist to protect and further human life. Rights enable individual men to think, act, produce and trade, live and love in freedom. The principle of rights is utterly inapplicable to tiny, pre-human clusters of cells that are incapable of such actions.

I guess, by this logic, every one of our Founding Fathers was a "pro-lifer". May I remind of the following:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed...

The endowment of rights is not a function of nor dependent upon the capacity of the person to take advantage of those rights; rather, the intrinsic worth of the person is recognized by the unconditional endowment of those rights. The authors' same logic applies to justification for euthanasia of the elderly, the incapacitated, the mentally retarded, or anyone else not deemed inherently "worthy" of such rights as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is the height of arrogance that these authors would deign to set themselves up as arbiters of the inherent worth of any person, no matter at what stage in that person's development.

The logical progression of this line of rationalization leads to the following harrowing statement:

In fact, to attribute rights to embryos is to call for the violation of actual rights. Since the purpose of rights is to enable individuals to secure their well-being, a crucial right, inherent in the right to liberty and property, is the right to do scientific research in pursuit of new medical treatments. To deprive scientists of the freedom to use clusters of cells to do such research is to violate their rights--as well as the rights of all who would contribute to, invest in, or benefit from this research.

The last person to try such reasoning did so in order to implement said scientific research on another group of humans deemed unworthy of the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The end result: the death of millions of Jews in the Holocaust.

Having fully lost all grasp of reality, the authors resort to what is now the commonplace argument for ESC research:

And to the extent that rights are violated in this way, we can expect deadly results. The political pressure against embryonic stem cell research is already discouraging many scientists and businessmen from investing their time and resources in its pursuit. If this research can lead, as scientists believe, to the ability to create new tissues and organs to replace damaged ones, any obstacles placed in its path will unnecessarily delay the discovery of new cures and treatments for diseases such as Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, and osteoporosis. Every day that this potentially life-saving research is delayed is another day that will go by before new treatments become available to ease the suffering and save the lives of countless individuals. And if the "pro-lifers" ever achieve the ban they seek on embryonic stem cell research, millions upon millions of human beings, living or yet to be born, might be deprived of healthier, happier, and longer lives.

Yet these hypocrites ignore new treatments for such conditions being developed and used every day, when such treatments are derived from adult stem cell research. They gloss over the glaring failure thus far of ESC research to yield even a single viable treatment. They facilitate the propogation of false hope for those suffering from diseases that likely no stem-cell (adult or embryonic) derived treatments will ever help, such as Alzheimer's.

The authors leave us with this conclusion:

The enemies of embryonic stem cell research know this, but are unmoved. They are brazenly willing to force countless human beings to suffer and die for lack of treatments, so that clusters of cells remain untouched.

To call such a stance "pro-life" is beyond absurd. Their allegiance is not to human life or to human rights, but to their anti-life dogma.

If these enemies of human life wish to deprive themselves of the benefits of stem cell research, they should be free to do so and die faithful to the last. But any attempt to impose their religious dogma on the rest of the population is both evil and unconstitutional. In the name of the actual sanctity of human life and the inviolability of rights, embryonic stem cell research must be allowed to proceed unimpeded. Our lives may depend on it.

To claim that an embryo is not a human being is beyond absurd. The proponents of embryonic stem cell research know this, but are unmoved. They are brazenly willing to force their dogmatic, culture-of-death views on the rest of the American people, who continue to demonstrate their disdain for human cloning for any reason, and their disapproval of the destruction of human embryos for research purposes. So, let's recap:


  • Recognizes intrinsic value of life at every age and stage of deveopment
  • Supports the entirely ethically uncontroversial, already proven, and immensely promising adult stem cell research
  • Opposes embryonic stem cell research because the process destroys human embryos, recognized as intrinsically valuable human life

Culture of Death

  • Denies the inherent worth of life based on developmental stage, mental capacity, age, ability to contribute to society, or any other socially or politically expedient reason
  • Ignores the many advances in adult stem cell research, and the tens of thousands of people whose lives have been improved or even saved by such research
  • Rationalizes an untenable position by attempting to redefine terms and change boundaries, and intentionally give false hope by knowingly making unrealistic claims

Ayn Rand is rolling over in her grave.

Cord Blood and MS

Filed in ScienceTags: Stem Cells

An umbilical cord blood stem cell treatment appears to have yielded positive results in treating Multiple Sclerosis.

The UK resident traveled to Rotterdam for the treatment, which the report inexplicably refers to as "controversial" and claims is "banned" in the UK.

Also noteworthy, the report claims that the MS Society (UK) opposes the procedure. I found this, this, and this on their website.

Alzheimer’s and Stem Cells: The Reality

Filed in Politics, ScienceTags: Media Bias, Stem Cells

Dennis York lays out the reality concerning Alzheimer's and potential stem-cell related treatments.

