Ethics News

Reproductive Technology, Biomedical Research, Cloning


>> = Important Articles; ** = Major Articles


Supplemental Articles in a separate file (click here to read)



>>Stanford Researchers Transform Fat Cells into Stem Cells (Christian Post, 090908)

>>Stem-Cell Breakthrough (, 071129)

**Researchers Tout Major Advance with New Stem Cell Type (Christian Post, 090727)

**Clinic Allows Couples to Pick Gender of Baby (Foxnews, 090822)

**No Embryo Needed: Scientists Say They Turned Skin Cells to Stem Cells (Foxnews, 071120)

**A Stem Cell Win-Win (National Review Online, 071120)

**The Future Is Now: Stem-cell debate changes. (National Review Online, 071120)

**Bush Bears Fruit: New discoveries pave the way for ethical stem-cell research, thanks to the president’s policies. (National Review Online, 071120)

**Conservatives Praise Ethical Stem Cell Breakthrough (Christian Post, 071121)

**Stem-Cell Success Story (National Review Online, 071121)

**The End of the Stem-Cell Wars: A victory for science, for the pro-life movement, and for President Bush. (Weekly Standard, 071203)

**Brave New Future: Working together with stem cells. (National Review Online, 071126)

**A Haunting Specter — Modern Science Without Moral Limits (Mohler, 070129)





>>Stanford Researchers Transform Fat Cells into Stem Cells (Christian Post, 090908)


Researchers at Stanford University have transformed ordinary fat cells into embryonic-like stem cells, according to a paper published in the official journal of the United States National Academy of Sciences.


Though the scientists say it’s too soon to use excess fat to cure diseases, it could, in theory, allow people to grow personalized replacement parts for ailing organs as many stem cell researchers are seeking to do.


“Imagine if we could isolate fat cells from a patient with some type of congenital cardiac disease,” said cardiologist Joseph Wu, senior author of the paper published in Monday’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


“We could then differentiate them into cardiac cells, study how they respond to different drugs or stimuli and see how they compare to normal cells. This would be a great advance,” he reported, according to the Stanford University Medical Center.


Furthermore, because the “induced pluripotent stem cells” don’t come from embryos, their utilization would sidestep the controversy that surrounds embryonic stem cell research, which requires the destruction of human embryos.


“There’s an abundance of fat cells in this country,” Wu told the San Jose Mercury News.


“And we could transform them into brain, hair, eye cells - or whatever you can think of,” he added.


So far, Stanford researchers have proven that fat cells can differentiate into cells from the three main tissue types of the body, including neurons, muscle and lining of the gut.


Though scientists at the University of California in Los Angeles, the University of Melbourne and other institutions have found ways to turn fat cells into other specific cells – such as muscle – no one, until now, was able to transform them into embryonic-like cells.


According to Stanford surgery professor and co-author of the research Michael Longaker, the field now needs to move forward in ways that the Food and Drug Administration would approve – with cells that can be efficiently reprogrammed without the risk of cross-species contamination.


“The idea of reprogramming a cell from your body to become anything your body needs is very exciting,” he commented.


In addition to Wu and Longaker, other Stanford collaborators on the research include postdoctoral scholars Ning Sun, Nicholas Panetta, Deepak Gupta, , and Shijun Hu,; graduate student Kitchener Wilson; medical student Andrew Lee; research assistant Fangjun Jia; associate professor of pathology and of pediatrics Athena Cherry; and professor of cardiothoracic surgery Robert Robbins.


The research at Stanford was supported by the Mallinckrodt Foundation, the American Heart Association, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, the National Institutes of Health, the Stanford Cardiovascular Institute, the Oak Foundation and the Hagey Laboratory for Pediatric Regenerative Medicine.




>>Stem-Cell Breakthrough (, 071129)


By Chuck Colson


Just before Thanksgiving, researchers in Wisconsin and Japan announced a breakthrough in stem-cell research. This time, it was good news for those of us who believe in the sanctity of human life.


The researchers announced that they had “successfully reprogrammed human skin cells into cells indistinguishable from embryonic stem cells.”


The announcement at the University of Wisconsin was accompanied by the usual hype: The research “has tremendous implications” for medicine, drugs, and “transplantation therapies.”


The unusual part was that the leader of the research team, James Thomson, told reporters that these cells would, over time, replace embryonic stem cells in research—and he is glad of it, because he had moral qualms.


Not surprisingly, it was the possible resolution to this controversy that captured the headlines. The Philadelphia Inquirer spoke for many when it said that the findings have the potential to end the “dreary wrangle” over embryonic stem-cell research.


The news from Wisconsin and Japan is good news, and it is a vindication of those who argued that the sacrifice of human embryos was unnecessary. But this struggle is far from over.


To understand why, you need to understand what motivated many supporters of embryonic stem-cell research.


The first was political. As one liberal pundit put it, “embryonic stem cells, of course, were supposed to cure America of its affection for the religious right.” For many politicians, embryonic stem-cell research was a “wedge issue.” Its goal was not to conquer disease but, instead, to put pro-life Americans on the defensive, depicting them as uncaring fanatics. There is no reason to think that our opponents are going to stop trying to use the stem-cell issue against us even after this announcement.


The second motivation is worldview: specifically, “scientism,” the belief that scientific investigation is the only means of knowledge—that scientists can get answers to everything, including philosophy and morality.


So embryonic stem-cell research, scientism insists, must be free from any “restraints” or “interference.” Scientists—not political leaders and certainly not morally concerned citizens—should determine what it is or is not permissible in the lab.


In addition, scientism, given its materialistic grounding, rejects any appeal to the sanctity of human life. The Christian worldview teaches that humans are made in the image of God. From conception to natural death, life is sacred. The worldview of scientism teaches something entirely different. In that view, we humans are merely an interesting and potentially useful collection of cells and genetic material.


Nothing that has happened in the past couple of weeks has reduced the influence of scientism. On the contrary, “Science” is being credited with finding a resolution to the issue—and they will be back.


The only reason this breakthrough happened is that Christians stood firm for the sanctity of human life. And remember that we have had a president on our side. I remember when I congratulated President Bush for his courage in vetoing an embryonic stem-cell research bill. His answer to me was, “I didn’t have any choice: It was a moral issue.” I was never prouder of the president. But we may not have pro-life leaders in office in the future. So we dare not let our guard down.




**Court Upholds the Rule of Law in Stem Cell Case (Christian Post, 100827)

By Richard Land


In a case that goes against the grain of other recent federal court decisions that appeared to create rather than simply interpret the law, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia temporarily cutoff the flow of public monies to human embryonic stem cell research August 23.


I am delighted the court’s Chief Judge Royce C. Lamberth made the decision to uphold the rule of law as passed by the Congress of the United States, the people’s elected representatives.


In the case, two scientists, several other individuals, Nightlight Christian Adoptions and the Christian Medical & Dental Associations with the support of the Alliance Defense Fund sought to prevent the Obama administration’s Guidelines for Human Stem Cell Research from taking effect.


In 2009 the Obama administration announced that it would permit federal funds to be used for research into embryonic stem cell lines that were permitted under the Bush administration’s policy directives or that were created from embryos leftover after in vitro fertilization procedures. President Obama’s guidelines required private funding for the procural of the embryonic stem cells themselves, but allowed government funds to be used for “research” on the new and existing stem cell lines.


In August 2001 then-President Bush received mix reviews for approving the government’s funding of embryonic stem cell research but limiting that research to the 78 cell lines that existed at that time.

The Obama administration reasoned that even with the Dickey-Wicker Amendment, which was first signed into law by President Clinton in the mid-90s and prohibits any federal funding for research that results in the destruction of an embryo, it was permissible for the government to fund research since they held that the “research” itself did not directly lead to the destruction of the embryo.


