Stem Cell Work Arounds

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The ability to transform adult cells into stem cells and thus eventually into perfect transplants without using human eggs is advancing rapidly as this Washington Post story details today. This research undercuts dystopian assertions that creating stem cells to cure disease would involve turning millions of women into therapeutic egg layers.

Harvard stem cell researcher Chad Cowan explained, "The end hope is to determine the exact molecular components of reprogramming and get it down to something chemically useful so you can get adult cells to turn into any type of cell that you want."

Such a cocktail of cellular reprogramming chemicals, the Post notes, "synthesized in a lab and available off the shelf, could be the closest thing to a true elixir of life that science is ever likely to make."

Achieving that goal would certainly have been dramatically delayed, if not made impossible, had human embryonic stem cell research been banned.

NEXT: Is the Stem Cell Debate Over?

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  1. You continue to spread the myth that someone is out to ban stem cell research. There is NO ban. There are NO plans for a ban. It is ONLY a limitation on the use of FEDERAL funding on the stem cell research that use NEW stem cell lines. Federal funding IS available for stem cell research on stem cell lines that were already available prior to passage of the regulation.
    Private funds can be use for ANY type of stem cell research including that on new stem cell lines. Thus this research could have taken place under either situation.
    I believe the exact oposite of your argument. If there was absolutely no restriction on the use and creation of new stem cell lines, there would be far less research taking place on ways to create new lines that did not involve the destruction of embryos due to a lack of need or motivation, thus the discovery you link to would have then be dramatically delayed, if not made impossible due to lack of resources allocated to it.

  2. Ron, as usual on this subject, you're wrong. In fact, you've probably got it 180 degrees wrong.

    The kind of research you describe (learning how to make embryonic stem cells) is the kind of research that, traditionally, was done on animals first, and then brought to humans. And since you can do things to animals that you can't do to humans (for example, making embryos with key genes "knocked out", and then figuring out what you have to do to make them grow into a living organism anyway), this research would probably have gone a LOT faster if people had stopped wasting time and effort on human embryonic stem cells when the first failures started happening, and it became obvious we needed to do a lot of basic science research (i.e. animal studies) before we were going to get any useful results.

  3. Sytrek,
    I'm sure the religious right would have stopped merely at federal funding of stem cell research. You don't think those that believe embryos are equivalent to you and me would eventually push to ban killing these "babies"? Maybe they weren't oushing for banning ESCR now, but if the federal funds ban was in place it would have been pushed for in the future.

  4. Mo,
    In the end what you say is simply speculation of what maybe might happen in a somewhat nebulous future because certain interest groups want things done a certain way. The facts are as stated in my post. The Federal Government implemented a compromise that partially addressed the concerns of all parties involved and allowed research to move forward. It did not give everybody what they wanted but did not impose a dogmatic approach either. You may want to believe that at some point in the future there would be a ban because some interest groups want one and that is your prerogative. But what matters is what governments do, not what interest groups say.

  5. There are NO plans for a ban. It is ONLY a limitation on the use of FEDERAL funding on the stem cell research that use NEW stem cell lines.

    In 2004 Dave Weldon in the House and Sam Brownback in the Senate both introduced bills to outlaw all embryonic stem cell research. Bill Frist, Chuck Hagel, and a couple other supported the Brownback bill.

  6. There are NO plans for a ban. It is ONLY a limitation on the use of FEDERAL funding on the stem cell research that use NEW stem cell lines.

    Which is pretty damn crippling, if you ask me, for two reasons:

    1. My sister currently works as an NIH researcher. Her (federally-funded) work requires that she grow heart tissues from stem cells. Because existing stem cell lines have been worn out by contamination (with such unwanted guests as rat DNA, for one), they use new stem cell lines, from embryonic stem cells imported from Australia. Cost? $1,000 per cell, and it takes 8 cells to get a project started. A ridiculous expense that gets passed on to consumers/patients, all thanks to GWB's draconian "culture of life."

    Marketwise, it's the most bass-ackwards thinking ever: what patient (or insurer, for that matter) will pay $20K for synthesized replacement heart muscle, just because it's got "Made in USA" stamped on it, when she could get synthesized heart muscle grown in, let's say, Canada or Japan for $9K?

