adult stem cells, Bioethics, embryonic stem cells, induced Pluripotent Stem Cells, iPS, philosophy, public policy

On the power of Naming (iPS and Art Caplan’s Off the Wall Question)

Art Caplan, Ph.D., is one of the pseudoeditors over at the Journal of American Bioethics blog, and a founding member of the “Progressive Bioethics Initiative,” along with Robin Alta Charo, the subject of one of yesterday’s posts. Dr. Caplan writes a regular “Breaking Bioethics” column for MSNBC.

Art took the liberty of renaming the induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS) that were such big news yesterday. He calls them “panacea cells.”

I wondered why so many people were calling iPS cells “embryonic stem cells,” when cells with similar markers derived from umbilical cord blood were called “embryonic-like stem cells.”

Obviously, these are not technically “embryonic,” they are reprogrammed adult stem cells. Technically, all research on iPS cells derived from fibroblasts (a cell found in the skin and many organs that regenerates the connective tissue) should be thought of as research on “adult stem cells.”

However, Art asks the oddest questions in his opinion piece:

Lastly, some may wonder if a reprogrammed panacea cell acts like an embryo, should it then be classified as a human embryo?True, a reprogrammed cell cannot implant in the womb but it can do everything else an embryo does. Is this form of genetic engineering a solution to the issue of avoiding human embryo destruction or merely a new route to a similar destination?

iPC’s do not “act like an embryo. They cannot “do everything that an embryo does.”

Embryonic stem cells harvested by disaggregating (destroying) an embryo at the blastocyst stage do not have the ability to “act like and embryo,” once they are removed from the embryo itself. At least by the third or fourth division (and possibly from the first cell division), the cells are differentiated into cells that will become either trophoblast (the future placenta) or Inner Cell Mass (the body proper of the embryonic individual).

These cells do not demonstrate the abilities that the zygote or early, pre-blastocyst stage cells do. There is no mention in either article of the development of trophoblast cells – the cells that become the placenta – or of any organization that gives them the appearance of an embryo in the petri dish.

The only purpose that these questions serve is as segue to Art’s final points in favor of continued research into cloned human embryos and embryonic stem cells derived from human embryos:

My view is that genetically altering body cells creates something that does not have the same moral standing as what is made from a sperm and an egg. That is why I favor continued work to create cloned human embryos as well.

I’m afraid that Dr. Caplan is confused or he is deliberately attempting to mislead his readers in support of a philosophical agenda, not science or ethics.

About bnuckols

Conservative Christian Family Doctor, promoting conservative news and views. (Hot Air under the right wing!)


3 thoughts on “On the power of Naming (iPS and Art Caplan’s Off the Wall Question)

  1. >I am a member of a grassroots prolife group and I know that the average person doesn't know that there are two different kinds of stem cells, adult and embryonic, and that they are very confused about stem cell research.I believe that there has to be kept a clear definition of embryonic and adult stem cells, defined according to where they come from – not according to the way they behave. It's clear cut and easy for the person who doesn't have time to study all this to understand.I understand that pluripotent refers to the ability to differentiate into most other cell types and it is because of this ability that iPS's are said to be "embryonic-like". But that really adds to the confusion. Then Dr. Thomson says, "By any means we test them they are the same as embryonic stem cells." – more confusion.So, I have questions.Does this new procedure use any cells from the unborn to induce pluripotency in the adult skin cell thus creating a stem cell?If it does, then it cannot be considered an ADULT stem cell. So, it seems there would need be a third category of stem cells.If it does not use cells from the unborn, then could the iPS be considered an ADULT stem cell? It would be simpler to explain. Or because it is not a stem cell to begin with but is induced to become an ADULT stem cell, do we still need a third category for stem cells.I realize this is very basic and elementary to the posts that you get from doctors and other scientists but I believe that we must have clear definitions BASED ACCORDING TO WHERE THE STEM CELLS COME FROM to educate the voter and to keep the issues clear so that legislation isn't passed to support this new procedure with wording that would allow funding to inadvertently go to human embryonic stem cell research and human cloning.Irregardless of the media and the bloggers who support human embryonic stem cell research and human cloning, most Americans do not believe in the Communist philosophy that the end justifies the means. No matter what our vocation or business, we draw the line when the means are immoral. We expect other Americans to do the same, including scientists and researchers. Destroying one human being to help another is clearly immoral and we should not have to fund it. We will vote accordingly.

    Posted by Janet Creighton | November 22, 2007, 6:47 pm
  2. >Your questions are good ones. I'll answer in a new post ('cause it's easier to italicize and format).

    Posted by | November 22, 2007, 9:57 pm
  3. >Well-written, Janet. I'm just amazed that Art Caplan evidently is one more person confusing "embryo" with "embryonic stem cell," just like those who mistakenly/dishonestly characterize the anti-ESCR position as one of "defending poor, innocent stem cells." Cripes.

    Posted by bmmg39 | November 24, 2007, 12:14 am

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