The federal government argued it is possible to “define ESC [embryonic stem cell] research and the derivation of ESCs from embryos as separate and distinct ‘pieces of research.’”


Judge Lambreth took exception with the administration’s perspective and issued a temporary injunction, noting that embryonic stem cell research “necessarily depends upon the destruction of a human embryo.”


The Obama administration ignored the clear intent of this legislation in order to use taxpayers’ dollars in the killing of unborn babies in pursuit of medical research.


The sad thing about all of this is embryonic stem cell research has been made virtually obsolete by the invention of the induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells for a source of embryonic stem cells. Induced pluripotent stem cells allow medical researchers to take stem cells from adults and cause them to regress to their embryonic, undifferentiated state, thus providing all the advantages of embryonic stem cell research without having to kill unborn babies.


Dr. David Stevens, who is head of the Christian Medical & Dental Associations, affirmed the decision: “The bottom line is that ethical stem cell research that does not destroy a living human embryo is the fastest, most efficient and effective means to obtaining real cures for real patients. Already providing hope and help for patients with over 70 diseases, ethical stem cell research that does not destroy living human embryos holds proven promise for even more amazing breakthroughs in the future.”


Why the Obama administration continues to pursue federal funding for embryonic stem cell research is a mystery, even to many within the medical profession.


In the judge’s ruling, he agreed that the work of the plaintiffs, adult stem cell researchers, was necessarily harmed by the Obama administration’s directives because those guidelines allow federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, thereby increasing competition for funding for other stem cell research. Lambreth wrote, “This increased competition for limited funds is an actual, imminent injury. The balance of hardships weighs in favor of an injunction.”


I am grateful for a judge who sought only to interpret the law, not write law from his bench.




**Researchers Tout Major Advance with New Stem Cell Type (Christian Post, 090727)


Two teams of Chinese scientists have reportedly made a major advance in the development of a new kind of stem cell that doesn’t involve destroying embryos.


For the first time, researchers say they were able to produce live mice from stem cells that were induced from skin tissue of adult mice and then reprogrammed. And while there were abnormalities and unusual deaths with some of the first generation of mice, one team produced enough normal mice this way to create hundreds of second and third generation mice.


“We demonstrated the practicality of using iPS cells (induced pluripotent stem cells),” said Fanyi Zeng, associate director of the Shanghai Institute of Medical Genetics and co-author of the larger, more successful study.


Though authors of the study, which appears in the scientific journal Nature, and a second that appears in the journal Cell Stem Cell, cautioned against making premature conclusions as there’s “a lot more [to do] before we can even mention humans,” news of the work was hailed as important because they show that the new type of stem cells “satisfy the most stringent criteria of embryonic stem cells - the ability to make a mouse entirely from cells in a petri dish,” as Dr. George Daley of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute and Children’s Hospital of Boston told The Associated Press.


That’s especially good news for those who are against embryonic stem cell research, which has been the source of great controversy in the United States and elsewhere.


Though in recent years there have been several reports regarding the potential use of human embryonic stem cells as models for human genetic diseases, many within the pro-life community have stood against research on such cells as the processes involved in them require the destruction of embryos.


Critics also not that embryonic stem cell research has yielded no cures to date despite the highly touted potential of embryonic stem cells to develop into any cell of the body.


Adult stem cells (taken from bone marrow and other tissue sources) and neonatal stem cells (from umbilical cord blood and the placenta), meanwhile, have been used in successfully treating over 100 diseases and have been hailed by some as having many superior qualities to embryonic stem cells.


According to a poll released last year by the polling company, inc., 69% of Americans say they support stem cell research but only 45% say they support both adult and embryonic stem cell research when asked more specifically.


Furthermore, only 17% of Americans say they are “very familiar” with stem cell research while 41 are either “a little bit familiar” or “not at all familiar.” Roughly 42% say they are “somewhat familiar.”




**Clinic Allows Couples to Pick Gender of Baby (Foxnews, 090822)


A new clinic in Manhattan is appealing to British couples who want to pick the sex of their next child — a process that is banned in the United Kingdom.


Pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, which can reveal the sex of an embryo, is prohibited in Britain except when it is used to screen for genetic diseases.


The United States relaxed its regulations on sex selection in 2001 and American medical centers report interest from British patients who find out about their “family balancing” services through online advertisements.


Jeffrey Steinberg opened his New York clinic in January. Half of the embryos at present undergoing tests in his laboratory belong to British parents and four couples are already booked in for next month.


Britain is far more conservative than it used to be. They were the innovators but now they’ve got handcuffs on,” Dr Steinberg said. “From a business standpoint, it’s the best thing going. From a medical standpoint, it’s a travesty.”




**No Embryo Needed: Scientists Say They Turned Skin Cells to Stem Cells (Foxnews, 071120)


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.


Laboratory teams on two continents report success in a pair of landmark papers released Tuesday. It’s a neck-and-neck finish to a race that made headlines five months ago, when scientists announced that the feat had been accomplished in mice.


The “direct reprogramming” technique avoids the swarm of ethical, political and practical obstacles that have stymied attempts to produce human stem cells by cloning embryos.


Scientists familiar with the work said scientific questions remain and that it’s still important to pursue the cloning strategy, but that the new work is a major coup.


“This work represents a tremendous scientific milestone — the biological equivalent of the Wright Brothers’ first airplane,” said Dr. Robert Lanza, chief science officer of Advanced Cell Technology, which has been trying to extract stem cells from cloned human embryos.


“It’s a bit like learning how to turn lead into gold,” said Lanza, while cautioning that the work is far from providing medical payoffs.


“It’s a huge deal,” agreed Rudolf Jaenisch, a prominent stem cell scientist at the Whitehead Institute in Cambridge, Mass. “You have the proof of principle that you can do it.”


The White House lauded the papers, saying such research is what President Bush was advocating when he twice vetoed legislation to pave the way for taxpayer-funded embryo research.


There is a catch with the new technique. At this point, it requires disrupting the DNA of the skin cells, which creates the potential for developing cancer. So it would be unacceptable for the most touted use of embryonic cells: creating transplant tissue that in theory could be used to treat diseases like diabetes, Parkinson’s, and spinal cord injury.


But the DNA disruption is just a byproduct of the technique, and experts said they believe it can be avoided.


The new work is being published online by two journals, Cell and Science. The Cell paper is from a team led by Dr. Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University; the Science paper is from a team led by Junying Yu, working in the lab of in stem-cell pioneer James Thomson of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.


Both reported creating cells that behaved like stem cells in a series of lab tests.


Thomson, 48, made headlines in 1998 when he announced that his team had isolated human embryonic stem cells.


Yamanaka gained scientific notice in 2006 by reporting that direct reprogramming in mice had produced cells resembling embryonic stem cells, although with significant differences. In June, his group and two others announced they’d created mouse cells that were virtually indistinguishable from stem cells.


For the new work, the two men chose different cell types from a tissue supplier. Yamanaka reprogrammed skin cells from the face of an unidentified 36-year-old woman, and Thomson’s team worked with foreskin cells from a newborn. Thomson, who was working his way from embryonic to fetal to adult cells, said he’s still analyzing his results with adult cells.


Both labs did basically the same thing. Each used viruses to ferry four genes into the skin cells. These particular genes were known to turn other genes on and off, but just how they produced cells that mimic embryonic stem cells is a mystery.


“People didn’t know it would be this easy,” Thomson said. “Thousands of labs in the United States can do this, basically tomorrow.”


The Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, which holds three patents for Thomson’s work, is applying for patents involving his new research, a spokeswoman said. Two of the four genes he used were different from Yamanaka’s recipe.


