Human Exceptionalism

Lead Into Gold: Mass Production of IPS Cells–From Hair!

President Bush’s use of federal funding restrictions to induce creative thinking into ethical ways of deriving pluripotent stem cells continues to be a major triumph, in my opinion, with the astonishing progress that continues to be made in adult stem cell and IPSC research–not that the poor man will ever get credit for it. (I have come to believe that if Bush found a cure for cancer, he would be castigated for the crisis in oncologist employment rates.)

That aside, the entire stem cell field is being transformed. Now, not only have IPSCs been created from hair, but the efficiency of creating the lines has been improved dramatically. From the story:

Now, a team of researchers led by Juan Carlos Izpisúa Belmonte at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, succeeded in boosting the reprogramming efficiency more than 100-fold, while cutting the time it takes in half. In fact, they repeatedly generated iPS cells from the tiny number of keratinocytes attached to a single hair plucked from a human scalp.

Their method, published ahead of print in the Oct. 17, 2008 online edition of Nature Biotechnology, not only provides a practical and simple alternative for the generation of patient- and disease-specific stem cells, which had been hampered by the low efficiency of the reprogramming process, but also spares patients invasive procedures to collect suitable starting material, since the process only requires a single human hair.

It is increasingly clear that human cloning, if all one wanted from the cloned embryos are stem cells, is unnecessary. But do not expect the drive to clone humans to be put on the shelf. The real agendas go way beyond stem cells into genetic engineering, fetal experimentation, and reproductive cloning. Biotech is also an avenue that some see as undermining human exceptionalism, by for example, re-engineering chimpanzees to have human attributes as called for by James Hughes in Citizen Cyborg.

So, even if IPSCs ultimately and fully resolve the stem cell debate, many scientists and brave new worlders will simply shrug their shoulders and try to find another excuse to get the big bucks that will be required to perfect human cloning. Because behind the cures mantra–which people sincerely want–and behind the politics of abortion–that unquestionably permeates the issue on both sides–is a drive for power, the ultimate aphrodisiac.