The ethical, political, and financial commotion has overshadowed the field’s scientific progress, which researchers say is accelerating.
Opening with the comment that the policy debate has dominated the discussion of science, The Journal of Cell Biology has a review article covering the current state of embryonic stem cell research (ESC), “The action behind the words: embryonic stem cell research marches on.” (free full content)
The author, Mitch Leslie, claims that lack of funding in human ESC’s in the US has slowed research in the field, but that progress is still rapidly increasing (both in the US and elsewhere). But the rest of us have been too busy with noting the fraud and discussing policy and ethics to notice the successes of the researchers that are doing what we don’t believe they should be doing in the first place, much less that they should be doing it on our tax dollars.
There’s a neat little table about the laws regulating ESC and somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT, the other term for cloning) in various countries. (opens in a new page) The US has no nation-wide regulations.
While telling us about efforts to clone human embryos, the author bemoans how difficult it is to obtain the oocytes or eggs to be used. (Remember, Wu Suk Hwang used over 2200 eggs.):
Now that the lost year is over, the group is trying to pin down the problems that impede SCNT. Murdoch won’t reveal what obstacles they’ve identified, but one limitation has loomed from the start: a shortage of eggs. SCNT works best on eggs freshly removed from a woman’s body. But Murdoch and colleagues found that, even if they convinced in vitro fertilization patients to donate spare eggs, they could only garner a grand total from all the patients of about 10 eggs per month (Choudhary, et al., 2006). The Harvard team plans to solicit egg donations from young, healthy women. However, the UK body that regulates ESC research has rejected on ethical grounds Murdoch’s application to tap the same source. She plans to apply again. With good eggs scarce, researchers like her who have worked with in vitro fertilization have an advantage, says Murdoch. They are adept at coaxing star performances from a single, recalcitrant egg.
Meanwhile, the parallel research on human adult stem cells is also accelerating. But that’s not the subject of Leslie’s article. At all.
However he confirms what we know from other sources.
Embryonic stem cells require the distruction of embryos, reqire women to donate eggs and risk ovarian hyperstimulation, and are dangerous unnecessary, and not likely to ever be used AS *embryonic* stem cells in humans.
According to John Gearhart, director of research for Johns Hopkins University’s Department of Gynecology and Obstetrics.
. . . “We are going to use the information we get out of this research to get the patient’s own cells and work with them to get them to do what we want.” (Washington Fax, Novermber 19, 2002 – from Dr.David Prentice’s website presentation on stem cells at DoNoHarm.
Embryonic stem cells will not be used for treatment in humans. They are not subject to normal immunity and can’t be controlled enough to pass any reasonable standard for use in human beings.
Also, stem cells, after their first flush of growth in the embryo, are slow growing to dormant. Ever so often they make “forays” out of the bone marrow or are awakened by local conditions. They make copies of themselves – some of which are identical and some of which are farther along the developmental line and some move about looking for areas to repair – becoming part of that area. Then the excess either return to dormancy or die of old age.
Besides,in “real life,” the stem cell “stimulating factors” (the best influences, catalysts, or determinants of stem cells) are only found – and are easily and reliably found – in the local site where they are needed.
The goal should be to follow the line of research on recruiting, stimulating and controlling the patient’s own stem cells in his own body, where and when they’re needed.