Scientists prize embryonic stem cells because they can turn into virtually any kind of cell in the body. The cloning approach — which has worked so far only in mice and monkeys — should be able to produce stem cells that genetically match the person who donates body cells for cloning.


That means tissue made from the cells should be transplantable into that person without fear of rejection. Scientists emphasize that any such payoff would be well in the future, and that the more immediate medical benefits would come from basic research in the lab.


In fact, many scientists say the cloning technique has proven too expensive and cumbersome in its current form to produce stem cells routinely for transplants.


The new work shows that the direct reprogramming technique can also produce versatile cells that are genetically matched to a person. But it avoids several problems that have bedeviled the cloning approach.


For one thing, it doesn’t require a supply of unfertilized human eggs, which are hard to obtain for research and subjects the women donating them to a surgical procedure. Using eggs also raises the ethical questions of whether women should be paid for them.


In cloning, those eggs are used to make embryos from which stem cells are harvested. But that destroys the embryos, which has led to political opposition from President Bush, the Roman Catholic church and others.


Those were “show-stopping ethical problems,” said Laurie Zoloth, director of Northwestern University’s Center for Bioethics, Science and Society.


The new work, she said, “redefines the ethical terrain.”


Richard Doerflinger of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops called the new work “a very significant breakthrough in finding morally unproblematic alternatives to cloning. ... I think this is something that would be readily acceptable to Catholics.”


White House spokesman Tony Fratto said the new method does not cross what Bush considers an “ethical line.” And Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, a staunch opponent of publicly funded embryonic stem cell research, said it should nullify the debate.


Another advantage of direct reprogramming is that it would qualify for federal research funding, unlike projects that seek to extract stem cells from human embryos, noted Doug Melton, co-director of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute.


Still, scientific questions remain about the cells produced by direct reprogramming, called “iPS” cells. One is how the cells compare to embryonic stem cells in their behavior and potential. Yamanaka said his work detected differences in gene activity.


If they’re different, iPS cells might prove better for some scientific uses and cloned stem cells preferable for other uses. Scientists want to study the roots of genetic disease and screen potential drug treatments in their laboratories, for example.


Scottish researcher Ian Wilmut, famous for his role in cloning Dolly the sheep a decade ago, told London’s Daily Telegraph that he is giving up the cloning approach to produce stem cells and plans to pursue direct reprogramming instead.


Other scientists said it’s too early for the field to follow Wilmut’s lead. Cloning embryos to produce stem cells remains too valuable as a research tool, Jaenisch said.


Dr. George Daley of the Harvard institute, who said his own lab has also achieved direct reprogramming of human cells, said it’s not clear how long it will take to get around the cancer risk problem. Nor is it clear just how direct reprogramming works, or whether that approach mimics what happens in cloning, he noted.


So the cloning approach still has much to offer, he said.


Daley, who’s president of the International Society for Stem Cell Research, said his lab is pursuing both strategies.


“We’ll see, ultimately, which one works and which one is more practical.”




**A Stem Cell Win-Win (National Review Online, 071120)


[Yuval Levin]


The news embargo now seems to have been broken on what is likely to rank as the most important development in stem cell science since the first derivation of human embryonic stem cells in 1998.


Two prominent scientific journals—Science and Cell—are each today publishing papers that demonstrate extraordinary success with a technique called “somatic cell reprogramming.” Working separately, and using slightly different methods, these two teams (one of which is led by James Thomson of the University of Wisconsin, the original innovator of human embryonic stem cells) have each successfully taken a regular human skin cell and transformed it into what appears to be the equivalent of an embryonic stem cell—all without the need for embryos, or eggs, or any other ethically controversial methods. The resulting cells (which they call induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells) have passed all the tests for “pluripotency” and seem to function just like embryonic stem cells. Again, they’ve done this in humans, not just in animals. Thomson’s team puts the matter plainly in the usual scientific deadpan: “The human iPS cells described here meet the defining criteria we originally proposed for human ES [embryonic stem] cells, with the significant exception that the iPS cells are not derived from embryos.” In other words: embryonic stem cells not from embryos. A “significant exception” indeed.


This is first of all an extraordinary scientific discovery—quite apart from its connection with stem cell research. It suggests a previously unimagined level of plasticity at the cellular level in human beings that will have huge implications for medical research and future therapies, and not necessarily stem cell therapies. The ability to take one cell type, insert a few genetic factors, and end up with a completely different but functional cell type will revolutionize cell biology, and get a lot of PhD level textbooks thrown in the garbage today.


And for the stem cell debate, this really could mean the end, and the best possible end: a scientific way around the ethical problem, just as responsible people on both sides of the debate have long hoped might be possible. At first some folks in Washington and elsewhere will certainly be inclined to deny it or insist human cloning or embryo-destructive research remain essential, but as these findings sink in, that view is likely to sink too. It offers a path to a win-win conclusion to what seemed like an intractable argument—you get the cells scientists have said are so valuable, and you avoid the violation of human equality and dignity that so troubles some of us. It’s not only ethically preferable, it also seems to be scientifically superior in some ways, because it’s so much easier and more direct (as British scientist Ian Wilmut noted late last week (almost breaking the story), it offers genetically matched embryonic-like stem cells, as you’d get from human cloning, but without the need for cloning or embryos; all you need is a tiny bit of skin)


This kind of outcome has been the hope behind President Bush’s stem cell policy. In fact, the President spoke about this very same technique—reprogramming skin cells—in a speech back in July of 2006, and earlier this year signed an executive order to encourage this kind of work (Thomson’s team, in fact, was supported by the NIH). He should get credit for sticking to a crucial moral principle against immense and often quite irresponsible political pressure. But it has also been the hope of a great many stem cell scientists and advocates of research who did not share the President’s view of the ethical issues, but sought this for their own good reasons. It’s the scientists’ extraordinary work—and not the politicians—that really made this possible. This is not a win for one side or the other.


In the long run, if this turns out to be as big as it seems, the embryonic stem cell episode itself may turn out to have offered the country a model of how to govern ourselves responsibly in the age of biotechnology.




**The Future Is Now: Stem-cell debate changes. (National Review Online, 071120)


By Father Thomas Berg


It’s called “reprogramming.”


Another technical term for it is “somatic cell dedifferentiation.” Just get those terms into your vocabulary because they’ll be around for the foreseeable future. As reported in two scientific papers published today, reprogramming is now the future of stem cell research and renders ethically controversial therapeutic cloning obsolete.


Ever since the debate of embryo-destructive stem-cell research began in earnest in 1998 when researchers at the University of Wisconsin first isolated human embryonic stem cells, we’ve known that the best overall answer to the ethical impasse would be a solution that both allows the search for stem-cell related cures to go foreword, while doing so without harming or destroying embryonic human life in the process.


We now have that solution.


Two major scientific papers published today in Science and Cell offer proof of principle research to show that it is possible to generate patient-matched pluripotent stem cells without human cloning and its attendant moral pitfalls: the need to harvest and use human eggs from female donors and the subsequent destruction of cloned human embryos. Both studies used reprogramming of adult human cells to generate stem cells known as “induced pluripotent state cells” (iPSCs) that have all the properties of human embryonic stem cells.


When the President’s Council on Bioethics reported in 2005 on a number of alternative sources of the kinds of cells scientists were after — pluripotent cells, or cells with the capability of giving rise to all human tissue types for eventual therapeutic applications — one of those alternatives was hailed, hands down, as the best all-around solution: cell reprogramming. “We find this proposal to be ethically unproblematic,” wrote the Council members, “and acceptable for use in humans, if and when it becomes scientifically practical.”


In the highly contentious political battle over federal funding for stem-cell research, one cannot help but note that of all the current presidential candidates, only Governor Mitt Romney embraced an unambiguous and principled stance on the alternatives, incorporating them into his proposed domestic policy.


