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December 1, 2007

Embryonic Stem Cell Debate Ending?

November 2007

International Herald Tribune:

A stem cell breakthrough, without embryos
Two teams of scientists reported Tuesday that they had turned human skin cells into what appear to be embryonic stem cells without having to make or destroy an embryo - a feat that could quell the ethical debate troubling the field.

Washington Post:

Advance May End Stem Cell Debate
Researchers in Wisconsin and Japan said yesterday that they have turned ordinary human skin cells into what are effectively embryonic stem cells without using embryos or women's eggs -- the previously essential ingredients that have embroiled the medically promising field in a nearly decade-long political and ethical debate.

Michael Gerson: Stem Cells, the Right Way
To our many reasons for thankfulness, we can now add the pioneering brilliance of Shinya Yamanaka and James Thomson -- scientists who may this week have joined a short list that includes Gregor Mendel and Marie Curie. The breakthrough is stunning: four genes introduced into normal skin cells, enticing them to act like embryonic stem cells, which can be transformed into the 220 cell types of the human body. Somehow a piece of skin, after a few weeks of lab work, can become the cell of a beating heart.

Charles Krauthammer: Stem Cell Vindication
James A. Thomson, the first to isolate human embryonic stem cells: "If human embryonic stem cell research does not make you at least a little bit uncomfortable, you have not thought about it enough." Last week, he (and Japan's Shinya Yamanaka) announced one of the great scientific breakthroughs since the discovery of DNA: an embryo-free way to produce genetically matched stem cells. Even a scientist who cares not a whit about the morality of embryo destruction will adopt this technique because it is so simple and powerful. The embryonic stem cell debate is over.

San Jose Mercury News:

Both sides applaud stem-cell advance
Advocates on both sides of the ethically charged debate over human embryonic stem cells hailed two breakthrough studies unveiled Tuesday that suggested simple human skin cells might one day lead to a vast array of new treatments without destroying embryos. Until now, researchers hoping to use stem cells to create replacement organs and medicines for numerous diseases had assumed their best hope was with human embryonic stem cells, which have the flexibility to turn into any tissue type. But the studies, published in the journals Cell and Science, indicate that other cells plucked from a person's hand or face may be just as useful.

Stem-cell science outruns political debate (CGS Archive)
Research teams at two prestigious universities announced a major feat of biological alchemy this week: They've taken ordinary human cells and turned them into cells with all the characteristics and promise of embryonic stem cells. This entirely new way to derive what the researchers are calling induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells uses neither eggs nor embryos. Instead, it reprograms body cells, reactivating genes that return them to the undifferentiated state characteristic of "conventional" embryonic stem cells. If the new technique holds up, it will also reprogram the science and politics of stem-cell research.

TED: Stem cell news is a step forward for regenerative medicine
This morning's pair of announcements on human stem cell research marks a step forward for regenerative medicine -- the study of regrowing or repairing body parts, using the body's own processes. Alan Russell's 2006 TEDTalk is a fascinating roundup of what regenerative medicine could bring: revolutionary treatments for heart disease, severe burns, even the loss of a part of the body.

CGS: Moving Beyond the Stem Cell Wars
The dramatic news that pluripotent human stem cells can be generated without having to destroy human embryos opens a new chapter in the politics of stem cell and other human genetic research. We are now in a position to move beyond the polarized debate of the past decade and focus on ensuring that stem cell research moves forward, and that it is used in ways that promote rather than undermine social justice, equality and the common good. These are important and exciting times for all who care about the responsible use and effective governance of the new human biotechnologies.

FRC: Congressional Ideologues and Ethical Science
We thanked God together last week for the earthshaking news that leading scientists have learned how to "reprogram" human skin cells to become embryonic-like stem cells. This breakthrough will allow the advance of stem cell research without harvesting, cloning and destroying human embryos. Dr. Ian Wilmut, who cloned "Dolly" the sheep, now rejects human cloning research in favor of this new technique.

Despite this evidence, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA), Rep. Dianne DeGette (D-CO) and others have said they will continue to push legislation to fund embryo-destructive research.

FRC's Dr. David Prentice says now is the time for those in Congress who are serious about scientific advancement in this field, to support ethical stem cell research and pass the Brownback-Weldon cloning ban.

Bioethics Blog Secondhand Smoke:

Stem Cell Lead into Gold: "Man Who Started Stem Cell War May End It"
James Thomson, the scientist who derived the first human embryonic stem cell lines, says that contrary to some of the biotech spinners, the ground has fundamentally changed with the discovery and expected coming improvements in the still relatively rudimentary iPS cell (induced Pluripotent Stem Cells) technology.

Stem Cell Counter Attack
If anyone thought that the pro human cloners would fold up their tents and steal away after the news was released that patient-specific, pluripotent stem cells had been derived from normal skin cells, they just didn't understand how fervently some scientists and their camp followers want to clone human life--and how hopeful some are that the stem cell issue can be the vehicle that wins the culture war.

Technique Already Being Improved
Yamanaka's team report that they can now produce these so-called induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPS cells, without having to resort to a cancer gene found to cause tumours in many of the lab mice in the earlier experiment. If confirmed, it will remove a significant safety hazard in using these cells in transplants one day.

October 2007

Senate Democrats Cite Meeting Bush 'Halfway'
Democrat Tom Harkin of Iowa, who chairs the Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee, said Democrats had made a major concession to Bush by dropping a provision that would have expanded federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.
Senate - Labor, HHS, Education Appropriations (continued)

June 2007

A Cell in Time Saves Lives? (FRC Archive)
Three independent teams managed to reprogram skin cells to their embryonic state in mice.

November 2006

Bioethicist Wesley J. Smith reported that "the Japanese scientist who reverted skin cells to embryonic stem cells--a perfectly ethical procedure--also reported that they cause tumors in mice, just as do embryonic stem cells derived from embryos."

Additional Resources:

12/3/2007 Update:
Defensive Ideologues Dig In
Here are three examples of the ridiculous commentary on the new iPS techniques, all from entrenched embryonic stem cell research ideologues - with financial interests in the field - who are resorting to defensive posturing.

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