Human Exceptionalism

“Turning Lead Into Gold:” More on the Big Stem Cell Breakthrough

There are a lot of stories out about the big breakthrough, although as I suspected the energy of excitement is missing in many media reports. Still, the news is all over the place. Here’s a small sampling:

Los Angeles Times:

Human skin cells can be reprogrammed to behave almost exactly like embryonic stem cells, a discovery that provides a road map for creating personalized biological repair kits without ethical strings attached, scientists reported today.

Wall Street Journal Online:

In the quest to treat difficult diseases, researchers have created human embryonic stem cells without destroying embryos or using hard-to-get eggs. The technique may prove to be easier, cheaper, and more ethically appealing than an alternative approach that requires cloning.

– My pal Joseph Bottum at the First Things Blog:

..we are about to witness something like victory in the fight over embryonic stem cells. And that will open a nest of interesting questions, beginning with this one: All those editorialists and columnists who have, over the past ten years, howled and howled about Luddites and religious fanatics thwarting science and frustrating medicine–were they really interested in technology and health, or were they just using all that as a handy stick with which to whack their political opponents?…The people who turn out actually to have believed in the power of science are the pro-lifers–the ones who said that a moral roadblock is not, in point of fact, an outrageous hindrance, for scientists will always find another, less-objectionable way to achieve their goals.

The Associated Press:

Scientists have made ordinary human skin cells take on the chameleon-like powers of embryonic stem cells, a startling breakthrough that might someday deliver the medical payoffs of embryo cloning without the controversy.

Reuters:

Researchers announced on Tuesday that they had found a way to make powerful human embryonic stem cells without using cloning technology and without making a human embryo.

This early work will be multiplied now as, in the tradition of science, many other researchers jump in to perfect the technique. Whether these cells will be used directly in therapies remains an open issue–remember the tumors!–but there is no question that many of the basic research goals scientists wanted from pluripotent stem cells can now be achieved, and more easily since ESCR remains a difficult process and human cloning has not yet been done.

Now, with adult stem cells and umbilical cord blood stem cells moving ahead in human trials, along with other areas of ethical biotechnology we often discuss here at SHS, regenerative medicine looks to be both beneficial and ethical. Who could ask for anything more?

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