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Thread: Why are embryonic stem cells important?

  1. #11
    Wise,

    Weldon's bill from 2003 was passed last session and is no longer valid. A SCNT ban would require Weldon's new bill (HR1357) as well as Brownback's bill (S658) during the current session.

    On the subject of this post in general, what you wrote is very good. I agree with Curt on all points.

    But the question remains, what research would banning the use of an egg in SCNT prohibit?

    -Steven
    ...like a diamond, in the rough

  2. #12
    Steven,

    My original post above was written in response to a request from Alan who wanted some justification for embryonic versus adult stem cells. By the way, I am not sure that I agree with you that everybody believes that embryonic stem cell research is valuable. Many people that I talk to simply don't want anything to do with something that has the word "embryo" in it.

    Let me try to clarify some of the cloning comments that I wrote above below.

    1. At the present, a cloned embryo cannot be grown in the lab and develop beyond the blastula stage. The stage requires implantation in a uterus.

    2. The Catholic position on unfertilized eggs is not clear at least to me. The Evangelium Vitae by John Paul II in 1995 refers to fertilization as the beginning of life. More recent articles did not shed much light on how the Catholic Church regards an unfertilized egg that is making some stem cells.

    3. Several people have tried to come up with ways to get around the issue of "killing" an embryo, to the point of absurdity. For example,
    • John Hurlburt from Stanford tried to propose a genetic modification of the egg so that it cannot develop beyond the blastocyst stage. This method, assuming that it is feasible, uses a molecular agent to kill the egg at a particular stage of development.
    • The second idea was to remove one cell from a blastocyst, based on the notion that it would not harm the blastocyst to have one stem cell removed. By the way, it is not feasible to take a frozen embryo, thaw it, remove one stem cell, and then refreeze the embryo. That has a high probability of damaging the egg or even killing it. So, it will have to be done to a blastocyst before it is implanted into a uterus. The chances of growing a stem cell line from one stem cell is vanishingly small. Yes, I know that there are some people who claim to have removed one cell from a blastocyst and carried out genetic analysis of the cell but I don't know anybody who has created an embryonic stem cell line from one cell removed from a blastocyst.

    4. There are several possible alternatives to producing pluripotent embyro stem cell-like cells without necessarily harming a person or a potential person.
    • John Gearhart discovered that fetal germ cells are pluripotent stem cells that behave very similarly to embryonic stem cells. It is possible to remove such cells from fetuses that have been spontaneously aborted.
    • Recent studies suggest that stem cells will fuse with somatic cells. If one were to mix embryonic stem cells (say, obtained from one of the existing human embryonic stem cell lines) with somatic cells from a person (say, mononuclear cells from the blood), some of the mixed cells should fuse and some of the fused cells may behave like stem cells (Source). For example, Ying, et al. (2002) mixed mouse neural cells with pluripotent embryonic stem cells and found that the two cell types fused with each other and the resulting fused cells contained the genes of both sets of cells but that the cells behaved like pluripotent embryonic stem cells.

    Wise.

    [This message was edited by Wise Young on 04-20-05 at 08:55 PM.]

  3. #13
    Steven, sorry. I knew that the Weldon bill has to be passed again but mispoke. It passed by a considerable margin and I don't know how it will fare this time.

    Hope, I agree with you that once one concludes that a blastocyst is not a person, a cloned blastocyst is also not a person. But, if one believes that a blastocyst is a potential person, it may still be okay to remove stem cells from a blastocyst that is about to be discarded. In such a case, the blastocyst was not created for harvesting its stem cells and the blastocyst would be killed whether or not the stem cells were removed. Cloning presents a different situation where the blastocyst was created for the purpose of harvesting its stem cells. This seems to make a big difference for people who opposed cloning and embryonic stem cells.

    The only way to resolve this debate may be to develop ways to create pluripotent stem cells without utilizing eggs. If eggs were removed from the scene altogether perhaps this would satisfy opponents of the research. By the way, germ cells are stem cells that make eggs and sperms. Recent studies suggest that mouse ovaries continue to make eggs throughout their adult lives. In other words, there may well be stem cells that are pluripotent in adult human ovaries. Since ovariectomies are carried out in many thousands of women every year in the United States, perhaps this could a source of stem cells that could be used to create cloned stem cells.