Reprogramming takes normal adult body cells — such as skin cells — and sends each cell’s nucleus back to a pluripotent state. In other words, the reprogrammed cells would then be capable of producing any tissue type in the human body — essentially equivalent in versatility to human embryonic stem cells. The reprogrammed cells would, furthermore, be genetically matched to the person who donated the original body cells. They could then be used to grow tissues for future use in tissue replacement therapies (everything from regeneration of damaged heart tissue to Parkinson’s to spinal-cord injury). A perfect genetic match, these tissues would not be rejected by the donor’s immune system. Most importantly, there would be no embryo created, destroyed, damaged or used in any way at any point in the process.


The papers were published by Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University, and by James Thomson of the University of Wisconsin, Madison. A year ago, the journal Cell published Yamanaka’s research in which he reported successes in reprogramming mouse cells by adding four key genes to those cells. His findings were like a shot heard round the stem-cell world. Almost immediately after his work was published, two additional teams of researchers set out to duplicate and, if possible, exceed Yamanaka’s findings.


In articles published on June 7 of this year in the journals Nature and Cell-Stem Cell, the three teams gave what most stem-cell scientists would consider definitive proof that Yamanaka’s four genes can, indeed, reprogram mouse cells to a pluripotent state.


And as if the rapid success in accomplishing that goal were not amazing enough, further astonishment accompanied the news that the second paper was submitted by Thomson himself, the veritable father of human embryonic-stem-cell research. It will remain a happy paradox of history that the very scientist who first isolated human embryonic stem cells in 1998, James Thomson now finds himself making history as a researcher who helps us get beyond the ethical impasse.


But this was not the only paradox making news over the weekend. A portent of news to reach the airwaves today, and a bombshell of a story in itself, the creator of Dolly the sheep, Prof Ian Wilmut, announced his decision to forego therapeutic cloning, just days after U.S. researchers announced a breakthrough in the cloning of primates. Wilmut’s announcement sent shockwaves through the scientific establishment. In an article published in the Telegraph last Saturday, Wilmut revealed that he has decided not to pursue a license to clone human embryos, which he was awarded just two years ago by Britain’s Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA). “This approach” — reprogramming, he was quoted as saying, “represents, the future for stem cell research.” So here we have both the scientist who gave us embryonic-stem-cell research and the scientist who gave us cloning both telling us that the cloning agenda is now obsolete and that the future of robust stem-cell research does not lie in embryos.


Ponder the meaning.


Like the unexpected climax of a romance novel, these historical paradoxes foreshadow a culmination to the ten-year tale of human embryonic-stem-cell research that is remarkably unlike anything we could have imagined. To be sure, a new day has dawned in the world of stem-cell research, thanks to the intellectual honesty and scientific acumen of researchers like Thomson, Wilmut and Yamanaka. The best part, of course, is that, for advocates of embryonic-stem-cell research, as well as for those opposed to embryo-destructive research, and especially for those millions of potential beneficiaries of stem-cell related therapies, the advent of the age of somatic cell reprogramming marks an enormous victory for all of us.




**Bush Bears Fruit: New discoveries pave the way for ethical stem-cell research, thanks to the president’s policies. (National Review Online, 071120)


By Wesley J. Smith


Throughout his presidency, the Science Intelligentsia has castigated President Bush for placing limits on the federal funding of embryonic-stem-cell research (ESCR). Acting as if he had a banned ESCR, which of course he hadn’t, “the scientists” and their camp followers in the media and on Capital Hill accused the president of withholding cures from the ill in order to impose his religious beliefs on a reluctant public.


Little noted in all of the caterwauling, was that ESCR and human-cloning research (SCNT) have been funded bounteously — to the tune of nearly $2 billion. Not only has the National Institutes of Health put more than $150 million in recent years into human ESCR (about $40 annually), but according to a recent report put out by the Rockefeller Institute, to date about $1.7 billion has poured into ESCR and SCNT from philanthropic sources — and this doesn’t include the hundreds of millions granted annually by the states for cloning and ESCR experiments.


So what’s really going on here? Yes, the president’s policies have forced some research centers to set up separate labs for research on Bush-approved- and non-approved, stem-cell-research lines. But what really got under “the scientists” skin was the clarion moral message sent by the president: It is wrong to treat nascent human life as a mere natural resource to be sown, reaped, and consumed.


Big Biotech responded to the Bush policy by mounting a powerful public advocacy campaign aimed at both opening the federal spigots, and breaking the back of the moral opposition to ESCR and human cloning research. Railing against the president and supporters of his policy as “anti-science,” ESCR/SCNT advocates accused Bush of denying sick people needed medical breakthroughs. Human cloning via SCNT was redefined from “therapeutic cloning” in the advocates’ lexicon to merely “stem-cell research.” The change of term constituted a clever ruse that bundled and confused in people’s minds, the morally acceptable advances being made in adult stem-cell research, the morally dubious human cloning project, and the use of “spare” embryos for research that were “going to be discarded anyway.”


For awhile, the political tide ran powerfully in the cloners’ direction. In November 2004, California voters passed Proposition 71, agreeing to borrow $3 billion over ten years to pay private companies, and their business partners in major university research centers, to conduct human cloning research and ESCR. This was followed with bipartisan votes in Congress passing legislation to overturn Bush’s policy. To this, the president responded with his only veto of the first term. This year, with the Democrats in control of both houses of Congress, that bit of Kabuki Theater was repeated — but the President’s policy held.


Then, almost without being perceived, the tide began to turn. Amendment 2 in Missouri — which established a constitutional right in Missouri to conduct human cloning research — was expected to cruise to an easy victory, proving that even in the Bible Belt, people wanted scientists to pursue ESCR/SCNT. But in the last two weeks of the campaign, public support for the measure plummeted in the face of the sheer power of Rush Limbaugh’s broadcasting voice in the imbroglio over actor Michael J. Fox’s pro ESCR/cloning political ads, and an effective last minute advertising campaign featuring St. Louis Cardinal baseball stars and popular actors which warned voters “don’t be bought, don’t be fooled.” The measure limped home with a bare majority, winning the day politically, but denying its sponsors of the big moral boost they expected to receive from its passage.


Meanwhile, little reported by the mainstream media, adult stem-cell/umbilical-cord blood stem-cell research advanced at an exhilarating pace. Early human trials showed that adult stem cells from olfactory tissues restored feeling to patients paralyzed with spinal-cord injury. Bone-marrow stem cells appeared to prevent the worsening of progressive MS. People with Type-1 diabetes were cured with their own adult stem cells. Increasingly, Big Biotech’s circus barker-call of CURES! CURES! CURES! seemed to be wearing thin. Then, just a few weeks ago, New Jersey voters shocked the science and political worlds by rejecting a $450 million bond measure that, like California’s Proposition 71, would have funded human cloning and embryonic-stem-cell research.


Returning to President Bush’s stem-cell funding policy; even though it was politically unpopular, the President believed wholeheartedly that the raw talent, intelligence, and creativity of the science sector would find a way to obtain pluripotent stem cells (the ability to become any cell type) through ethical means. In speeches and news conference answers about the stem-cell issue, Bush repeatedly supported existing ethical areas of research, and called upon researchers to find “alternative” methods of developing stem-cell medicine without treating nascent human life “as an experiment.” Toward this end, earlier this year Bush signed an executive order requiring the NIH to identify all sources of human pluripotent stem cells, and invited “scientists to work with the NIH, so we can add new ethically derived stem-cell lines to the list of those eligible for federal funding.”


