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Myths on Myths about stem cells

There’s a new Public Broadcasting System (your tax dollars at work) television show on “stem cells,” “Mapping Stem Cell Research: Terra Incognita.”

You don’t have to go any farther than the top of the home page, with its picture of a girl in a wheelchair and this quote,

“Some people consider stem cell biology to be the Holy Grail of Regenerative Medicine, while others view embryonic stem cell use as morally wrong.”

to see that it’s propaganda for embryonic stem cell research and cloning for embryonic stem cells. The authors immediately begin the pattern of using the term “stem cells” for both of the two basic kinds of stem cells: those that require the destruction of a human life and those that don’t.

Here are the first three points from the “Myths and Realities” page, with my comments in Bold after each.

MYTH
Stem cell research uses aborted fetuses.
REALITY
Stem cells can be totipotent (a fertilized egg with the “total potential” to give rise to all different types of cells in the body), multipotent (stem cells that can give rise to a small number of different cell types), or pluripotent (stem cells that can give rise to any type of cells in the body except those that are needed to develop a fetus). While pluripotent stem cells could be developed from fetal tissue or even adults, they are best derived from early-stage embryos, a mass of cells that is only a few days old—not aborted fetuses.

The authors skip over the significance of the fact that embryronic stem cells come from destroyed human embryos in the lab, it is true that most stem cell research does not use tissues obtained from abortions. Nowadays, however, the term “fetus” is too often used by the media (and even researchers who ought to know better) for all pre-born human beings. The proper definition of human embryo is the organism from fertilization or the beginning of the first cell division to 7-8 weeks of age. The term “fetus” in humans is properly used from 8 weeks until birth.

More on the claims about what is the “best” source of stem cells and about “embryonic-like stem cells,” below.

MYTH
Somatic cell nuclear transfer using human cells involves the use of fertilized eggs.
REALITY
Somatic cell nuclear transfer, the process in which the nucleus from an adult cell is removed and then transferred to an egg whose nucleus has been removed, is the first step in cloning and can be used to create an embryonic stem cell line. However, an egg cell does not need to be fertilized to be used in this procedure—an unfertilized egg cell can be used.


Here, the authors avoid using “embryo” and throw around the terms “unfertilized egg” and “fertilized egg.” An embryo is not a “fertilized egg” – once an egg is fertilized, it becomes an embryo. In Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer (cloning), the embryo is produced artificially by inserting the DNA of a donor cell and stimulating division and organized development that occurs with natural reproduction. When human DNA is used to produce human embryonic cells in an organized embryo, there can be no doubt that what we are talking about is a human embryo. No matter how he or she is created – or produced – or how severely handicapped by the intentions and actions of the producers, a human embryo is a very young human being.

MYTH
Researchers can use adult stem cells instead of embryonic stem cells. Other treatments using adult stem cells are available to treat conditions such as Parkinson’s disease and spinal cord injuries.
REALITY
Adult stem cells lack the versatility and flexibility of embryonic stem cells, making them less likely to lead to medical breakthroughs. Embryonic stem cells have a far greater developmental potential and are more likely to be pluripotent, while adult stem cells are thought to be merely multipotent, or restricted to only certain cell types.

In November 2007, Japanese and American research teams reported new ways to obtain stem cells that behaved like embryonic stem cells from human skin cells—without having to use human embryos. This breakthrough holds great promise in solving the ethical dilemmas of stem cell research, but scientists currently still face technical hurdles and the challenge of finding ways to use these stem cells successfully in medical treatments and therapies.

The biggest lie of all is that embryonic stem cells are more useful in treatments for human beings. Just ask the 20,000 plus in the US alone who have been treated with adult and umbilical cord stem cells or go looking for even one human who has been treated with embryonic stem cells.

While it is true that most ethical, adult stem cells are not “pluripotent,” there are many kinds of “multipotent” stem cells and precursor cells in the body. In fact, these are the cells that we probably will use in the future, because they are the cells the body uses to repair itself and because they are less likely to grow out of control or cause tumors.

We are also learning that the desired development of stem cells and precursor cells is influenced by the environment and all sorts of “factors,” or chemical and physical signals present in the part of the body where they grow into cells, tissues and organs. The key to future treatment for most disease will probably come from learning to stimulate these conditions and factors.

Besides the ethical dilemma of destroying early human life, embryonic stem cell research has every problem or hurdle that could be cited for adult stem cells: they are difficult to grow, found in small numbers, the cultures may be contaminated with different, undesirable cell lines, and are difficult to control to produce for the exact stem cell line that is needed.

Moreover, no one wants to transplant embryonic stem cells into people. What we want is to produce adult stem cells for treatments.

The last paragraph mentions embryonic-like stem cells. There are several ways to produce stem cells that behave in every way that the unethical stem cells do.

These cells are being used in research to replace the unethical cells produced by destruction of embryos.

The goal of all stem cell research is to have a source of “patient-specific” stem cells from the patient or to find ways to stimulate stem cell production in the body of the patient, when and where they are needed.

The producers of this program are advocating for outdated research methods.While researchers have learned a lot from human embryo research in the past, most of what we use has been developed from research in animal models. The production of new embryonic stem cell lines from human embryos and from cloning is no longer necessary to carry out this research.

(Thanks to Janet, of the Bedford County Citizens Concerned for Human Life, for sending me the link to the website on the show.)

About bnuckols

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

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