    Sigh. It is so difficult to guess what would satisfy the people who oppose the research. If they could accept this as ethical, scientists can go ahead to solve the problem. Believe me, scientists are trying hard to get around the restrictions and figure out a way to get a renewable and expandable source of cloned pluripotent stem cells. That is the goal.

    Wise.

  4. #14
    Wise,

    My position on embryonic stem cells is that the debate over them for the past four years has wasted valuable time. I declined to contact Bush's campaign during the election about ethical alternatives to obtaining embryonic stem cells in the hope that a Democrat would win and overturn Bush's restrictions. I don't plan on having the next four wasted if I can help it, so I am speaking up.

    Are embryonic stem cells valuable? Two or four years ago, sure. Now? Of course, but other promising therapies for spinal cord injury are closer to human application. The best thing to do now is to allow the research to move forward, and if SCNT (without the use of eggs) offers no benefits that cannot be obtained via alternative methods, the research can move forward.

    I have spoken with a few of the people Sam Brownback brought in to defend his comprehensive cloning ban over the past week and they are okay with embryonic stem cell research. So are all of the upper echelon Catholics that I have spoken with. The only opposition they have is to the cloning, thus the reason I am focusing on SCNT and its offerings.

    If you want to understand the Catholic position on cloning, use the following assertions as your basis:

    1) A fertilized egg, or something phenotypically similar [eg, cloned embryo], has a soul. Stopping it's development is a sin.
    2) Modifying the germ line [eg, enucleating an egg or nuclear transfer] is immoral and should not be done.

    With these as your basic premises, the Catholic position is relatively simple to determine. You don't have to agree with these assertions, you just have to find a middle ground. Your points in #4 are excellent examples of how we can move forward with research that the Catholic Church will support.

    -Steven
    ...like a diamond, in the rough

  5. #15
    Originally posted by Wise Young:

    Hope, I agree with you that once one concludes that a blastocyst is not a person, a cloned blastocyst is also not a person. But, if one believes that a blastocyst is a potential person, it may still be okay to remove stem cells from a blastocyst that is about to be discarded.
    Dr. Young...this is what really confuses me. If they really and truely believe that, then it seems to me there would not be any blastocysts to discard because IVF clinics would be banned on that line of reasoning.

    I think I better post the link to the letter I made reference to. I posted it in the other topic, but others may not know what I was referring to if they are reading this one.
    In referrence and with respect to the stem cell biologist I mentioned in my prior post:
    Link to letter here
    Thanks

  6. #16
    Banned Faye's Avatar
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    Thanks Hope. That letter is incredible!

    Here is an excerpt:
    STEM CELLS
    I want to see my daughter walk again

    By
    John A. Kessler.

    John A. Kessler is Boshes professor and chairman
    of the Davee Department of Neurology at
    Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine
    Published June 13, 2004 by Chicago Tribune

    .......You might suppose that what upsets me the most about the stem cell controversy is that political obstructions potentially threaten this lifelong quest.

    You would be wrong.

    A little more than three years ago my daughter suffered a spinal-cord injury in a skiing accident. Although she is now confined to a wheelchair, she is a remarkable young woman who has just finished her freshman year at Harvard University.

    She has accepted what happened to her and is determined to live to the fullest. She also has faith that medical progress will one day enable her to walk again. It is my job to help make that happen.

    I am far more outraged as a father than as a stem-cell biologist at the people who would try to prevent this from happening. I share this outrage with everyone who has a loved one with an incurable malady that might one day be treatable with stem-cell therapies.
    It is no secret why the field of stem-cell biology found itself with allies such as Nancy Reagan, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and many others across the political and religious spectrum. Their loved ones have similarly been touched by human disease.

    The large majority of Americans are in favor of broad government support for stem-cell research. Why are some people crusading against this? In this crusade, as in others, there is a mixture of intolerance of new thoughts, unfounded moral certainty and perhaps religious fervor, combined with a willingness to impose personal beliefs on the rest of the world.

    Resistance is the norm

    Historically, resistance to new thoughts and scientific change has been the norm. Undoubtedly, many vocal opponents of stem-cell research would scoff at suggestions that the Earth is the center of the universe, that the world is flat, that humans can never fly. However, the cup of hemlock that they would like to brew for stem cell researchers differs little from the approaches taken by their historical brethren who knew, with certainty that we live on a flat world at the center of the universe.

