Thursday, June 07, 2007

Stem Cell Mimics, not Replacements

Scientists are having luck with manipulating mouse cells to emulate some of the qualities of embryonic stem cells (ESCs)--and CNN blows the story before the end of the first misleading sentence:

NEW YORK (AP) -- What if scientists could find a way to produce embryonic stem cells without having to tamper with embryos?

1) They aren't producing embryonic stem cells. They've successfully rewired mouse (iPS) cells to emulate ESCs in various lab tests, although there are still some key differences, such as their capacity to "promote cancer in any patients getting therapy based on [iPS cells]".

More on those differences:

In addition, scientists still must show that these cells can give rise to many cell types in the lab, as embryonic stem cells can.

And all this must be accomplished in human cells -- a difficult task, because introducing genes into human cells is a major challenge.

Ah, Science and your bite-sized breakthroughs!

2) This whole "tampering" business is a crock. We're already tampering with embryos regardless of whether we partake in ESC research, and it's not as bad as it sounds:

ESCs are taken from extra 5-day-old embryos artificially fertilized in a laboratory by the wishes of the aspiring parents. Markedly early in development, the embryo numbers about 100 cells (compare that to the 10,000,000,000,000 cells in an adult). At this stage in the natural female body this bundle of cells has not even reached the uterus, the mother’s womb, where fertilized eggs have to initially implant for a pregnancy to even begin, as is the medical consensus.

I've written about the debate before so I don't have much more to add at the moment, other than how infuriating it is to hear the deputy director of pro-life activities for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops say he's "very encouraged" that we've made progress into making ESC mimics, which will take longer to produce cures and therapies for the millions of people suffering from serious medical conditions and diseases. Yeah, it's encouraging to know that scientists are gallivanting about trying to make alternatives to ESCs because of a provincial ethical outlook that currently dictates the management of federal funding. Right.

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