Med: New Stem-Cell Developments

November 22, 2007

It’s not very often that you will hear me say that perhaps the actions of President Bush have led to a positive outcome; however, I must admit that the latest development regarding stem cell research may just fall into that category. Hear me out.

During the course of his administration, President Bush has repeatedly vetoed any funding that involved the destruction of human embryos for the purpose of extracting stem cells. Personally, I do not believe that a ball of cells falls into the category of “human life worth preserving,” as both sperm and eggs whilst separated are also essentially forms of life capable of becoming a human being eventually–and these are readily discarded every day. Nevertheless, I can at least understand the perspective of those speaking out against such procedures. Not AGREE with them, but understand where they’re coming from.

Cue the latest development in the area of stem-cell research: the ability to reprogram regular somatic cells–such as skin fibroblasts–into a totipent/pluripotent (I believe pluripotent) state. Concurrently this month two articles were released–one in Cell and one in Science–addressing this very topic. I’ve only perused the article from the Cell, and long-story short…the scientists have expanded their earlier research from mice to humans and shown that the expression of particular transcription factors can create a “stem-cell” from a regular cell. Beyond the avoidance of embryo destruction, a further benefit is postulated to be personalized stem cells–that is, way down the road when treatments are potentially available from this, a patient will receive the benefit from his or her very own cell. Seems like a great possibility.

This development may only have been possible because of President Bush’s repeated vetoes. After all, where is the incentive to create alternative methods of stem cells if the “easiest” is already allowed? And this could also work to ease the minds of the religious groups that generally protest stem-cell research. To quote a article:

” ‘By avoiding techniques that destroy life, while vigorously supporting alternative approaches, President Bush is encouraging scientific advancement within ethical boundaries,’ the White House said Tuesday in a written statement on the new research.”

As much as I relish opportunities to disagree with White House policy, I can’t really deny the validity of this claim. He’s vetoes may just have fueled this procedure that should be much more acceptable to an overwhelming majority of Americans.

(On a side note, this makes me think of an old political cartoon I saw during college with Brownbear. A husband and wife are each holding newspapers. One paper says “Bush vetoes stem cell research” while the other says “Iraq War Begins.” Then the spouse with the stem cell paper says, “Apparently President Bush is against ending life to save life,” to which the other replies, “Hmm.” But I digress.)

While we’re on the topic of stem cells, I’d like to make the point that they aren’t some panacea for all human afflictions. The point is that we need to DO THE RESEARCH before we even know what can be done. This is no quick-fix, this is actually quite long-term. But hopefully we’re on the right track.


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