    A bill was actually introduced in Congress that would make it a felony punishable by a minimum of 10 years in prison and a $1 million fine to perform some types of stem-cell research. We must be vigilant and guard against irrational resistance to change.

    Others oppose stem-cell research because they fear that the technology might be abused for the reproductive cloning of human beings. No responsible stem-cell biologist has any interest in cloning humans, and there is virtually unanimous support for a ban on reproductive cloning. Trying to obstruct scientific progress because of fears of abuse of technology is not a rational approach.

    On Sept. 11, 2001, we learned that airplanes can be used to destroy buildings. The response is not to outlaw airplanes but rather to outlaw their inappropriate use. The same is true of stem-cell research.
    Some of the more ardent anti-stem-cell crusaders say that they act because of moral and ethical imperatives. It does not seem to matter to them that other thoughtful, compassionate human beings do not share their beliefs.

    There is also rarely any discussion of biology or any scientific rationale for their moral judgments. Their opposition to stem cell research focuses primarily on two issues: the process of somatic cell nuclear transfer (therapeutic cloning) and the use by researchers of frozen embryos that are otherwise slated to be destroyed.

    Unfertilized egg cell used

    The process of somatic cell nuclear transfer uses an unfertilized egg cell, an oocyte, from a woman and a donor cell (for example a skin cell) from a patient. The nucleus, the part of the cell that contains DNA, is removed from the oocyte, and the nucleus from the donor cell is transferred into it. The process is technically complicated but very straightforward in concept.

    Some critics maintain that this process creates life and that human life should not be created for medical or scientific purposes.

    However, any scientist would tell you that no human being has the power or knowledge to create life. The process of somatic cell nuclear transfer starts with a living cell and ends with a living cell, so it is not life that is being created. Has this process created an individual human person or a potential human person?

    There is absolutely no potential for this cell to become a human being.

    Similar issues pertain to the use by researchers of frozen embryos that are slated to be destroyed. I find it impossible to believe that it is morally or ethically superior to discard such embryos rather than to use them for research devoted to curing human diseases.
    Furthermore, it is important to keep in mind that we are discussing a microscopic cluster of no more than 200 cells that has absolutely no potential to develop into a human being unless it is implanted in a uterus. The profound difference between fertilization and conception is frequently forgotten. Fertilization can happen in a laboratory, but the conception of a human individual can only happen after the fertilized oocyte is implanted in the uterus.

    That is why we correctly speak of in-vitro fertilization rather than in-vitro conception. It is ironic that opponents of stem-cell research profess to be following moral, ethical and religious guidelines about the sanctity of human life.

    The moral obligation to help other human beings is a concept universal to virtually all religions, and the entire focus of stem-cell biology is on alleviating human suffering and disease. Anti-stem-cell crusaders seem to place more importance on a cluster of cells that has no possibility of becoming a human than on the suffering and needs of real human beings.

    Embedded in the opposition to stem-cell research is a fundamental attitude of suspicion and fear regarding the application of human reason and research to the area of human reproduction. However, regardless of one's religious beliefs, it is an undeniable fact that reproductive biology is exactly what the words imply, namely a part of biology.

    Many can have children

    Advances in reproductive medicine have enabled many infertile couples to overcome myriad problems and to have children. As a physician and a scientist, I can see no reason to question the morality of helping human beings in this way.

    Like all crusaders, the vocal minority against stem-cell research seeks to impose its beliefs on everyone and to impede (and even imprison) stem-cell researchers. Ironically, in my heart I believe that when stem-cell therapies become a reality, many of the opponents of stem-cell research would eagerly seek any such therapies that could help a beloved family member or friend who was touched by disease.

    By allowing and supporting stem-cell research in the United States, we will facilitate its progress, keep our researchers within the country and bring stem-cell therapies closer to reality.

    I want to be able to help my patients overcome diseases that have devastated their brains and spinal cords.

    I want my daughter to walk again.
    This IS the best write up on the ESC "controversy" I've seen and I soooo agree!

