Looks like the efforts of the Pro-Life movement have successfully brought an end to Embryonic Stem Cell research.
How, do you say? Through legislation? Bullying? Nay, I tell you. It’s all about raising an ethical objection– that’s it.
We’ve all heard the proponents of Embryonic Stem Cell Research (ESCR) touting the possible cures that could come from it. The counter-argument was that no human life should be used for scientific research. Those arguments came to a fever pitch in 2001 when George W. Bush banned Federal funding for ESCR (of course, private and state-driven funding were still allowed).
The arguments continued. With new research came new possible treatments from ESCR, and the arguments against always pointed to adult stem cells and how no stem cells from embryos had cured any disease. To me this argument always felt hollow, simply because it was undeniable that at some point there would be treatments which would derive from stem cells.
But now, thanks to a development by Shinya Yakanama, skin cells can be taken and treated with four retroviruses to turn skin cells into pluripotent stem cells, the same kinds that are generated from embryos. This is a HUGE development, mainly because a host can generate their own stem cells for treatment (eliminating possibility of rejection), and that the process is quick and simple.
Given that recently it was announced that ESCs were used to successfully treat advanced macular degeneration (AMD), a leading cause of blindness in the elderly, this announcement is something that rocks the scientific world (in a good, AC/DC kind of way).
Now, how is it that the Pro-Life movement is responsible for this (indirectly)? it all has to do with an ethical objection. Had nobody offered an objection to ESCR, there would have been no reason to seek alternative methods for stem cell generation. Every medical center could have their supply of ESCs generated on hand, and treatments could be done easily. But some brave, ethical individuals stepped forward and said this was tantamount to research on living children and it was immoral. Skeptics scoffed, but enough of a stink was made that some scientists started to pursue alternative methods of stem cell generation. Now we have a better method of generating pluripotent stem cells from the actual host, not a silent third party.
So congratulations to science on such an amazing discovery. And congratulations to the pro-lifers who made enough noise to get people to pay attention.
UPDATE: Hello to all Slate readers and thanks to David for the link. I would like to point out that Lemonick’s concerns are the same concerns people had (and still have) about various types of ESCR. Neither has produced a cure to anything, yet. But the potential of both is enormous– one just skirts a hefty ethical issue.