Just a couple of weeks ago, there was another new discovery in stem cell science that further nullifies the need to use embryonic stem cells that destroy life in order to help save another. Separate researchers from Japan and the University of Wisconsin-Madison succeeded in reprogramming skin cells to behave like embryonic stem cells. In both laboratories, researchers were able to change the DNA of skin cells to replicate the features of embryonic stem cells – without harming human life. The Japanese team used facial skin cells; the Wisconsin team used skin cells from a newborn baby.
Before this discovery of converting human skin cell tissue, embryonic stem cells were the only cells that were “pluripotent.” A cell that is “pluripotent” has the ability to be programmed into and then function as almost any type of cell it needs to replace. Embryonic stem cells are the "ancestral" cells that give rise to nearly all the cell types in the body. Therefore, despite the moral dilemma, researchers have been crying out to use these embryonic stem cells to try to turn them into replacement cells and tissue to treat diseases or injuries.
However, this new discovery is a huge step forward because it once again proves that we are capable of developing non-embryonic sources to tap into the potentials of stem cell-based medical research and treatment. The scientific results from these reprogrammed skin cells further prove the superiority over their embryonic counterparts because they do not display the tumor causing properties of some embryonic stem cells, and can be derived from the patients themselves, thus avoiding tissue rejection.
I am also very excited to see that this success has been demonstrated in two separate laboratories using slightly different techniques, which reinforces the validity of the results.
As a strong pro-life advocate, I believe that life begins at conception. I believe, therefore, that the destruction of a fertilized egg – the embryo – to remove the critical material needed to derive embryonic stem cells equates to the destruction of a human life.
Stem cell research has the potential to provide scientists with immense breakthroughs to help them find cures for many of the diseases facing humans. However, I believe that destroying a defenseless life to save another is morally unacceptable. As a physician for almost 30 years, I took an oath to “do no harm” while I pursued pathways to study and cure human pathologies. Accordingly, I believe it is imperative that we use morally appropriate methods to find innovative new medical treatments.
I applaud President Bush for recently directing the National Institutes of Health to allow the funding of research that examines alternative means for obtaining pluripotent cell lines whose usefulness is comparable to that of human embryonic stem cells.
These recent discoveries in Japan and Wisconsin suggest that we can manipulate cell lines that are equally usable without Congress having to overturn the current White House policy that upholds the “sanctity of life.”