Art Caplan, Ph.D., is one of the pseudoeditors over at the Journal of American Bioethics blog, bioethics.net 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.