That’s what Terry over at the Womens Bioethics Project Blog says. Terry has a big problem with the breakthrough in stem cell research that so many of us are thrilled with, and says,
It is amazing to see how the Catholic Church and George Bush can hold us all in thrall regarding human embryonic stem cell research. Because of the opposition to deriving stem cells from human embryos which destroys the embryo, eminent scientists are now reduced to attempting to find stem cell alternatives and have done so – by creating induced pluripotent stem cell lines derived from human somatic cells, an advance (?) which is being heralded today in the NY Times. In other words, we can regress human skin cells to an embryonic state by introducing retroviruses including c-Myc (cancer cells) to do so. The only problem with this is that it also creates tertomas which are nasty little creatures – effectively a germ cell tumor which may contain hair, teeth, bones, eyeballs, torsos and hands. Yuk, as Leon Kass would say. Here’s an idea: instead of trying to create human embryonic stem cells from someone’s nose or foreskin, let us do the research on embryos as nature intended.
Really Terry? “As nature intended?”” Nature intended for us to “use the original container,” when it came to embryos.
Most of the basic research was done in mice – look at the history of Yamanaka & Takahashi’s research, along with the reports published by Jaenisch this summer.
And Terry’s way off on the teratomasas draw back: the *ability* to form teratomas in immune-deficient mice is one of the tests necessary if a researcher wants to prove that the cells are embryonic-like or pluripotent stem cells. (As opposed to multipotent – the fact that his cells did not make teratomas was one criticism of Atala’s amniotic stem cell work. Gearhart was specific about the pressure he and others placed on Atala, so I expect to hear more about that in the future.)
Embryonic stem cells have always had all the problems that Terry mentions – including the retrovirus manipulation in many cases, look up “first transplantable lung cells” from the Houston, Texas Stem cell researchers here and here – in addition to the ethical problem of requiring the destruction of human embryos and the necessity to consider buying or bartering for oocytes.
Embryonic stem cells have the same concerns about the ability to reliably direct the cells toward the desired cell line, about the lack of regulation inherent in the primitive cells in culture, and ensuring that a more primitive cell – a future tumor – was not transplanted with the derived, less plastic cells.
One huge advantage that the new process offers that has never been achieved before, is the ability to make patient specific cells for everyone, not just the elite few who can afford to buy the oocytes.
The viruses used are strongly “silenced” or suppressed in the culture conditions used to direct development and are well known – the research to remove them from the DNA is not predicted to be all that hard. But that shouldn’t really be a problem form long: between the two researchers and the information coming out of other labs, I wouldn’t be surprised if we are able to skip the transfection in a year or two.
In the meantime, Wilmut has announced that the science is driving him to abandon embryonic research and cloning (especially using animal oocytes and human nuclear DNA to form a cimera), Yamanaka and Thomson are getting ready to patent and sell their cell lines for drug research and basic science, as well as anticipating future transplants.