    ~ It is so much easier to mentally label and put paralysed people aside than to delve into why medicine hasn't yet found a way to repair the damaged spinal cord - ICCP ~ www.CureParalysisNow.org

  7. #17
    My intention is not to offend any Catholics. This is just my point of view, where I'm coming from.
    My parents were born and raised Catholics. They decided to not be Catholics anymore when one of the sins that for years and years that supposedly condemned people to hell became one of the minor sins...dust off the ashes and say oops I'm sorry but we've changed our mind and this isn't so bad now?

    The Catholic church has been responsible for some very horrible atrocities throughout history. They have also allowed horrible things to be hidden. They have been wrong.
    The truth doesn't change. God is the truth. God is never wrong.

    I'm not saying any of this to pick on the Catholic religion. Truth is, no one on this earth is perfect and all men make mistakes. Also, I realize that many people that are a certain religion, don't necessarily agree with everything within their religion.

    To me, this is a personal decision and one to be made after much reading, prayer and soul searching. I could not make a decision and impose it on someone else knowing that their life might one day hang in the balance of my personal decision.

    Every unfertilized egg that I lose every month had the potential to become a life. I would gladly give one for my husband if it would help him. This is my personal decision. Debatable issues based on religion made into law go against our constitution. In the bible, divorce is wrong. What if we made divorce illegal? What if whatever religion the President was, the nation had to be? Catholic, Seventh Day Adventist, Baptist, Methodist? I have to stand by and fight for my rights and for my husband's right to have some quality of life and I can't back down because this is a controversial, confusing or debatable issue. Believe me, it would be so much easier to just give up but I can't after reading what so many researchers and doctors have said regarding the importance of SCNT.

    I do appreciate and respect everyone's personal decision regarding this debateable issue. I do not believe it should be a government or political issue.

  8. #18
    Faye,
    I must have been posting when you were.
    Thanks

  9. #19
    Originally posted by Wise Young:

    Steven, sorry. I knew that the Weldon bill has to be passed again but mispoke. It passed by a considerable margin and I don't know how it will fare this time.
    Sorry. I must have started posting while you were typing this reply, as I didn't see it last night. I only posted the current bills to make sure nobody thought SCNT was one vote away from being banned.

    I hope you don't think I'm tying to be an obstructionist here, as we both want the same thing. For different reasons, but the same thing nonetheless.

    In your earlier post from last night, you said there are several possible alternatives (to SCNT) and listed two. If you have to mention SCNT when discussing ESC (as you did in your reply to alan), start off with discussing the possible alternatives to obtaining embryonic or pluripotent stem cells (eg, dedifferentiation, transdifferentiation, fusion) before moving on to discuss possible uses.

    Hope, it's not about mandating the President's beliefs on the nation. Rather, it's about recognizing that we can move forward with expanding stem cell research and taking action on it.

    The vote in the House to allow the expansion of stem cell research using leftover IVF embryos is about 70 votes shy of overturning a veto. We can get a bill in there that will allow stem cell research to continue by making sure the bill focuses on finding alternative ways of obtaining massively pluripotent stem cells.

    Such a bill would fly right through Congress with little-to-no opposition, pretty much guaranteeing stem cell therapies in the next few years. Or, we can hope that Democrats will sweep the midterm elections and win control of Congress, which isn't likely. If they do, we'd be waiting until 2007 at the earliest to begin federally funded stem cell research. If they don't, we will be waiting until 2009 or later.

    I happen to like the idea of starting now, rather than later.

    -Steven
    ...like a diamond, in the rough

  10. #20
    Banned Faye's Avatar
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    Originally posted by Steven Edwards:

    Hope, it's not about mandating the President's beliefs on the nation. Rather, it's about recognizing that we can move forward with expanding stem cell research and taking action on it.

    The vote in the House to allow the expansion of stem cell research using leftover IVF embryos is about 70 votes shy of overturning a veto. We can get a bill in there that will allow stem cell research to continue by making sure the bill focuses on finding alternative ways of obtaining massively pluripotent stem cells.
    Steven,
    with the president's veto power you yourself are acknowledging that which you say Hope claims: it really IS about "mandating the President's beliefs on the nation."

    This is so unfortunate since it terribly delays the alleviation of human suffering.
    Looking for alternate means to find pluripotent cells ( as laudable as it is) is also another delay in itself.

    ~ It is so much easier to mentally label and put paralysed people aside than to delve into why medicine hasn't yet found a way to repair the damaged spinal cord - ICCP ~ www.CureParalysisNow.org

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