The iPhone wasn't the only life-changing news event in 2007.
In November 2007, scientists broke some news that was truly life-changing – especially for embryos.
No longer would they have to be killed in the name of stem cell research! Embryonic stem cells are harvested from the inner mass of a living embryo which is destroyed in the process – an ethically controversial practice.
The argument favoring embryonic stem cells over the adult variety has always been based on their "pluripotent" nature. That is, the ability of the primitive embryonic cell to multiply and morph into the specific cell types necessary to repair the body's different organs or treat diseases.
Adult stem cells by comparison tend to be more committed along a particular cell line, and more specialized. They can still multiply and adapt, but already reside
as reserve cells in a host organ or tissue.
Normally, locating and retrieving adult stem cells in the body is not easy work. But for the first time, back in November of 2007, separate research teams from Japan and the USA took mature human skin cells and applied gene technology to reprogram them back to a primitive embryonic-like state, no longer specialized, and once
again pluripotent. These "reborn" cells can be transplanted into damaged heart, spine, muscle, nerve
or other human tissue as healthy replacement cells.
No living embryos are destroyed in the process.
The reprogrammed cells are scientifically labeled "IPS cells" – Induced Pluripotent Stem cells.
The achievement was named "the top scientific breakthrough of 2007" by Time Magazine. Scottish embryologist, Sir Ian Wilmut, who cloned Dolly the sheep, claimed the researchers "may have achieved
what no politician could: An end to the embryonic
stem cell debate."
Embryonic vs. Adult stem cells success: The distinction between stem cell types gets lost in the fog of public fervor for miracle cures, and media cheerleading for "embryonic" stem cell research. It's no wonder the general public is clueless about "adult" stem cells. (see Stem Cell Crash Course) Adult stem cells have been credited with repairing damage from heart attack, stroke and even spinal cord injury. They offer new hope for victims of anemia, cancer, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, and restoring sight by growing new corneas. And since they are taken from the same body, adult stem cells are not likely to be rejected by the patient's immune system.
Anyone with a spinal-cord injury probably knows the name, Dr. Carlos Lima, of Portugal. In an innovative surgical technique, Dr. Lima has demonstrated how adult stem cells and other tissues from the patient's own nasal mucosa can restore sensation and movement. One of his patients, a quadriplegic from a 2001 auto accident, can now move her upper-body and feet well enough to walk with braces. In a similar case, South Korean researchers transplanted adult stem cells from umbilical cord blood into the damaged spinal cord of a woman whose legs had been paralyzed in an accident 19 years before. Within three weeks, she was able to take steps with the aid of a walker.
The success rate for embryonic stem cells is just the opposite. After decades of research, and media hype, embryonic stem cells are still deemed unfit for trials in humans because cell lines developed from animal embryos tend to cause cancerous tumors or are rejected by the animal's immune system. No one can cite a cure, or point to one human patient who has benefitted from embryonic stem cell therapy. The production of iPS cells is a life-changer. But more lab work remains, and proper controls must be in place before clinical trials on humans begin. The gene technology involved is something any scientist with basic knowledge in molecular and cell biology can do, and puts ethical stem cell research on the fast track.
Why do they beat your conscience to a pulp? “How can you deprive a paraplegic, a cancer victim or your grandmother with Alzheimer’s a glimmer of hope, knowing there’s an endless supply of embryos offering a miracle cure? … besides, how can you equate microscopic embryonic life with that of a mature adult?” Insensitiveity to such emotionally-charged pleas can brand you cold and heartless, or even cost you an election. But once you buy into the killing of faceless, innocent humans called embryos, you’ve lost the abortion debate as well. There’s so much scientific evidence today of human life at the embryonic stage, the secular, pro-choice crowd is clearly asking to get away with murder.
Ethics vs. money: With its dismal track record, embryonic stem cell research has struggled attracting Wall Street and private investors. To compensate, advocates must go after legislators for government research grants and other public funding. They solicit testimony from high-profile figures like the late Christopher Reeve, and others enduring a life of hopelessness. Toward the end of his life, Reeve admitted that he may have placed too much hope in the “embryonic” side of stem cell research. The foundation bearing his name, the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation, confirms those views with funding more heavily weighted toward adult stem cell research. Likewise, Ron Reagan had championed embryonic stem cell research until after his father’s death when he learned from respected sources that such research was extremely unlikely to be the answer to his father’s Alzheimer’s. It’s no mystery that the multi-$billion biotech industry is most heavily invested in adult stem cell research which has given hundreds of patients some hope of a return to normal life.
Secular scientific arrogance: Medical textbooks along with human embryologists worldwide agree that the life of a human being begins at conception. It’s also scientific fact that human beings can be produced both sexually (via fertilization) and asexually (via cloning, or genetic engineering). But researchers aren’t about to let traditional morality and regard for human life get in the way of scientific discovery. They don’t want religion or government telling them which uncharted areas they may or may not explore. For them, embryonic stem cell experimentation is bigger than curing the seriously ill. It’s about moving into eugenics, and the ability to manipulate human life to fit their wildest visions and beyond, wherever that takes us. Meanwhile, pro-life scientists who apply their personal, moral views in the academic and scientific communities often face exclusion, and may be denied tenure or see their works go unpublished.
What do the polls say? When asked, "Do you believe it is morally acceptable or morally wrong for medical research to use stem cells obtained from human embryos?" 62% said, "acceptable," only 30% said, "wrong" (Gallup poll, May 2011.) Yet, poll numbers are practically reversed when people were asked that same month how they feel about abortion: 61% of adults were opposed to most or all abortions. 37% want abortion legal in most or all circumstances. Is abortion morally wrong? 51% of adults said "yes," 39% said abortion is "acceptable."
The British now grant licenses for cloning techniques to create embryos for harvesting stem cells. France, Germany, Austria and Ireland, and several other nations have totally banned the creation of embryos for stem cell research.