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Tuesday, July 12, 2005

A Way Forward on Stem Cells

I am no fan of Leon Kass, but he does have an interesting Washington Post op-ed today:

By fusing an adult cell with an existing embryonic stem cell, scientists have reported progress toward producing cells that are genetically identical to the adult cell but that retain stem cell properties. An Australian group has succeeded in doing this in mice. A Harvard group, working with human cells, has produced hybrid cells with many stem cell properties. And Yuri Verlinsky's team at the Reproductive Genetics Institute in Chicago, working with human cells, claims to have succeeded altogether; he has submitted a patent application that tells us how he did it. The merits of this approach are great. You would get stem cells of every available genotype, permitting studies of the molecular basis of genetic diseases. Way down the road, you might get individualized cell-based therapies -- all the advantages of cloning-for-research but without the need for eggs and without creating embryos. And this research is eligible for federal funding under President Bush's existing policy. These fusion experiments could be carried out using any of the 22 human stem cell lines that are eligible for federal funding under the Bush policy and that are today available from the National Institutes of Health.
While I find no moral reason not to use excess embryos from invitro fertizilation as a source for stem cells, I do understand those who disagree with this point of view. Certainly it is approaching at the very least a moral gray area. Beyond that though, Kass is certainly correct in that a method to transform adult cells into pluripotency is superior to embryonic stem cells. We certainly live in interesting times.


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