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.

Can the Heart Heal Itself?

Filed in ScienceTags: Stem Cells

From Bioethics.net comes this report on the discovery of clusters of stem cells in the heart:

A team of US researchers has discovered the “home” of stem cells in the heart, lending credence to the idea that the heart has the capacity to repair itself. The finding raises the possibility that these cardiac stem cells could one day be manipulated to rebuild tissues damaged by heart disease – still the leading cause of death in the US and UK.

Comparing Stem Cell Poll Questions

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

Anne Leonard of the Stem Cell Research Blog compares stem cell poll questions, and their divergent results.

The first poll question, from the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research (CAMR), which polled 72% strongly/somewhat in favor:

Embryonic stem cells are special cells which can develop into every type of cell in the human body. The stem cells are extracted from embryonic cells produced in fertility clinics and then frozen days after fertilization. If a couple decides the fertilized eggs are no longer needed, they can choose to donate the embryos for research or the clinic will throw the embryos away. Scientists have had success in initial research with embryonic stem cells and believe that they can be developed into cures for diseases such as cancer, Parkinson’s, heart disease, juvenile diabetes, and spinal cord injuries. Having heard this description, do you strongly favor, somewhat favor, somewhat oppose, or strongly oppose medical research that uses stem cells from human embryos?

The second poll question, from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which polled 48% opposed:

Stem cells are the basic cells from which all of a person's tissues and organs develop. Congress is considering the question of federal funding for experiments using stem cells from human embryos. The live embryos would be destroyed in their first week of development to obtain these cells. Do you support or oppose using your federal tax dollars for such experiments?

She then, after comparing the two poll questions, comes to the following conclusion:

I find the CAMR question better designed (despite its use of “success”) and more objective than the Bishops’ question, which has a lot of ambiguity in it. Maybe I am reading with my own biases and knowledge—but I think providing information about an issue yields a better question than vague and unspecific language.

Huh? The Bishops' question is more "vague" and has more "ambiguity" than the CAMR question? Let's compare, shally we?

Ambiguous:

The stem cells are extracted from embryonic cells produced in fertility clinics and then frozen days after fertilization.

Stem cells are not extracted from "embryonic cells", they are extracted from embryos (destroying them in the process).

Not Ambiguous:

The live embryos would be destroyed in their first week of development to obtain these cells.

Ambiguous:

Scientists have had success in initial research with embryonic stem cells and believe that they can be developed into cures for diseases such as cancer, Parkinson’s, heart disease, juvenile diabetes, and spinal cord injuries.

Embryonic stem cell (ESC) research has yielded no success whatsoever in treating any human injury, illness, or condition.

Not Ambiguous:

Congress is considering the question of federal funding for experiments using stem cells from human embryos.

So, exactly, which poll question is more vague and ambiguous?

More interestingly, and which the post doesn't even address, is this follow-up question in the Bishops' poll, which polled 81% against:

Should scientists be allowed to use human cloning to create a supply of human embryos to be destroyed in medical research?

This question is actually better in comparison to the CAMR question, since the two are more comparable. The entire IVF embryo question is really a red herring, since ESR research proponents prefer "fresh" embryos, and consider frozen embryos to be inferior. Thus, ESR research will come primarily from SCNT-cloned embryos, against which this poll question shows strong opposition.

Stem Cell Success

Filed in ScienceTags: Stem Cells

Well, of course, that would be adult stem cell success...

Never Give Up, Indeed

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

Apparently, Lene Johansen doesn't think that those who support banning human cloning should keep challenging the Stem Cell Initiative.

No, we will never give up. It has something to do with the Initiative, through an intentionally deceptive attempt to re-define "cloning", claiming that the Initiative bans human cloning, while in reality it constitutionally prohibits the legislature from banning human cloning.

So, no; we won't give up, until every Missourian knows the truth. Missourians have the right to make informed decisions about this issue.

Say What?

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

Among other things in this article on the one-year anniversary of Massachussetts' pro-embryonic stem cell (ESC) research legislation, I found this little gem [emphasis added]:

After years of honing his skills in Massachusetts, the 34-year-old stem cell researcher received an offer from a privately endowed research center in Kansas City.

