One could imagine scientists tossing lab coats up in the air as President Obama signed an executive order lifting restrictions on federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. I believe that all of us will benefit from the gains that are bound to come from this essential position.
Those morally opposed to the use of discarded embryos want cures for diabetes, cancer and heart disease as much as the rest of us. So they’re putting all their hope in the power of adult stem cell lines, an experiment in wishful thinking. To be fair, adult stem cells are invaluable in providing blood-replacement treatment. Yet they just don’t provide all the answers — if they did, why would scientists seek out the use of embryonic stem cells? Do we think they have some nefarious, ulterior motive?
The bottom line is that embryonic stem cells have the potential to replace any kind of cell that has been damaged, a flexibility that adult stem cells simply can’t replicate. That’s why embryonic stem cells are currently being used in a clinical trial to combat spinal cord injuries. (No such trial is being conducted with adult stem cells). Those morally opposed to the use of discarded embryos talk of dozens of “cures” that have arisen from the use of adult stem cells but they’re really talking about helpful treatments, not life-long, proven solutions.
Scientists around the globe fervently believe that embryonic stem cell research is our best hope of creating better treatments for a variety of conditions. In fact, they’re more than willing to work with Congress, the NIH and others to continue to develop strict and clear guidelines for the usage of these cells.
Today I asked a stem cell researcher how he felt when Obama signed the executive order changing U.S. science policy. “It was a day of increased hope that we could develop cures,” he told me, adding quickly that this victory doesn’t erase the many political and scientific challenges that face him every day.
So — champagne corks popping and cascading lab coats? Not so much. Yet with a policy in place that gives scientists the tools they need to fight disease, we may one day soon have far more to celebrate.
Was President Obama right to reverse Bush’s stem cell policy?
It is astounding that Andy would share the spin of the embryonic stem cell research (ESCR) movement as fact. It is simply not accurate to say that ESCR provides the likely gateway to “life-long solutions,” and adult stem cell research does not. Dr. James Thomson, the first scientist to coax stem cells from human embryos (and still a firm ESCR supporter), said in a September 2008 press conference that his business will be focusing on adult stem cells going forward, since “I personally believe that the future is in [those] cells.” Why? In 2007, Thomson and a group of Japanese scientists were the first to essentially reprogram adult stem cells into an embryonic state.
Andy also did not mention the overwhelming studies demonstrating problems with ESCR (such as tumor development, rejection and chromosomal abnormalities) that don’t exist with adult stem cells. Just because a particular clinical trial doesn’t include adult cells, doesn’t mean ESCR is more promising; in an exploding field where clinical breakthroughs are literally announced daily, its far more likely that someone hasn’t had time to experiment with that particular permutation yet.
In the end, though, all those issues are secondary. Embryonic stem cells do seem to promise a near-miraculous source of healing; but at what cost? Their miraculous healing power comes because of the miracle of life, which obviously must start at conception – or else all those embryonic stem cells would be dormant and powerless. Some believe those cells may someday be able to be routinely harvested without destroying the embryo. But until then, every bit of advancement from ESCR comes at the cost of a human life.
Down through history, we have always condemned unscrupulous medical people who kill the frail to save the strong – for example, the corrupt doctors in certain developing countries who harvest vital organs from living victims to save others. Yet if it is true that an embryo is a human baby, then that is exactly what scientists are doing if they destroy an embryo during stem cell extraction. If the miracle of a life has started, how tragic that we would view ending that life to cure someone else as something to “celebrate.”