The Science Establishment pouted and the New York Times castigated the president’s call. But other scientists had already taken up the president’s challenge, and their work was paying off. Experiments in mice by Rudolf Jaenisch at Harvard demonstrated proof of principle for “altered nuclear transfer” (ANT), a theoretical method of deriving pluripotent stem cells without creating and destroying embryos. Don Landry, Professor at Columbia University Department of Medicine, developed a way to identify dead embryos for potential use in stem-cell research — which would be no more unethical than researching on cadavers. Perhaps most excitingly, Kyoto University’s Shinya Yamanaka reprogrammed skin cells from the tails of mice, and reverted them back to an embryonic-like stem-cell state — offering tremendous hope that every therapeutic benefit scientists believed could be derived from therapeutic cloning, could instead be achieved by regressing a patient’s own tissues.


Then, last week very big news: Ian Wilmut — who opened the Pandora’s Box of human cloning with the creation of Dolly the sheep, and who two years ago obtained a license from the United Kingdom’s Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority to create cloned human embryos from the cells of Lou Gehrig’s disease patients — stunned the scientific world with the sudden and unexpected announcement that he had rejected human cloning research, in favor of pursuing cell reprogramming as an ethical and uncontroversial means of obtaining pluripotent cells. Wilmut told the Telegraph:


The odds are that by the time we make nuclear transfer work in humans, direct reprogramming will work too.


I am anticipating that before too long we will be able to use the Yamanaka approach to achieve the same, without making human embryos. I have no doubt that in the long term, direct reprogramming will be more productive, though we can’t be sure exactly when, next year or five years into the future.


Finally, today came the Krakatau of stem-cell announcements: Reprogramming has been achieved using human cells. As reported by the journal Science, researchers reverted human connective tissue cells back to an embryonic-stem-cell-like state — and then differentiated them into all three of the body’s major tissue types. If this work pans out, there will be no need to create human cloned embryos for use in embryonic-stem-cell therapies.


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.




**Conservatives Praise Ethical Stem Cell Breakthrough (Christian Post, 071121)


Many conservative groups are applauding a breakthrough stem cell method that doesn’t result in the destruction of human embryos.


Scientists announced Tuesday that they have generated human stem cells with embryonic qualities using human skin cells and not embryos.


Until now, embryonic stem cells genetically matching a person had to be extracted from cloned human embryos using “nuclear transfer” – the same controversial technique that was used to clone Dolly the sheep. The process, which required the destruction of human embryos in order for the stem cells to be harvested, is considered a major ethical concern by pro-life groups and one of the driving forces behind the stem cell debate.


The breakthrough stem cell method, however, uses a technique called “direct programming,” in which genes added to the skins cells reprogram the chromosomes and revert the cells back to an embryonic state. Essentially, the reprogrammed cell is positioned to act like an embryonic stem cell and turn into one of many cell types of the human body that could be used to treat debilitating diseases.


The new work is documented in papers from two independent teams who performed the research. One paper, based on the research from a team led by Dr. Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University in Japan, will be published in the Nov. 30 edition of the scientific journal Cell. The second paper is from a team led by Junying Yu, working in the lab of stem-cell pioneer James Thomson of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. It will be published Thursday in the online edition of Science magazine


In response to the announcement, conservatives lauded the scientific advancement as proof to their argument that stem cell solutions can be both effective and ethical.


White House spokesman Tony Fratto said the president was “very pleased” to hear the reports because the new method does not cross the “ethical line.”


“By avoiding techniques that destroy life, while vigorously supporting alternative approaches, President Bush is encouraging scientific advancement within ethical boundaries,” said Fratto in a written statement.


He noted that President Bush was the first president to make federal funds available for human embryonic stem cell research and has a policy that allows only embryonic stem cell lines created before August 2001 to be used.


Bush has twice vetoed Congressional bills to overturn that policy.


“The President believes medical problems can be solved without compromising either the high aims of science or the sanctity of human life,” he added.


Republican presidential hopeful Fred Thompson, who recently garnered the endorsement of National Right to Life Committee, said in an issued statement that the breakthrough was “exciting news.”


“That makes 73 breakthroughs for adult and cord blood research to date. There are still no embryonic stem cell breakthroughs,” said the former Tennessee senator, who opposes embryonic stem cell research, according to NRLC.


Adult stem cells have provided therapies for many chronic illnesses, including ovarian and breast cancer, Juvenile Diabetes, Parkinson’s Disease, and Sickle Cell Anemia, said Thompson.


“Today’s announcement is just one more indication that our current policy in relying only on adult stem cells is working,” Thompson added.


Aside from ethical objections that have been raised over the destruction of human embryos, there are also problems associated with embryonic stem cell research because it requires women’s eggs.


The eggs are rare and hard to come by. Embryonic stem cell research requires such a significant number of eggs that would render the study inefficient if not impossible.


Furthermore, ethical questions have been raised over the process used to harvest the eggs since it subjects the women donating them to a surgical procedure. Whether women should be paid for the eggs is also an ethical concern.


The new approach to producing human stem cells will “circumvent a second series of moral objections by providing a method for obtaining patient-matched stem cells without cloning human embryos or using women’s eggs,” expressed the National Catholic Bioethics Center in an issued statement.


“Once again science is catching up to ethics, proving that the moral way is the most sound, scientific choice,” said Wendy Wright, president of Concerned Women for America.


“This breakthrough allows scientists to further their research and continue to develop medical advances while still honoring the sanctity of life.”


Wright, who heads the nation’s largest public policy women’s organization, also said the new method will allow lawmakers to be rest assured when they discontinue pursuing “politically-charged” policies that fund stem cell research which destroys embryos.


“What has too often been missing from this important debate is a simple fact of modern science: Encouraging medical research and protecting the sanctity of life are not mutually exclusive goals,” said Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).


While supporters of embryonic stem cell research acknowledged the advantages of direct programming, some still believe it should be done alongside embryonic stem cell research.


Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), who has pushed for federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, said he will continue to do so, reported CNN.


But the technique has one major figure in the scientific community convinced.


Cloning pioneer Ian Wilmut, famous for his role in cloning Dolly the sheep, told London’s Daily Telegraph last week that he is giving up the cloning approach and plans to instead pursue direct reprogramming, which he believes to have “better potential” in producing stem cells.


Stem-cell pioneer James Thomson of the University of Wisconsin-Madison cited scientific motivations for pursuing research using the reprogramming technique.


“We weren’t avoiding the ethical controversy—we just thought this was an alternative approach that would work quicker,” Thomson told the Associated Press.


“I believe that these new results, while they don’t end that controversy, are the beginning of the end of the controversy,” he added.




**Stem-Cell Success Story (National Review Online, 071121)


By The Editors


Today’s papers bring news of an enormous advance in stem-cell research. Scientists in the United States and Japan have managed to turn regular human skin cells into the equivalent of embryonic stem cells — achieving what they’ve sought until now through the destruction of embryos, but without the need to use embryos, to use cloning, or to use eggs.


It is, to begin with, an extraordinary scientific achievement, with immense scientific potential. The new technique is much easier and cheaper than the use of embryos in research, and will likely bring about an explosion of new work on pluripotent stem cells and their applications.


But it is also, no less importantly, a powerful vindication of the premise behind much of the opposition to the destruction of embryos for research this past decade: the conviction that scientific advance need not require, and should not compel, the abandonment of ethical principles, and especially the principle of human equality that should cause us to cherish and guard every human life, from beginning to end.


In an effort to cause the country to abandon this conviction, some advocates of the research, including nearly every prominent Democrat in Congress, have made reckless and irresponsible promises, offered false hope to the suffering, depicted their opponents as heartless enemies of science, and exploited sick people for crass political gain.


