Human Exceptionalism

Life and dignity with Wesley J. Smith.

Stem Cell Lead into Gold: “Man Who Started Stem Cell War May End It”


As "the scientists" and industrialists who wanted to do human cloning spin the media that spending billions to perfect human SCNT is still necessary and that the new iPS cells are not really that big a deal, James Thomson, the scientist who derived the first human embryonic stem cell lines tells a different story to the New York Times. Thomson's lab also was one of the two that created the first human induced pluripotent stem cell lines. From the story:
The fact is, Dr. Thomson said in an interview, he had ethical concerns about embryonic research from the outset, even though he knew that such research offered insights into human development and the potential for powerful new treatments for disease.

"If human embryonic stem cell research does not make you at least a little bit uncomfortable, you have not thought about it enough," he said. "I thought long and hard about whether I would do it."

Thomson says that contrary to some of the biotech spinners, the ground has fundamentally changed with the discovery and expected coming improvements in the still relatively rudimentary iPS cell technology:

Now with the new technique, which involves adding just four genes to ordinary adult skin cells, it will not be long, he says, before the stem cell wars are a distant memory. "A decade from now, this will be just a funny historical footnote," Dr. Thomson said in the interview.

In the early days of his work, Thomson consulted bioethicists Alta Charo and Norman Fost for advice. I have dealt with Charo and she is a wild advocate of cloning and ESCR, as is Fost, so he wouldn't have gotten any slow down signs from them. Fost and Thomson thought that the biggest issue for people in embryonic stem cell research would be the potential power of the technology. But it was instead, the intrinsic value of human life--even at the earliest nascent developmental stage.

Thomson is glad that stem cell science can put the ethical fight behind them and get on with the science:
Four years ago he and, independently, Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University set out to figure out a way to mimic what an egg can do [in cloning and fertilization]. Both succeeded and both discovered that all they had to do was add four genes to the cells and the cells would turn into what look, so far, just like stem cells.

"It is actually fairly straightforward to repeat what we have done," Dr. Thomson said.

More work remains, but he is confident that the path ahead is clear. "Isn't it great to start a field and then to end it," he said.

Let us all earnestly hope on this Thanksgiving Day that Thomson is right, and that the great stem cell war has ended in a victory for everyone.


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