Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Last "Rational" Reason for Opposing Embryonic Stem Cell Research is Gone

Anti-science opponents persist in objecting to research.

The last possible "rational" reason for opposing the funding of embryonic stem cell research has been removed. Newsweek reports that Advanced Cell Technology of California has published a paper in Nature's advanced online edition stating that their scientists have used a single cell extracted from a human embryo to produce embryonic stem cells. This procedure would allow the donor embryo to continue developing normally, thus acheiving the goal of creating embryonic stem cells without destroying embryos.

In the procedure, a single cell (blastomere) was removed from a donated embryo (a), the donor embryo was able to continue developing normally (b), the removed blastomere was allowed to grow overnight in the presence of human embryonic stem cells expressing a green fluorescent protein (c,d) (the green cells in d are embryonic stem cells used as feeder cells for the blastomere, and the cell with the arrow pointing to it in c and d is the blastomere derived cell) blastomere derived human embryonic stem cells grow normally (e).

The researchers envision their technique being used by families undergoing IVF to have children who want to have pre-implantation genetic diagnosis done to ensure that the implanted embryo does not carry a genetic disease. A single cell would be removed from the blastocyst and allowed to grow and divide separately producing cells that could be used for the establishment of embryonic stem cell lines as well as for pre-implantation genetic diagnosis.

Ten experiments were performed using sixteen donated embryos, resulting in 19 embryonic stem cell like outgrowths and two stable pluripotent embryonic stem cell lines. This success rate is similar to others in which the whole embryo is used to derive stem cells. These lines had the capacity to develop into all three germ layers.

a–g, Staining for markers of pluripotency, showing Oct-4 (a) and corresponding DAPI staining (b), TRA-1-60 (c), TRA-1-81 (d), SSEA-3 (e), SSEA-4 (f) and alkaline phosphatase (g). Scale bar, 200 m. h, Representative chromosome spreads of the two single-blastomere-derived hES cell lines. i, RT–PCR analysis of the expression of markers of pluripotency in single-blastomere-derived hES cell lines. Top panel, Oct-4; centre panel, nanog; bottom panel, GAPDH. Lane 1, no template; lane 2, negative control (MEFs); lane 3, MA01; lane 4, MA09; lane 5, WA01.

These lines continued to divide in an undifferentiated state for eight months.

However, as innovative as this procedure is, and in spite of the fact that it provides a method for creating embryonic stem cells without destroying human embryos, there is still opposition to this technique.

From the paper's author:
“Hopefully this will remove the last rational reason for anyone to oppose stem-cell research,” Lanza says."

Remove the last "rational" reason for opposing stem cell research? Yeah, I'd say we've reached that point by now. Let's see what other reasons there might be for opposing this research.

Falwell: Stem Cell Research 'Does Not Pass Smell Test'

...he said Tuesday that any medical research must pass a three-part
test: "Is it ethically correct? Is it biblically correct? Is it morally
Stem cell research, Falwell said, "does not pass the smell

(Editor's note: I don't know what Jerry Falwell's smell test is for stem cell research, but I hope I'm never asked to smell test Jerry Falwell! -- PhB)

"Richard Doerflinger, deputy director of pro-life activities at the
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, says Lanza’s methods are
unacceptable for several reasons, including the fact that the experiments
leading to his recent advance—although done to develop a technique that would
preserve embryos—actually destroyed embryos in the process. “It does not solve
the ethical dilemma,” Doerflinger says. “It’d be irresponsible to claim now that
this is totally safe.”"

Unfortunately, in addition to overcoming whatever objections remain after the last "rational" objection has been removed, the President's completely irrational embryonic stem cell funding policy also stands in the way. This means that even though these lines were created without the destruction of a human embryo, they can't be approved for federally funded research because they weren't created prior to Ceasar's Bush's August 9, 2001, stem cell decree.

The company's supporters remain optimistic:

"I think this will become a standard way of producing stem cell lines," said
Ronald M. Green, a Dartmouth College professor of religion who is an unpaid
bioethics adviser to Advanced Cell Technology.The company, which has been
struggling financially, owns about 300 patents that it hopes to develop into
medical treatments.
After news of its announcement broke on Wednesday, the price of its over-the-counter stock shot up from 42 cents to more than $1.70 per share.

Although this procedure is completely foreseen by the company's previous work using mouse embryos it is useful for deomonstrating that there is no amount of back-bending, or hoop-jumping that will satisfy religious extremists who oppose scientific advancement.

Nature advance online publication 23 August 2006 doi:10.1038/nature05142;
Received 12 April 2006; Accepted 8 August 2006; Published online 23 August
Human embryonic stem cell lines derived from single blastomeres
Irina Klimanskaya1,2, Young Chung1,2, Sandy Becker1, Shi-Jiang Lu1 and Robert Lanza1

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