Stem Cell Treatment Eliminates Lupus

Filed in ScienceTags: Stem Cells

Isn't it amazing - coincidental, even - that every single instance of realized promise of stem cells have come from adult stem cells? Yet, this KGO-TV (San Jose) story finds it "surprising" that a Lupus-curing procedure comes from adult stem cells [emphasis added]:

We've all heard a lot about the promise of stem cells in medicine. Now researchers say they have taken a huge step forward, using a type of these cells to treat a devastating disease. Surprisingly, the cells are taken directly from the patient.


First, patients have blood removed to harvest the stem cells. Next, chemotherapy destroys the existing, broken immune system. Patients are then given stem cells to build a new immune system.


The treatment is now being tested in individuals with other diseases, like MS and diabetes. However, there are risks, including possible blood transfusions, infection, nausea, and an effect on fertility. So it should be weighed very carefully.

This was a small study of only 50 patients. Now the goal is to expand the research to more patients and other diseases.

If so many heads weren't buried in the embryonic sand, reports such as this one wouldn't be surprising at all.

Researchers Get OK, Reporter Gets Confused

Filed in Science, Social IssuesTags: Clone The Truth, Cloning, Sanctity of Life, Stem Cells

So much mis-information, so little time...

Two teams of Boston scientists announced Tuesday that they will attempt to creating the world's first cloned human embryonic stem cells.

Technically speaking, stem cells, by definition, clone themselves. Stem cells are self-replicating.

Harvard Stem Cell Institute and Boston Children's Hospital researchers said they will try to develop a powerful new tool to explore the biology of and create disease-specific stem cell lines that could lead to the treatment of a wide range of now-incurable conditions afflicting tens of millions of people worldwide.

Note to reporter: stem-cell research - especially embryonic stem cell research - is not required to explore the biology of a "wide range of now-incurable conditions." (Though, given the poor grammatical structure of the lead-in sentence, I'm unsure whether she meant "biology of...a wide range of now-incurable conditions" or "biology of...stem cell lines.")

Researchers plan to initially focus on diabetes and then expand to include neurodegenerative diseases, such as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, better known as Lou Gehrig?s Disease, and blood disorders.

Note, again, to reporter: adult stem cell treatments are already proving effective in these areas.

The method, called somatic cell nuclear transfer, involves removing the nucleus, which contains DNA, from an affected cell and replacing it with the nucleus from a donor cell, researchers explained. The cell is then forced to divide into multiple cells that are genetically identical to the healthy donor cell. The method has already proven successful in animal research. Patients with diabetes, blood disease and neurodegeneration will donate the cells. Embryos that were created through in vitro fertilization that have been deemed incapable of producing a pregnancy will be the source of the embryonic cells.

This has to be the most inaccurate explanation of SCNT I've yet seen. Just to clarify:

In somatic cell nuclear transfer the nucleus of a somatic cell (a cell other than a sperm or egg cell) is removed and the rest of the cell is discarded. In parallel, the nucleus of an egg cell is removed. The nucleus of of the somatic cell is then inserted into the denucleated egg cell. The egg, now containing the nucleus of a somatic cell, is stimulated in such a way that it begins to divide.

So, to correct:

  • Enucleated somatic cells are not necessarily "affected" cells; they are simply non-gametic cells from the person to be cloned.
  • The enucleated somatic cell is not placed into an enucleated somatic cell; it is placed into an enucleated egg.
  • The result is not simply another cell; it is a zygote genetically identical to the donor of the somatic cell.
  • The resultant zygote is not merely genetically identical to the donor somatic cell; it is genetically identical to the donor of that somatic cell.
  • The resultant zygote is not forced to divide into multiple cells; it is electrically induced to begin self-directed mitosis, from which the single-cell zygote proceeds into the various stages of embryonic development, and beyond.
  • IVF embryos have absolutely nothing to do with SCNT. Using IVF embryos is an alternate, and currently, only successful, means of harvesting embryonic stem cells.

Moving on:

Human embryonic stem cell research has long been at the center of controversy because in extracting healthy cells, days-old human embryos are destroyed. Embryonic cells are used because they are capable of developing into any cell or tissue type in the body. Opponents of the work claim that no potential medical benefit can justify the destruction of what they view as a human life.

"What they view" as human life? Embryologists universally agree that first, the blastocyst from which stem cells are harvested (and which is destroyed in the process) is an embryo, and second, that embryos, being self-directing in their growth and development, are living. Thus, human embryos are human life.

Harvard President Lawrence Summers is hopeful the research will lead to millions of people being able to live healthier lives.

"While we understand and respect the sincerely held beliefs of those who oppose this research, we are equally sincere in our belief that the life-and-death medical needs of countless suffering children and adults justifies moving forward with this research," Summers said in a release about the work.

Then again:

"Given that embryos are human beings, they have a right to self and a right to life. Exploiting their parts (ie, cells) or killing them for research is moral trespass that society should not allow. Even if the research might, and let’s be clear, might benefit others, this trespass is not justified."