Meanwhile, in an effort to defend that conviction, President Bush and most congressional Republicans have stood up to all that pressure, and have pursued an approach that seeks to advance science while also insisting on ethics. Contrary to the common myth, Bush never “banned” stem-cell research, or even federal funding for it. Instead, he permitted such funding, for the first time, in a way that could help basic science advance while not encouraging the ongoing destruction of human embryos. He acknowledged the importance of the science, acknowledged the importance of the ethics, and sought to champion both.


For several years now, the president has also clearly understood that the potential for scientific alternatives to the destruction of embryos could offer a powerful means to that end. Helped along by a variety of experts who saw that promise — perhaps most notably William Hurlbut of Stanford University, who was a member of Bush’s bioethics council — he came to recognize that stem-cell science could solve the ethical quandary stem-cell science had created. As early as 2005, Bush was speaking about “ethical ways of getting the same kind of cells now taken from embryos without violating human life or dignity.” And after trying unsuccessfully to get the Congress to support such new avenues of research, he acted on his own through an executive order this summer.

The researchers who achieved this week’s advance were not pro-lifers. They did not think it was unethical to destroy human embryos for research. But they did think there were scientific advantages to getting pluripotent cells without the need for embryos; and they knew, too, that there would be political and social advantages to it. By standing firm on principle, President Bush and many other pro-lifers made that latter point clear, and that surely played a part in getting us to what seems increasingly likely to be the end of the stem-cell debate.


This leaves the nation with a crucial lesson for what will certainly be many ethical quandaries to come as biotechnology advances: The answer to unethical science is not to give up on ethics, but rather to pursue ethical science.




**The End of the Stem-Cell Wars: A victory for science, for the pro-life movement, and for President Bush. (Weekly Standard, 071203)


by Ryan T. Anderson


The stem cell wars are over. Leading scientists are telling us that they can pursue the most promising stem cell research without using—much less killing—human embryos. This breakthrough enables researchers to create human embryonic stem cells directly from adult cells. In fact, the new method may actually prove superior to embryo-destructive alternatives. This is the biggest stem cell advance since James Thomson became the first scientist to isolate embryonic stem cells, less than a decade ago.


It is a new study by Thomson himself that has caused the present stir, but this time Thomson is not alone. Accounts of independent research by two separate teams of scientists were published on November 20—one in the journal Cell and one in the journal Science—documenting the production of pluri-potent human stem cells without using embryos or eggs or cloning or any morally questionable method at all.


The new technique is so promising that on November 16, Ian Wilmut announced that he would no longer seek to clone humans. Wilmut, you may remember, is the scientist who cloned Dolly the sheep. He recently sought and received a license from the British government to attempt to clone human embryos for research purposes. Now, citing the new technique, he has abandoned his plans.


It was only in 1998 that Thomson succeeded in isolating human embryonic stem cells. Though other types of human stem cells were known at the time (some were even in clinical trials), embryonic stem cells were thought to be the holy grail because they were believed to be more flexible. They were “pluripotent”—capable, in theory, of developing into any type of body tissue—whereas so-called adult stem cells were thought to be useful for forming a narrower range of tissue types. The problem with producing embryonic stem cells was that human embryos—nascent human beings—had to be destroyed in the process.


Even now, nine years later, embryonic stem cells are thought by many scientists to have greater potential than other types. This reputation persists even though adult stem cells are already used in therapies to treat several diseases and are being tested in hundreds of clinical trials, while not a single embryonic stem cell therapy exists, even in trials.


As anyone familiar with reparative medicine knows, immune rejection is one of the tallest hurdles to clear. The promise of cloning was that therapies could be produced using human embryos cloned directly from the patient—thus resulting in a genetic match. Cloning, it was said, would also provide an unlimited supply of human embryos. But many people thought human cloning with the sole intention to kill crossed an ethical line. In addition, human cloning would require an enormous number of human eggs—which could be obtained only by subjecting donors to painful and potentially dangerous hormonal-stimulation procedures. The fear was that likely “donors” would be poor women undergoing a distasteful procedure solely for the fee.


On August 9, 2001, President Bush waded into this morass. He issued an executive order that opened human embryonic stem cell research to federal funding for the first time ever. The order also restricted that funding, however, to research using existing embryonic stem cell lines: No more embryos would be created and destroyed for taxpayer-funded research. (Contrary to popular belief, Bush’s order did not ban anything.) Opposition was fierce, but Bush stood firm.


Amid this controversy, a number of scientists discussed possible alternative sources of embryonic stem cells. William Hurlbut, a professor at Stanford and a member of the President’s Council on Bioethics, proposed Altered Nuclear Transfer, a process that produced nonembryonic tumor-like entities that could then be harvested for the equivalent of embryonic stem cells. Some ethicists weren’t fully sold, fearing that the tumor-like entities might be deformed embryos. Hurlbut’s proposal was then modified, using oocyte cytoplasm to directly reprogram a cell’s nucleus to make it pluripotent. Still, some critics were unconvinced. Finally, using mice, a Japanese scientist, Shinya Yamanaka, showed that he could create embryonic stem cells directly from adult cells, and within less than a year his study was replicated and significantly expanded by two separate research groups. Yamanaka went to work to make it happen with human cells.


But outside the scientific community, conventional wisdom held that these alternative sources, while interesting, were being proposed only to provide Bush with political cover during the waning years of his presidency. As soon as a new president was inaugurated, federal funds would flow into human cloning and embryo-destructive research. Or so the story went.


That expectation has now been shattered. Whether or not the next president shares Bush’s pro-life convictions, it is highly unlikely that taxpayer funds will go to support embryo destruction, which has become not only unnecessary but also less efficient than the alternatives. That’s the story coming out of Cell and Science.


In Cell, Yamanaka announces that the pluripotent stem cell-producing technique he used on mouse cells works with human cells. The resulting cells—called induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPS cells—are functionally identical to human embryonic stem cells: They possess all of the same properties. The difference is simply in the method of their production.


This new production technique is possible because the difference between a stem cell and an adult cell is not a matter of genetics but of epigenetics: which genes are expressed, how, and to what degree. Different cells have the same genes, expressed differently. So scientists had been searching for a way to remodel the gene expression of adult cells to transform them into stem cells. Yamanaka’s team discovered a collection of four genes—Oct3/4, Sox2, Klf4, and c-Myc—that does precisely this. When introduced into adult cells, these genes directly reprogram the cells to a pluripotent state.


I asked Maureen Condic, professor of neurobiology and anatomy at the University of Utah School of Medicine, about these cells. “Direct reprogramming of adult cells to pluripotent stem cells is one of the most significant scientific findings of the last quarter century,” she said. “This approach holds tremendous promise for advancing our scientific understanding of stem cells and for advancing the study of regenerative medicine. However, there are concerns regarding the safety of iPS cells for human therapies, due to the use of viral vectors that integrate into the cell’s DNA, potentially causing dangerous mutations, and to the use of c-Myc, a gene that is associated with some forms of human cancer.”


Yamanaka himself notes these pitfalls, but indicates that they should be surmountable: His technique works even when you take c-Myc out of the mix and use only the other three genes (though it achieves its results at a less efficient rate). Moreover, Yamanaka notes that integration of the virus into the DNA will not reduce the usefulness of induced pluripotent stem cells for study of human diseases in the laboratory, and that other nonviral means of introducing the reprogramming factors into cells are likely to be sufficient to generate iPS cells.


The Thomson approach described in Science avoided some of these drawbacks by using no c-Myc and optimizing the safety of the induced pluripotent stem cells from the start. His team used a different group of genes—Oct4, Sox2, Nanog, and Lin28—to achieve the same end: direct reprogramming of adult human cells to the pluripotent state. Thomson’s technique is also noteworthy because it uses a lentivirus to introduce the gene group, which is the safest of retroviral integration methods. Work still needs to be done to ensure that viral vectors do not introduce dangerous mutations, but the scientists I spoke with thought this would be achievable with minimal delay.