There was only one hitch. In Missouri, Cowan said, he feared his type of research could land him behind bars. In contrast, he felt Massachusetts had put out a welcome mat.

Talk about sensationalism! "Land him in jail"? Really? Considering that none of the research being conducted in Massachussetts is illegal in Missouri, that fear is rather spurious.

Oh, and a side note: I would harbor a guess that the "privately endowed research center in Kansas City" mentioned in the article is none other than the Stowers Institute, founded by the same Jim and Virginia Stowers who are bank-rolling the Missouri Stem Cell Initiative.

The article has more of the usual mis-information. After generally getting the facts straight for most of the article, we come to the following critical failure:

At the heart of the stem cell debate is a procedure known both as somatic cell nuclear transfer or therapeutic cloning.

The basic science involves taking an egg from a woman, removing the 23 chromosomes that would normally match up with 23 chromosomes from a sperm, and replacing them with a full 46 chromosome nucleus from any cell of an adult, essentially creating a single cell clone.

The egg is then induced to begin reproducing until there is a ball of a few hundred stem cells that have the ability to transform themselves into any type of cell in the body. The goal is to use those cells to create cures or treatments for disease.

Good information, up to "single cell clone" - but then the article gets it wrong. That "single cell clone" is no longer an egg, but a zygoe: a single-cell embryo. The embryo proceeds through mitosis (cell division) and into the various stages of embryonic development. At the stage in question - the blastocyst stage - the embryo is comprised of inner and outer cell masses. The outer cell mass will later become the placenta, and the inner mass (which contains the stem cells) progresses into the fetal stages of human development.

In order to use those stem cells, the embryo must be destroyed. A "ball of cells" is not removed from the developing embryo; a developing human being is killed.

The article's conclusion falls under the category of "unintentional irony" [emphasis added]:

Despite his enthusiasm, Zon tries to temper public expectations about the research.

He said the short term goal -- over the next five years or so -- is to gain a greater understanding of human development and use tissue created through human embryonic stem cell research to experiment with potential treatments for diseases.

The longer term goal -- over the next 10 years -- is to create new cells to actually replace defective parts.

"We are just at the beginning," he said.

The only thing realistic here is the last sentence. Every indication is that any real progress with ESC research is, at a minimum, decades away. How giving the impression that meaningful results are 5-10 years away constitutes "tempering public opinion", I can't fathom.

I Don’t Want To Hear It

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

Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) is attempting to use Embryonic Stem Cell (ESC) research as a wedge issue in his re-election campaign. In so doing, it isn't surprising that he falls squarely in line with ESC proponents, by pandering to false-hope sensationalism and attempting to claim a moral/emotional high ground.

I've covered this ground before, and will continue to do so:

The Democrat senator told a panel of experts and advocates at Hackensack University Medical Center that the Republican majority leadership in the U.S. Senate has blocked a vote on his bill to allow funding for work on stem cell lines from new embryos.

The panel, which included Rep. Steve Rothman, D-Fair Lawn, was the first of three campaign stops in North Jersey for Menendez, who replaced Jon Corzine in the Senate and is running for a full term. Other panelists included advocates for research in Parkinson's disease, juvenile diabetes and blood cancers.

I wonder if any of these "advocates" support the Adult Stem Cell (ASC) research that is actually producing meaningful, useful, and promising results in these areas?

But it is the following pander by Menendez that irks me incredibly:

Menendez said the stem cell debate is personal for him because his 85-year-old mother suffers from Alzheimer's disease, one of many illnesses that future research might cure, he said.

"It's difficult to sit across from your mom and have her not know who you are," he said.

Note to Menendez: you don't own the moral high ground on this issue. And I don't want to hear it.

I am sick of Alzheimer's being used as the battle-standard of ESC proponents, and I am equally sick of ESC proponents claiming moral and compassionate superiority over their opponents because of Alzheimer's. The ESC proponents are not the only ones ever to lose a loved one because of Alzheimer's. I never truly knew my grandfather, because by the time I was old enough to have a relationship with him, he was already too mentally deteriorated from the amazing, sharp-witted, character-discerning, loving man my family knew him to be, due to the Alzheimer's that eventually claimed his life when I was a freshman in high school.

