Some of you may be familiar with teratomas and molar pregnancies from arguments with abortion advocates. These are often the focus of some “yes, but,,,,” in the attempt to “prove” that the embryo is not a human being. These are the result of gametes that begin dividing and which can mimic some of the signs and symptoms of pregnancy in a woman’s body, but which are never embryos.
One of my favorite columnists, Kathryn Jean Lopez of National Review Online, has an interview with Dr. William B. Hurlbut concerning his ideas on alternative sources of stem cells and the nature of human personhood. Be sure and take a look at the conversation, and read to the bottom, where the dishonesty of the Korean cloning Veterinarian, Hwang, is discussed.
Altered Nuclear Transfer is a theoretical way to stimulate a construct that will grow embryonic stem cells without ever growing an embryo.
When I first heard about the proposition, I was one of those convinced that the technique would involve creating a disabled embryo for research purposes. The interview covers that controversy and confirms that he would not be a party to any unethical procedure. He is committed to the idea of proving the technique in animal models before any research with human DNA.
Essentially, the idea is to create a tumor or a culture which could be used instead of cloned or IVF embryos to study development and disease. As in cloning, donor DNA from a somatic cell would be used. However, the DNA would be altered before it is inserted into an oocyte or otherwise induced to divide and differentiate. The alteration would be to a gene – which gene is still unknown – that controls early embryonic development.
I’ve said it before: I’m convinced that all of this early research will lead to techniques for regenerative medicine in situ, using environmental stimulators and recruitment factors to allow each of us to heal our own bodies. We just have to hope that our influence and the honor of scientists – or their distaste for controversy and lack of funding – will keep the loss of nascent human lives to a minimum.