What does all of this mean? James Thomson explains it best in his Science paper:


The human iPS cells described here meet the defining criteria we originally proposed for human embryonic stem cells, with the significant exception that the iPS cells are not derived from embryos. Similar to human embryonic stem cells, human iPS cells should prove useful for studying the development and function of human tissues, for discovering and testing new drugs, and for transplantation medicine. For transplantation therapies based on these cells, with the exception of autoimmune diseases, patient-specific iPS cell lines should largely eliminate the concern of immune rejection.


In short: The new technique produces patient-specific stem cells with all the benefits of stem cells from embryos, but without the production and destruction of human embryos or the use of human eggs.


Because induced pluripotent stem cells, created from a patient’s own body, are a perfect genetic match, they should prove especially useful for both the study of diseases and the development of treatments. Thomson notes, “For drug development, human iPS cells should make it easier to generate panels of cell lines that more closely reflect the genetic diversity of a population, and should make it possible to generate cell lines from individuals predisposed to specific diseases.”


Wilmut, of Dolly the sheep fame, agrees. Comparing his cloning methods with Yamanaka’s, he said, “The work which was described from Japan of using a technique to change cells from a patient directly into stem cells without making an embryo has got so much more potential.”


Nonetheless, there are serious challenges to overcome before pluripotent stem cells—whatever their source—will be ready for clinical therapies. All pluripotent stem cells carry a risk of tumor formation. And no one has yet figured out how to convert these stem cells into transplantable cells usable for therapies. Markus Grompe, professor in the department of molecular and medical genetics at the Oregon Health and Science University, director of the Oregon Stem Cell Center, and a board member of the International Society for Stem Cell Research, told me that “the therapeutic potential of all human pluripotent stem cells, including those generated by direct reprogramming, remains uncertain. No immediate cures should be expected from human pluripotent stem cell-based therapy, either embryo-derived or iPSC. First, the tumor risk of such cells must be harnessed, and second, the efficient conversion to transplantable cells must be mastered.”


But scientists are hopeful that these hurdles will be overcome. Grompe points out that stem cells have important uses beyond therapy, and for these uses, too,


iPS cells are clearly superior to embryo-derived stem cells. They can be used to study how human organs and tissues form. And the insights gained are likely to lead to the development of new drugs and strategies to benefit human health. Direct reprogramming techniques make it possible to generate pluripotent cells from specific individuals with particular diseases. For example, it will be possible to make pluripotent stem cells from children with Fanconi’s anemia, a devastating genetic disease, and study the effects of candidate drugs on the formation of human blood. Another example, favored by Ian Wilmut, is motor neuron disease (Lou Gehrig’s disease). Here it will be of interest to examine the formation of nerves and motor neurons from patients with the actual disease, in an attempt to discover ways to help the cells survive and function better. These kinds of experiments are now immediately possible and will likely be the first application of iPS cells.


Thus, iPS cells may very well help us discover therapies for some of the most daunting genetic diseases. And they should be able to do so at last without controversy.


The ethicists I spoke with had only praise for the new developments. While some Catholic moral theologians had previously worried that reprogramming methods “mimicked conception” and might produce disabled embryos, the new technique should alleviate all fears. Concerns that scientists might “go too far back” and reprogram a cell to a totipotent stage—making an actual embryo, not a stem cell—are quickly settled once one understands the science. To be an embryo requires not only a particular nuclear state, but also certain organizational factors that the oocyte cytoplasm provides. But no egg or cytoplasm is used in this method. Furthermore, two of the genes used for reprogramming—Nanog and Sox2—are never found in embryos, only in stem cells. Their expression in reprogramming precludes totipotency.


When I asked Father Thomas Berg, the executive director of the Westchester Institute for Ethics and the Human Person, about this concern, he replied, “From a Catholic perspective, reprogramming clears the bar in terms of reasonable concern for human dignity in biotech research: Never at any point in the process of reprogramming is there ever a danger of involving—even accidentally we might say—techniques that could bring about a human embryo, as would happen in cloning. The science of pluripotent stem cell research can move forward toward therapies and cures in a manner that is free of any ethical concerns.”


What about all of those antiscience religious fanatics who used to scold about “playing God”? They don’t exist. They’re a media-conjured fantasy. Of all the many people I have talked with about stem cells, none has ever expressed any antiscience or antimedicine inclinations.


Princeton’s legal philosopher Robert P. George, who also serves on the President’s Council on Bioethics, told me, “From the beginning we have been arguing that we must do everything we can to advance the cause of stem cell science but without sacrificing our respect for nascent human life and the principle of the inherent and equal dignity of each and every member of the human family. This latest news just goes to show that it really is possible.”


It also is illustrative of the politics of science. Had a President Gore or a President Kerry allowed the science to go forward without regard for moral principle, it would have set a terrible precedent. A Gore or Kerry presidency would have bestowed federal blessing and taxpayer funds on laboratory work predicated on the assumption that embryonic human beings can be treated as spare parts and that cloning to kill is acceptable.


But because President Bush stood his ground, we have avoided that moral catastrophe. Had Bush lost either election, or had he caved to pressure from those who slandered him as “antiscience,” it is very possible that the new method of stem cell production—the new gold standard, in all likelihood—would never have been found. Most likely, science and the public would have accommodated themselves to the mass production and mass killing of human embryos.


Indeed, it is not Bush alone, but the entire pro-life movement, that has been vindicated. For the petition-signers and the direct-mail organizers, the philosophers and the scientists who have defended the sanctity of human life, the Cell and Science stories come as a reward. When I spoke with Robert George, he praised Leon Kass, the former chairman of the President’s Council, together with William Hurlbut, as the driving intellectual force against embryo-killing and in favor of finding alternative methods of obtaining pluripotent stem cells. “All along,” George reports, “it was Dr. Kass who said that reprogramming methods would, if pursued vigorously, enable us to realize the full benefits of stem cell science while respecting human dignity.”


George downplays his own role in shaping the president’s thinking. After Congress passed a bill funding embryo-destructive stem cell research, Bush sought counsel. His approval ratings were in the cellar, and the general public largely supported the bill. Shortly before announcing his response to the legislation, the president invited George and Grompe to the Oval Office to discuss it with him. George presented the scientific and philosophical case for respecting the human embryo, while Grompe assured the president that alternatives such as reprogramming, if given time, would win the day. The president agreed and announced his veto. He was right.


And Congress was wrong. Considering the realities of Washington, it is no surprise that the pro-embryo-destruction forces in the House of Representatives actually teamed up to defeat a bill that would have funded research on reprogramming, which they dismissed as a distraction. President Bush then issued another executive order, this one instructing the National Institutes of Health to promote reprogramming research. As it turns out, the breakthrough Thomson study was partially funded by NIH.


Stem cell research wasn’t a prime issue during the 2000 campaign. Politically, the controversy wasn’t yet ripe, though it became so just months into Bush’s first term. Similarly, now, we don’t know what the next biotech breakthrough will be. Whatever it is, we can be certain that some people will demand we pursue it. Having political leaders of principle who insist on ethical standards in scientific research, then, is always of the utmost importance.


At present, people on all sides of the old stem cell debate should be able to celebrate. The recent news gives scientists a better method of producing embryonic stem cells while retaining our nation’s commitment to the equal and inherent dignity of all human beings. Richard Doerf-linger of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops pointed out the happy irony: “The scientist who gave us human embryonic stem cell research has helped find the way to go beyond embryo-destructive research, and in response to these new findings, the scientist who gave us cloning tells us that the cloning agenda is on the way to being obsolete.”




