Sunday, August 21, 2005

Harvard Re-Creates Embryonic Stem Cells from Adult Cells

For months everyone and their wives (read "Diana" and "Nancy") have been blasting President Bush on his unwillingness to approve Federal funding for new lines of embryonic stem cell research. I wrote about this matter last May in a post entitled, "What's the Big Deal About Embryonic Stem Cell Research."

Today, however, that entire point may well become mute.

According to the Associated Press in an article just posted on FoxNews, Harvard researchers are claiming that, by "fusing" an embryonic stem cell with a skin cell from an adult, the adult cell appeared to have been "reprogrammed" to return to it's original embryonic stem cell state.

If an effective procedure can be developed so that the fused cells can be separated and if the resulting new cells prove to be identical to embryonic stem cells, then the need to destroy human embryos in order to harvest their stem cells for research and medical use will likely become unnecessary.

This would remove a very contentious moral issue from the public debate over the ethics of this particular line of scientific research and effectively end the political debate over whether such research should or should not receive support from Federal grant money.

If this Harvard study proves to be true, then we will hear a vast, collective sigh of relief....with the possible exception of those researchers who have staked their professional reputation and financial future on their need to destroy frozen human embryos. Oh, and also those who may have invested large chunks of money into this venture. Like the State of California, for example!

The entire issue begs the question as to which came first in the evolutionary cycle, stem cells? or the specialized cells they create? Can there, in reality, be one without the other? If not, then where did they come from and how did they acquire this remarkable ability to change from one thing into another (and now, apparantly, also have the ability to change back again!).

It seems like another good argument for the Intelligent Design folks. Just like the "design" of the eye and other inter-dependent biological systems, this stem cell to specialized cell and back to stem cell cycle appears to have no credible naturalistic explaination for its origin.

For the past five years or more I have predicted great advances in therapeudic and restorative therapies over the span of my children's generation. I envision burned skin restored, lost fingers regrown and even damaged internal organs such as the liver, kidneys and even, perhaps, the heart and nerve cells in the brain and spinal column being repared as a result of stem cell research. Never did I believe that these breakthroughs would of necessity require the destruction of human embryos.

It appears that GW was right to defer the spending of our tax dollars on this line of research. Not because it was morally wrong (which I still believe it is) but because it was not necessary.