ESCR: It’s Not Just About Finding Therapies and Cures

ChelseaEmbryonic Stem Cell Research2 Comments

Speaking of stem cell awareness, here are a few developments in embryonic stem cell research that you may not be aware of – but you should be.

This summer General Electric teamed up with Geron Corp. in order to use embryonic stem cells to develop products that could give drug developers an early warning of whether new medicines are toxic. GE Healthcare’s general manager Konstantin Fiedler is hopeful that this new way of testing drugs could eliminate the need for animal trials and testing:

“This could replace, to a large extent, animal trials,” Fiedler said in a telephone interview. “Once you have human cells and you can get them in a standardized way, like you get right now your lab rats in a standardized way, you can actually do those experiments on those cells.”

Also, Harvard Stem Cell Institute researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital have identified the earliest human cardiac master stem cells derived from human ESCs. This finding has researchers excited, not just because they think these cells could possibly be used to treat heart disease outright, but because they allow them to see how the human heart develops:

“Finding a cell that can make all the parts of the heart, including the contracting muscle, the smooth muscle and the vessels, brings us much closer to the possibility of repairing human hearts with new cells. In addition, this human progenitor cell will likely become the standard starting point for all researchers to aiming to investigate human heart development and genetic diseases of the cardiovascular system,” Melton (Doug , co-director of HSCI and co-chair of Harvard’s interschool Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology) added…

Chien’s (Kenneth, director of both HSCI’s Cardiovascular Disease Program and the MGH Cardiovascular Research Center) group was particularly focused on answering the question of how the human heart expands from its small fetal size to its adult-form dimensions. “The human heart at birth is more than a thousand times bigger than the adult mouse heart, yet the size of the initial embryos are close in size. Humans are just a heck of a lot bigger than mice, and every organ is bigger. How is that achieved?”

Drug testing, organ/disease development study, in an interview with Forbes last May these are the kinds of things that stem cell researcher James Thompson predicted would be the real future of ESCR:

I really believe personally that the value of these cells is not in transplantation. It’s hard to predict the future, but my guess is 20 years from now if you look backwards, 90% of the value of these cells will be in things that don’t make the front pages. It will be things like drug screening, which is kind of boring, but it does get drugs to market that are safer and faster…

These cells suddenly give us access to all the bits of the human body we’ve never had access to. That’s going to lead to understanding why certain cells are dying, and more traditional therapies are likely to prevent them from dying. Parkinson’s, if you can diagnose somebody early in the course of that disease and arrest it, that’s as good as a cure. And that I think is fairly probable.

To the general public ESCR continues to be hyped for its potential use in regenerative medicine – and it’s certainly being conducted for that purpose (with little success) – but don’t think that’s the only thing researchers want to use it for. Let’s face it, human embryos have become a hot commodity and, as Wesley Smith put it recently:

We have entered an “anything goes” era, in which there are no permanent boundaries, and where science is becoming an end, not just a means

Yes, and tiny human beings are paying for it with their lives. God help us.

2 Comments on “ESCR: It’s Not Just About Finding Therapies and Cures”

  1. NEWSFLASH: It has never been about treatments and cures NOW nor SOON. That’s just public relations. Just as the point of going to the Moon was not to get there but to focus funding on applied chemistry (materials science/engineering) and inspire public enthusiasm for same, and the payoff included a ten-year head start over the rest of the world on computerizing.

    ESCR is BASIC SCIENCE. It’s about learning HOW the various pluripotent cells (including huESCs) sense their environment and specialize accordingly. Learning ALL the details, or as nearly all as possible. Including the question: WHY do ESCs, but not ASCs, make tumors if you transplant them? Is there some way you can make intermediate SCs, with the extra pluripotency of the ESCs and the non-tumorigenicity of the ASCs?

    If we can compile enough information about these questions, and about the questions which will be raised by the answers to them, eventually we will be able to do stuff like mass-grow transplantable tissues and organs in factories (actually we could already be doing that if we weren’t so squeamish). Even more important, we will be able to do all kinds of things we haven’t thought of yet. (The people who discovered silicon weren’t thinking about computers.)

    If you have a moral objection–if you wanna say “Staying ahead in the important technologies does not justify killing human embryos,” go ahead and say that. But the “treatments and cures” line is, and has always been, a red herring. A will-o’-the-wisp. A beer-commerical. Again, the people arguing about it are like the people arguing about whether or not there would be riches on the Moon to pay for the cost of going there. Not just off the mark; off the entire target and shooting in the wrong direction.

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