**Brave New Future: Working together with stem cells. (National Review Online, 071126)


An NRO Symposium


On Tuesday, two scientific journals announced news of a breakthrough that could put an end to our dead-end political debates about stem-cell research. In response to the news, National Review Online asked a group of experts: How big is Tuesday’s new somatic-cell reprogramming news? Where does the stem-cell/cloning debate go from here? How should politics respond? Here’s what they had to say.


Dr. Maureen Condic

Direct reprogramming of human cells to produce “induced pluripotent state” or iPS cells is one of the most significant scientific findings of the twenty-five years. The power of direct reprogramming is that it generates stem cells that are genetically identical to patients without destroying human embryos or using human or animal eggs. The iPS approach resolves the major ethical and practical difficulties associated with human cloning, and is therefore superior to cloning as a means of obtaining patient-specific pluripotent stem cells. While there are legitimate concerns regarding the safety of iPS cells for use in human patients, these concerns can almost certainly be addressed using currently available scientific technology.


Direct reprogramming very significantly alters the political and scientific landscape surrounding stem cell research. Because direct reprogramming is scientifically fascinating, remarkably simple and unrestricted for federal funding, the number of laboratories conducting stem cell research is likely to expand enormously, greatly accelerating the pace of discovery. The availability of an ethically and scientifically uncompromised source of pluripotent stem cells should be warmly embraced by all parties as a truly win-win resolution to the long-standing controversy over embryo-destructive research.


— Maureen L. Condic, Ph.D. is an associate professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy at the University of Utah, School of Medicine.


William Hurlbut

The news represents very hopeful progress toward a complete resolution to the stem-cell impasse. I think the president deserves a lot of credit for challenging our nation to find a way forward with consensus. Likewise Rick Santorum and Norm Coleman in the Senate. It’s amazing and shameful that Congress couldn’t bring itself to support funding for such projects. Did you know that both Hillary and Obama voted against Coleman’s bill? Not what I’d call genuine leadership.


Another less evident but very important voice in this has been Mitt Romney. Three years ago he saw the “alternative methods” as a way forward through our national conflict and invited me back to the Massachusetts statehouse to talk with him about Altered Nuclear Transfer — and, in all fairness, I have to say that he struck me as genuinely and solidly pro-life at that time.


So, at least with regard to our national politics, it’s a sad chapter with a happy ending. It’s clear now there will be a solution, probably from both Direct Reprogramming and Altered Nuclear Transfer. If we hadn’t turned it into a partisan battle, the answer would have come months ago. If the money spent to fight over Proposition 71 (in California) and Amendment 2 (in Missouri) had been put to positive application in research, we might be years ahead of where we are now in advancing stem-cell research.




**A Haunting Specter — Modern Science Without Moral Limits (Mohler, 070129)


Modern science most often operates under a cover of moral neutrality. It is probably safe to assume that most Americans think of science as a morally neutral enterprise — one that can as easily be used for good as for evil. Nevertheless, this impression of moral neutrality is a myth . . . and a dangerous myth indeed.


Yuval Levin makes this point in his important essay, “The Moral Challenge of Modern Science,” published in the Fall 2006 issue of The New Atlantis. Levin, a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, DC, sums up his argument with these words:


The real challenge lies not in the tools that science gives us, but in the attitudes it forms in us. The trouble is not that technology can be used for both good and evil, but that people in the age of technology may have real trouble telling the difference between the two. The moral challenge of modern science is, like every genuine moral challenge, a hazard to the souls of men; and the danger that confronts us in the scientific age arises not from our tools or our machines but from our own assumptions and attitudes.


He is right, of course. In this age of technology, many persons (including both scientists and non-scientists) have difficulty seeing the moral realities and challenges presented by many advanced technologies.


Furthermore, science is no longer just about science. As Levin observes:


The moral challenge of modern science reaches well beyond the ambiguity of new technologies because modern science is much more than a source of technology, and scientists are far more than mere investigators and toolmakers. Modern science is a grand human endeavor, indeed the grandest of the modern age. Its work employs the best and the brightest in every corner of the globe, and its modes of thinking and reasoning have come to dominate the way mankind understands itself and its place.


Resigning himself to a change in economic philosophy, President Richard M. Nixon once famously referred to John Maynard Keynes, the father of massive government spending, and quipped, “We’re all Keynesians now.” Well, we might say that we are all scientists now. Science is a worldview, a way of life, and a mode of thinking that affects every other discipline and dimension of thought. For many moderns, science has replaced Christianity as a touchstone for understanding reality.


Here is the heart of Levin’s argument:


Many of us nonetheless think of science as neutral because it does not match the profile of a moral enterprise as understood in our times. Put simply, science does not express itself in moral declarations. It is neutral in the very way in which neutrality is seen to be a good thing in a free liberal society: science does not tell us what to do. It takes as its guides the needs and desires of human beings, and not assumptions about good and evil. Our desire for health, comfort, and power is indisputable, and science seeks to serve that desire. It is driven by a moral imperative to make certain capacities available to us, but it does not enforce upon us a code of conduct. It can therefore claim to be neutral on the question of how men and women should live.


But a project on the scale of the modern scientific enterprise cannot help but affect the way we reason regarding that fundamental moral question. Modern science, after all, involves first and foremost a way of thinking. It is founded upon a new way of understanding the world, and of bringing it before the human mind in a form the mind can comprehend. In forcing the world into this form, science must necessarily leave out some elements of it that do not aid the work of the scientific method, and among these are many elements we might consider morally relevant.


Science forces itself to consider only the quantifiable facts before it, and using those facts it forms a picture of the world that we can use to understand and overcome certain natural obstacles. The more effectively the scientific way of thinking does this, the more successfully and fully it persuades us that this is all there is to do. The power and success of scientific thinking therefore shape our thinking more generally.


Only when we understand modern science primarily as an intellectual force can we begin to grasp its significance for moral and social thought. The scientific worldview exercises a profound and powerful influence on what we understand to be the proper purpose, subject, and method of morals and politics.


But Levin also warns that we are prone to “moral forgetfulness.” We are not adequately attentive to the moral dimensions of modern science and, before long, all that is left is a sense that whatever science produces is good — end of subject.


As Levin explains:


Modern science and technology stand to exacerbate and worsen this forgetfulness, both by taking away some of those things that now and then make us remember—the child whose potential is a great surprise to us, the limits that respect for others must place upon our vanity, the truths and lessons we can only learn by growing old—and by accustoming us to a mode of thinking and learning that always seems to know more today than it knew yesterday. Rightly enamored by the possibilities and achievements of forward-looking science, we are often blinded to the possibility of progress through remembrance and tempted to believe that we can rise beyond the limits and constraints that the past always seeks to remind us are necessary. This forgetfulness risks leaving us knowing much less than we knew yesterday, even about science.




This, in the deepest sense, is the moral challenge presented to us by modern science: to advance the great moral good of relieving man’s estate while remaining ever mindful of other, and perhaps greater, moral goods. It is a challenge to our sense of what matters most, to our commitments to equality and self-government, to our appreciation of the necessarily varied sources of wisdom and authority, and to our grasp of the right questions to ask.


The reality and seriousness of this challenge is readily apparent in so many contemporary debates. Why not use and destroy human embryos in the quest for therapies from human stem cells? Why not create chimeras (human-animal hybrids) or new transgenic species? Why not allow human cloning and customized human infants?


In reality, many Americans simply assume that whatever science is able to do is good — because science is morally neutral. This is one of the most dangerous myths of our times. The incredible wonders that have come to us through modern science — so many wonderful developments that have transformed human lives for good — can blind us to the reality that other technologies and applications can be inherently evil. The myth of moral neutrality in modern science is a myth we cannot afford.





Supplemental Articles in a separate file (click here to read)