    2. Did I mention that old stem cell lines have largely been abandoned as viable product building blocks by biotech, thanks to cross-contamination?

  7. I was distracted this afternoon--couldn't have said it better myself Tim.

    Sytrek: What part of the past subjunctive don't you get? As in "had human embryonic stem cell research been banned." I didn't say a thing about federal funding one way or the other.

    Greg D--research on animal embryonic stem cells is proceeding apace. It's not either/or.

  8. Cost? $1,000 per cell, and it takes 8 cells to get a project started. A ridiculous expense that gets passed on to consumers/patients, all thanks to GWB's draconian "culture of life."

    Forgive me for being an ignorant theist, but wouldn't it still cost (at least) $1000/cell if it were federally funded? Of course, then the cost would be passed on to taxpayers, which is far fairer than making consumers pay for it.

    Then again, there are no consumers/patients for ESC therapy, since it has yet to lead to an useable treatment.

  9. Ron,

    I think what Greg D was saying is that there would be little incentive to investigate alternative sources of totipotent stem cells, if there were no drawbacks to harvesting readily available embryos.

  10. Ron,

    What we need now is basic scientific research, not snake oil. It's a lot cheaper to do research on animals instead of people. And you can do research on animals that you can't do on people (like, for example, knocking out key genes and then seeing what you need to do to grow viable organisisms anyway). You want to do research on heart tissue grown from embryonic stem cells? Great. Use monkey cells, or whatever animal model best matches human behavior. When you get that working, then we'll talk about how you transfer the results to humans.

    So far as I can tell, every claim about how wonderful and useful human embryonic stem cells will be for treating human problems has turned out to be wrong. We tried just jumping in, it didn't work. If people want to waste their own money, time, and effort chasing after that fantasy, great.

    But you want to waste taxpayer money on it, and that's a lousy idea.

  11. Mo,

    Maybe they weren't oushing for banning ESCR now, but if the federal funds ban was in place it would have been pushed for in the future.

    Since federal funds are not allowed to be put to religious use, does that mean that separation-of-church-and-state advocates plan on banning religion in the future?

  12. crimethink,
    Did you read Tim's comment as well. There was a bill being drawn up to ban it. I don't think even the most batshit insane Dem Senator has drawn up a bill to ban religion.

  13. I thought Reason magazine advocated libertarian positions. Traditional libertarianism opposes state funding of biomedical research. The private sector can perform this research more efficiently (by ideological supposition). This means that the state should not fund research using embryonic stem cells. Indeed, it should not even fund research involving adult stem cells or cord blood stem cells. Do the editors of Reason magazine now believe that the federal government should use its coercive powers to extract taxes and spend them on biomedical research?

  14. Achieving that goal would certainly have been dramatically delayed, if not made impossible, had human embryonic stem cell research been banned.

    Exactly. As a German citizen I would like to point out that my government made a dramatic miscalculation hyping the potential of adult stem cells while outlawing most embryonic stem cell research. But unlike the Bush administration, it succeeded to ban this research even if done with private funds. The unfortunate result is that German stem cell research has almost completely fallen by the wayside. The two fields of adult and embryonic stem cell research are intimately intertwined, so a country can't be expected to excel in one while shunning the other. It would be tragic for people suffering from degenerative conditions wordwide if American lawmakers repeated the mistake of German politicians.

  15. The private sector can perform this research more efficiently (by ideological supposition).

    I think we have to distinguish between basic research and applied research here. Private investors are efficient spotting short-term lucrative biotech ventures, but don't seem to care much about basic research which may take 10 years or more to pay off. I'm not sure there are enough wealthy philanthropists to close that financing gap.

    Also, stem cells can't be put in pill form and sold like ordinary medications. Regenerative medicine is a technique to be used in the clinic and it's harder to make a profit from that than from conventional pharmaceutical products.

  16. I thought Reason magazine advocated libertarian positions... Do the editors of Reason magazine now believe that the federal government should use its coercive powers to extract taxes and spend them on biomedical research?

    Disquisitor,
    No libertarian is advocating additional funding to be extorted from taxpayers. Your post suggests that taxes aren't already being extracted and spent on research, which is not the case. Rather, those of us who do advocate federal funding of ESCR simply desire for federal money that has already been allocated for research (which arrangement is not likely to change soon) to be allowed to be used for ESCR.

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