Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Non Destructive Embryonic Stem Cell Research?

So, Advanced Cell Technology (ACT), which announced wrongly several years ago that it had created the first human cloned embryos, and is constantly seeking to get itself in the news--perhaps in the quest for investment capital--has announced a new stem cell "breakthrough". At least this time the research success is being reported in Nature, a very reputable science journal.

Apparently, its chief scientist, Robert Lanza, created an embryonic stem cell line from an 8-10 cell embryo by removing one cell, which did not destroy the embryo. Lanza claims that, because this method of deriving ES cells does not destroy the embryo (although all 16 embryos he used were, in fact, destroyed), this technique will qualify for full federal funding. And, he claims, that if this technique were utilized during IVF genetic testing procedures, if the embryo is later implanted and gestated to birth, the procedure would not cause the born child any harm.

A few initial comments: First, this research shows how successful President Bush's policy has been in keeping the ethical focus of the science community fixed on the important moral issues involved with destructive embryonic research. Without Bush, the embryo would already be considered so much chopped liver.

Second: The safety of the procedure to the future baby has not been established, and in fact, was discussed by the President's Council on Bioethics and in Congressional testimony with some skepticism. Moreover, it strikes me that if such a procedure did harm the later-born baby, it would constitute immoral human research, and perhaps would be criminal. At the very least, there would sure be one hell of a lawsuit.

Third: The recent "alternatives method" legislation that passed 100-0 in the U.S. Senate but was scuttled by a procedural maneuver in the House, did not include this method for funding consideration--even though it had been discussed during the legislative process. I doubt that the pending executive order, that I believe will be signed by President Bush in the near future to fund alternative methods research, will fund it, either. It would be interesting to find out the reason for this.

Lanza may be right that this form of embryonic stem cell research could qualify for federal funding under President Bush's policy. I don't know. It is possible that the technique could transform the issue. But then, we must recall that this is Advanced Cell Technology, and with that company, it is always wise to remember the sage advice: Trust but verify.

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