--James Sherley, Ph.D. associate professor of biological engineering at MIT

Parents See Success in Stem Cell Treatment

Filed in ScienceTags: Stem Cells

From the Cape Cod Times [emphasis added]:

Doctors at Nanshan Hospital in Shenzhen, China, gave Jonathan five injections of 10 million umbilical cord stem cells each into his spinal column to try to trigger a healing process in his damaged brain cells. He has a condition known as hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy, or HE, from a near-drowning in the family pool 11 years ago. As a result, he is unable to walk, talk or see anything beyond shadows.

Raylove, a West Barnstable acupuncturist, and Tonelli, a family therapist, heard about Nanshan Hospital's stem cell program through an Internet network of parents of children with brain damage. The center was founded by the Beike Biotechnology Co. and is located across the border from Hong Kong.

According to the Beike Web site, Nanshan doctors have focused on stem cell research since 1999 and have treated more than 500 patients, including those suffering from ALS, brain trauma and cerebral palsy.

Setting aside the issue of seeking treatments administered outside of regulatory control (which I don't advocate, but also certainly don't condemn, either - especially in cases like this one), here we see cord blood being used in humans, to treat conditions for which ESC research is touted as the Great Hope.

I Wonder What the Coalition Has to Say About Her Story?

Filed in Politics, Science, Social IssuesTags: Media Bias, Stem Cells

From the State Register-Journal in Springfield, IL, comes the story of this courageous young woman who will be speaking in favor of Adult Stem Cell (ASC) research, and in opposition to Embryonic Stem Cell (ESC) research:

Jacki said she wants to help other patients benefit from adult stem cells.

She said she is going to Washington to draw attention to the promise of treatments involving these cells, which already are used in the United States in bone marrow and umbilical cord-blood transplants.

She said she opposes the use of embryonic stem cells because embryos must be destroyed for those cells to be used.

"It is like an abortion," she said. "I don't think you need to kill a life to help somebody else whose already living. But adult stem-cell research I'm for, because it's not hurting anybody or affecting anybody. It's just using your own body to help yourself."

This girl's story is just amazing, and incredibly inspirational:

A former standout volleyball player, she spends at least an hour a day at her church, First Baptist in Waverly, where she practices walking with her braces.

When Jacki went through the surgery, she thought she would be walking without braces by now - an outcome that none of Lima's 80 patients has achieved since he began doing it in 2002. Now she would settle for more feeling in her trunk and legs.

The depression she said she sometimes feels doesn't discourage her for long, she said. But she has been disappointed lately by not being able to find a job in retail or at an office.

She said she has put her college plans on hold and has applied for jobs at many locations in Springfield and previously worked at an ice-cream shop in Waverly. She refuses to apply for federal disability payments.

"I'm motivated, and I do my best in everything I can, and I'm very independent," said Jacki, who drives and graduated fourth in her senior class of 21 at Waverly High School.

Of course, since her procedure involved adult, rather than embryonic, stem cells, the MSM will largely ignore it - and that is tragic, not just with respect to the stem cell issue, but also because of the character and determination of this young woman as she fights for her own betterment, and advocates for the benefit of others.

ESC Research Nearing Obsolescence?

Filed in Science, Social IssuesTags: Cloning, Sanctity of Life, Stem Cells

The Missouri Roundtable blog reports that German scientists have acquired pluripotent stem cells from an adult mouse testis, the discovery of the presence of multi-lineage stem cells in amniotic fluid, and the development of a technique to acquire in large numbers blastomere-like stem cells (BLSCs), which have been demonstrated to be able to differentiate into most tissue types of the body, from peripheral blood.

If ESC researchers don't hurry up, their work will be rendered useless.

Definition Of Embryo Death Criteria May Open Doors For Stem Cell Research

Filed in Science, Social IssuesTags: Sanctity of Life, Stem Cells

From Medical News Today comes this interesting report that could perhaps avert some of the ethical controversy surrounding the use of IVF embryos:

A research team from Columbia has, for the first time, identified criteria through which embryo death can be confirmed. The implications for stem cell research are huge - by confirmation of embryo death, embryos could be harvested, just as organs are for transplantation, in order to generate stem cells for research and, ultimately, therapeutic purposes.

The details:

They found that many nonviable embryos (n = 142 out of 444) were hypocellular and lacked compaction on embryonic day 5 (ED5). All of the hypocellular embryos failed to progress to compacted morula or normal blastocyst when observed further. The research team conclude that arrested development at the multicellular stage on ED5 indicates an irreversible loss of integrated organic function, and hence, the condition of death.

The practical implication:

Approximately a fifth of all embryos generated for in vitro fertilization - conventionally classified as ‘nonviable' - are in fact dead on ED5 by Landry's criteria... The researchers propose that the ethical framework currently used for obtaining essential organs from deceased persons for transplantation could be applied to the harvesting of live cells from dead human embryos for the creation of stem cells.

If these embryonic death criteria can be further investigated and confirmed, and if such nonviable embryos can, in fact, yield usable tissue for research, then these researchers may have just found a way to harvest embryonic stem cells without the ethical/moral stigma of having destroyed viable human life in order to do so.

I would guess that these observations are in their infancy with respect to practical use and widespread acceptance, but for the time being, I'll take a "cautiously optimistic" stance.