Further, it is very likely that I am genetically pre-disposed to Alzheimer's - so I have even more of a vested interest in medical advances and research that will hopefully one day understand and cure this horrendous disease. But I will be damned (and I mean that quite literally) if I put the value of my own life before anyone else's - and that includes cloned or frozen embryos.

I would rather die than destroy another human life - especially when that life would be destroyed for the purpose of research that has produced no meaningful results whatsoever, while other research, having no ethical concerns whatsoever, continues to progress and bring real results and real hope and promise.

Consistent with the Clone the Truth campaign, I am committed to ensuring that the truth about adult and embryonic stem cell and related research is made known.

Thomas Aquinas on Embryoes

Filed in Politics, Religion, Science, Social IssuesTags: Christianity, Cloning, Missouri, Sanctity of Life, Stem Cells

The spin:

St. Thomas Aquinas, the premier teacher in the Roman Catholic tradition, did not think the early fetus was a person - "ensouled," in his language. St. Thomas believed the early life in the womb received a spiritual soul - and became a baby - only after three to four months. Thus, embryonic cells in a lab dish or frozen away are certainly not "ensouled."

The reality

It is true that Aquinas did believe that the soul was not infused at the beginning of a pregnancy. This is because Aquinas followed Aristotle’s embryology (circa 300 B.C.) and believed that an embryo was not formed enough to receive a soul until well into its development. However, 21st century embryology provides clear evidence that everything the soul needs is present from the first moment of every human being’s existence - as numerous Catholic scholars have explained. Aquinas would undoubtedly accept this evidence and agree with the Church’s current teaching.

Further, St. Thomas also believed the intentional ending of a pregnancy at any stage was a sin - regardless of when the soul was present. Thus, he remains firmly within the tradition of the Church in respecting human life at all stages.

More parsing of the original op-ed, later.

Via John Combest.

Gene silencing directs muscle-derived stem cells to become bone-forming cells

Filed in ScienceTags: Stem Cells

More Adult Stem Cell (ASC) advances you won't hear about in the MSM:

Using a relatively new technology called RNA interference to turn off genes that regulate cell differentiation, University of Pittsburgh researchers have demonstrated they can increase the propensity of muscle-derived stem cells (MDSCs) to become bone-forming cells.

Why is this development important, you ask?

Cells can be divided into three primary classifications: endodermal (interior stomach lining, gastrointestinal tract, the lungs), mesodermal (muscle, bone, blood, urogenital), and ectodermal (epidermal tissues and nervous system). Bone and muscle cells are mesodermal tissue. For quite a while now, ASCs have demonstrated multipotency; this development brings the possibility of ASC pluripotency closer to reality.

Of course, if ASCs can be coaxed into pluripotency, the necessity for embryonic stem cells evaporates.

The practical result of the research:

Based on these results, the investigators believe that by turning off specific genetic factors they can control the capacity of MDSCs as a means of treating various musculoskeletal diseases and injuries.

And, the future benefit [emphasis added]:

"By understanding the genetic mechanisms that regulate a cell's propensity to differentiate into one type of cell line over another, we may be able to regulate their ability to generate bone for the treatment of various diseases and injuries of the musculoskeletal system, such as osteoporosis or severe fractures," said first author Jonathan B. Pollett, Ph.D., research associate, department of orthopaedic surgery, Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh.

This isn't pie-in-the-sky hope; this is real promise.

Adult Stem Cell Advances You Don’t Hear About: Mending a Broken Leg

Filed in ScienceTags: Media Bias, Stem Cells

Here is an example of an adult stem cell (ASC) treatment truly on the verge of breakthrough: ASCs used to help mend a broken leg, in a situation normally requiring a bone graft:

About seven weeks ago, Dr de Steiger harvested bone marrow from Mr Stevens' pelvis.

A subgroup of stem cells that can transform into tissues including bone, cartilage and heart, were isolated and grown.

Last week, about 30 million of these cells were implanted in to the 5cm x 3cm hole in Mr Steven's left thigh bone, where they are expected to generate new bone.

The alternative to this pioneering procedure was a painful bone graft.

Using a patient's own cells avoids potential problems of the body rejecting foreign cells. However, it will be three to four months before the success of the operation is known.

