A huge advancement in stem cell research–and a stake in the heart of human cloning–was announced today. Two different scientific teams have “reprogrammed” skin and other adult cells and reverted them back to a pluripotent stem cell state. (The altered cells are being called “Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells” or iPS.) One of the researchers was James Thomson–the Wisconsin scientist who first derived human stem cell lines. As he wrote in SCIENCE (no link available):
The human iPS cells described here meet the defining criteria we originally proposed for human ES cells, with the significant exception that the iPS cells are not derived from embryos. (My emphasis.)
This is a huge development. As would-be human cloner Robert Lanza, of Advanced Cell Technology put it in Wired, employing a fine and apt metaphor, “It’s the holy grail. It’s like turning lead into gold.” And it is the reason why, as we discussed last week here at SHS, that Ian Wilmut has exited the human cloning business.
This puts a stake through the heart of therapeutic cloning. The justification for cloning human embryos, we were told, was to obtain “tailored” pluripotent stem cells from individual patients with specific diseases and disabilities. Well, that is precisely what reprogramming can do–with no need to exploit women for their eggs, no need for creating and destroying embryos, and no need to ban implantation. Now, cloning could still help with learning how to genetically engineer the human race, fetal farming, and birthing cloned babies–but these will never be supported by the American people. The ability to outlaw all human cloning now improves, and even if Big Biotech is able to prevent that–the money will dry up. After all, why spend billions of dollars and all those man and woman hours of talented researchers over perhaps a decade when we have turned lead into gold? And it is ethical!
As I wrote this morning in the NRO, President Bush deserves great credit for this breakthrough.
I believe that many of these exciting “alternative” methods would not have been achieved but for President Bush’s stalwart 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.
So thank you for your courageous leadership, Mr. President. Because of your 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.
We are entering a new era that would have been unthinkable just a year or two ago. The media will try to hedge and underplay the breakthrough. “The scientists” will say we need to do all of the research. But ethics have prevailed. I believe the drive to clone has been struck a mortal blow–as well, perhaps, as the need for ESCR using human embryos.
A great day for science and ethics!