Late last week cloning scientist Ian Willmut announced his decision to forgo further experimentation involving human cloning and embryonic stem cells not because of any moral objections, but for the very practical reason that such research is no longer necessary in light of advancements in ethical areas of stem cell research. Today the cloning/ESC research world was dealt another blow in the form of yet another advancement in ethical stem cell research. Now two teams of scientists, Shinya Yamanaka and colleagues in Japan and James Thomson’s team in Wisconsin (refuting the fact that the US is falling behind in cutting edge stem cell technology), have successfully turned human skin cells into pluripotent stem cells which appear as young as those derived from embryos. The researchers built upon Yamanaka’s work earlier this year using mice skin cells.
This is good news on many levels, but the hard core pro-cloning scientists likely will not admit it. Certainly, as Wesley Smith points out, some are already saying that because these cells have yet to treat patients, we should not abandon research that destroys human embryos. But that’s not the point. Since this new technique can make stem cells with the same properties as those derived from human embryos means that that research is no longer necessary in the race for cures. This research would allow researchers to do the same research on the same kind of cells without the ethical dilemma of destroying human embryos. The fact that the research is more “socially acceptable”, as Dr. Ian Willmut put it, makes it easier to conduct crucial research. Investors would be more willing to invest – no need to fight political battles to expand funding for controversial stem cell research – and research facilities wouldn’t have to waste time purchasing expensive cloning friendly constitutional amendments.
It’s not fool proof yet. Because these are essentially embryonic cells they still have a tumor forming problem, however:
Once the kinks are worked out, “the whole field is going to completely change,” says stem cell researcher Jose Cibelli of Michigan State University in East Lansing. “People working on ethics will have to find something new to worry about.”
Let’s hope so. I like what Smith had to say about George Bush and his brave stand promoting ethical stem cell research:
Indeed, had the president followed the crowd instead of leading it, most research efforts would have been devoted to trying to perfect ESCR and human-cloning research–which, despite copious funding, have not worked out yet as scientists originally hoped.
Certainly because of his willingness to
absorb the brickbats of the Science Establishment, the Media Elite, and weak-kneed Republican and Democratic politicians alike–we now have the very real potential of developing thriving and robust stem-cell medicine and scientific research sectors that will bridge, rather than exacerbate, our moral differences over the importance and meaning of human life. Read more
That’s the kind of leadership we need to see continued in the White House. For all his faults (including being the first President to fund ESC research), President Bush has remained steadfast in opposition to this new threat to the dignity of human life.
Smith actually somewhat predicted something like this would happen. According to the president of Missouri Right to Life, in a meeting with newly elected Gov. Matt Blunt in 2005, Wesley asked the Governor to support a five-year moratorium on human cloning and embryonic stem cell research, firmly believing that within that time frame, advances in adult stem cell research and other research that didn’t destroy human life would make human cloning and embryonic stem cell research unnecessary. He was right, unfortunately for us Gov. Blunt didn’t listen.