This is what is referred to a clinical trial - something into which not one single embryonic stem cell (ESC) derived treatment has progressed. I wonder why the hot-and-bothered-about-stem-cells MSM haven't reported on this story?

Via Missourians Against Human Cloning.

Required Reading on Stem Cell Ethics

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

This interview of Bioethics Senior Scholar Dr. John Kilmer in Christian today is absolutely required reading.

Dr. Kilmer addresses two primary ethical considerations.

First, he addresses the ethical concern of destroying embryoes in order to obtain embryonic stem cells (ESCs) [emphasis added]:

However, one real concern is where we are getting these stem cells from.

We want to highlight the difference between embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells because in terms of adult stem cells they can be obtained without harming the source from which they are being obtained. Whereas embryonic stem cells require destroying embryonic human beings from which they are taken.

But granting for the sake of time that human beings do begin at the embryonic stage – these would be the earliest stage of human being – then one ethical concern is that we do not destroy or harm human beings to obtain these cells. That is one core ethical dilemma.

Second, he addresses the ethical concern of truthful communication regarding stem cell research [emphasis added]:

One other great concern is about how this is being discussed in the media, public policy, and various arenas. The fact is that so often just the term ‘stem cell’ is used, and this promotes the idea that either you are for or against stem cell research. So the discussion may be narrower about some form of stem cell research, but by using the non-specific general term of stem cell, it implies that if you are not for it then you are hard-hearted, uncompassionate, and you don’t care about these people dying.

This is a serious ethical concern – an ethic of truthful communication. Far more has been accomplished with adult stem cell research than embryonic stem cell research. Apart from the ethical issues evolved in destroying embryonic human beings, adult stem cell research has produced results so it is simply not truthful to say that major embryonic breakthroughs are right on the verge and we should channel all our resources to embryonic stem cell research.

After devoting some time to comparing the ethical concerns of cloning, ESC research, and abortion, and then discussing some of the issues with federal and state-level politics, Dr. Kilmer addresses the issue of bioethics education and the church. Before I get to that discussion, though, I want to highlight some of Dr. Kilmer's comments regarding cloning: comments directly related to the Missouri Stem Cell Initiative, and to the tactics of the so-called Missouri Coalition for Lifesaving Cures [emphasis added]:

So people recognise that for embryonic stem cell research to be really widely useful medically we would have to produce cells that are genetically matched to your body and the only way to do that is to produce an embryo that is a clone of you and destroy that embryo to get the embryonic stem cells that could be used in the treatment in you.

...

I’ll just add that ‘P.S.’ here – this is another example of where the really intentional miscommunication comes into play – because what happens now is proponents of embryonic stem cell research in some locations have begun to argue that ‘What we’ve done here isn’t really cloning. It is only cloning if you are having born babies.

‘But what we are doing in this research process (sometimes they just use the technical name for cloning which is called SCNT or Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer), we are just doing that and we are not engaged in cloning.’

Sound familiar? It should. But, as Dr. Kilmer points out [emphasis added]:

This is terribly misleading and really dishonest because the cloning process is completed once you have a new beginning embryo. The cloning is the description of the process by which you actually produce another human being, virtually a genetic replica of an existing human being and the rest is just that being growing and developing. The cloning is done at the point you have the early embryo.

So why would ESC proponents use such a tactic? Again, as Dr. Kilmer points out, the intent is to mislead [emphasis added]:

So to say that we are just going to define that ‘It is not a clone until it develops all the way through to birth and is born’ is just outrageous because it confuses people and makes them think that ‘Oh, that is reassuring, that what you are talking about in embryonic stem cell research doesn’t involve cloning then it may be ok.

Finally, the interview wraps with Dr. Kilmer's comments on the current state of the church with respect to the issue of bioethics, and the need for more church pastoral and lay leaders to become educated in bioethics:

I think that what is happening in the Church today is people are becoming more and more aware of bioethics issues, but I think they hear more about them through the culture and through the public than through the Church. I also think that the Church has been lagging behind the public in terms of informing people and in terms of helping people develop a Christian understanding and outlook on these issues so when they hear about them they have some ideas of how this connect to Christian faith.

Please, do read the entire article/interview.

Via Missourians Against Human Cloning.