Adult Stem Cell Advances Continue to Challenge the “Need” for Destructive Embryonic Research

Date: 05/10/2001

Time to “Revisit” Adult Stem Cell Progress

“In our judgment, the derivation of stem cells from embryos remaining following infertility treatments is justifiable only if no less morally problematic alternatives are available for advancing the research. The claim that there are alternatives to using stem cells derived from embryos is not, at the present time [9/99], supported scientifically. We recognize, however, that this is a matter that must be revisited continually as the demonstration of science advances.”

— “Ethical Issues in Human Stem Cell Research,” National Bioethics Advisory Commission, September, 1999 (emphasis added).

“‘This [isolating stem cells from fat] could take the air right out of the debate about embryonic stem cells,’ said Dr. Mark Hedrick of UCLA, the lead author. The newly identified cells have so many different potential applications, he added, that ‘it makes it hard to argue that we should use embryonic cells.'” — Thomas H. Maugh II, “Fat may be answer to many illnesses,” Los Angeles Times, 4/10/01

“With the newest evidence that even cells in fat are capable of being transformed into tissue through the alchemy of biotechnology, some scientists said they are beginning to conclude they’ll be able to grow with relative ease all sorts of replacement tissues without resorting to embryo or fetal cells.It’s highly provocative work, and they’re probably right,’ said Eric Olson, chairman of molecular biology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. Like many biologists, Olson believes that adult, fetal and embryonic stem cell research all merit support “it’s heartening,” he said, that almost “every other week there’s another interesting finding of adult stem cells turning into neurons or blood cells or heart muscle cells. Apparently our traditional views need to be reevaluated.'” –Rick Weiss, “Human Fat May Provide Stem Cells,” The Washington Post, 4/10/01

“In a finding that could offer an entirely new way to treat heart disease within the next few years, scientists working with mice and rats have found that key cells from adult bone marrow can rebuild a damaged heart—actually creating new heart muscle and blood vessels…Until now researchers thought that stem cells from embryos offer the best hope for rebuilding damaged organs, but this latest research shows that the embryos, which are politically controversial, may not be necessary. ‘We are currently finding that these adult stem cells can function as well, perhaps even better than, embryonic stem cells,’ [Dr. Donald] Orlic [of the National Human Genome Research Institute] said.” –Robert Bazell, “Approach may repair heart damage,” NBC Nightly News, 3/30/01.

“[Dr. Donald] Orlic said fetal and embryonic stem cell researchers have not been able to show the regeneration of heart cells, even in animals. ‘This study alone gives us tremendous hope that adult stem cells can do more than what embryonic stem cells can do,’ he said.” –Kristen Philipkoski, “Adult Stem Cells Growing Strong,” Wired Magazine, 3/30/01

“Like several other recent studies, the new work with hearts suggests that stem cells retrieved from adults have unexpected and perhaps equal flexibility of their own, perhaps precluding the need for the more ethically contentious [embryonic] cells.” –Rick Weiss, “Studies Raise Hopes of Cardiac Rejuvenation,” The Washington Post, 3/31/01

“Umbilical cords discarded after birth may offer a vast new source of repair material for fixing brains damaged by strokes and other ills, free of the ethical concerns surrounding the use of fetal tissue, researchers said Sunday.” –“Umbilical cords could repair brains,” Associated Press, 2/20/01.

“PPL Therapeutics, the company that cloned Dolly the sheep, has succeeded in ‘reprogramming’ a cell — a move that could lead to the development of treatments for diseases such as diabetes, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. The Scotland-based group will today announce that it has turned a cow’s skin cell into a beating heart cell and is close to starting research on humans… The PPL announcement…will be seen as an important step towards producing stem cells without using human embryos.” –“PPL follows Dolly with cell breakthrough,” Financial Times, 2/23/01

“Because they have traveled further on a pathway of differentiation than an embryo’s cells have, such tissue specific [adult] stem cells are believed by many to have more limited potential than E[mbryonic] S[tem] cells or those that PPL hopes to create. Some researchers, however, are beginning to argue that these limitations would actually make tissue-specific stem cells safer than their pluripotent counterparts. University of Pennsylvania bioethicist Glenn McGee is one of the most vocal critics on this point: ‘The emerging truth in the lab is that pluripotent stem cells are hard to reign in. The potential that they would explode into a cancerous mass after a stem cell transplant might turn out to be the Pandora’s box of stem cell research.'” –Erika Jonietz, “Biotech: Could new research end the embryo debate?” Technology Review, January/February, 2001

Since 1999, when the National Bioethics Advisory Commission issued the statement cited above, scientific advances have demonstrated that adult stem cells can and do provide a “less morally problematic alternative” for advancing research. Do No Harm: The Coalition of Americans for Research Ethics urges the government to reject destructive embryonic stem cell research. Instead, it should take full advantage of the ethical alternative which adult stem cells offer for curing disease — an alternative that protects the inviolability of all individuals and the integrity of medical research.

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