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Babette Francis

If ever there was an issue that shows there   need  be  no conflict between science and religion,  it is the issue of stem cell research.   For the past several years  amoral scientists and their political collaborators have been demanding  the right to  clone  and destroy human embryos  for their stem cells, claiming that these  embryonic stem cells (ESCs) because  they are pluripotent, i.e. have the capacity to turn into any kind of cell,   hold the key to cures for everything  from Alzheimers to dandruff.  However,  the real progress, treatment and cures have come from stem cells obtained from ethical sources such as bone marrow, cord blood, fat and muscle tissues, collectively known as "adult stem cells" (ASCs).These cells are obtained without killing  or damaging the donors. 

There are now over 75 diseases or disabilities  improved  or cured by using adult stem cells, while there hasn't  been even  a clinical trial in humans, let alone a cure, with  ESCs. Now a  a leading scientist in England is admitting  defeat in the area of ESC research, he says it is simply not working.    Lord Patel of Dunkeld,  chairman of the UK National Stem Cell Network and a chancellor at Dundee University, conceded in an interview with the Scotsman newspaper that the controversial science may never deliver new treatments for diseases. "In terms of embryonic stem cell therapy, there is currently no such therapy that is available..." . Patel also admitted scientists may never be able to overcome the hurdles - such as the development of tumors or immune syndrome rejection issues -  that plague  ESC research and make it risky in humans. "We have to be cautious," he told the Scotsman. "It may not deliver therapy for anything. We may find that ESC  therapy is quite a risky business."

It certainly is a risky business for the hapless embryos created and destroyed in the process of extracting their stem cells, and it is also a risky  financial business for those who invested in this immoral research.

New developments in stem cell research have made the use of   ESCs even more pointless.  In November last year,  Japanese professor Shinya Yamanaka and US scientist James Thomsom published in the medical journals Scienceand Cell  information about  the process known as "direct reprogramming". They were able to make adult stem cells revert to their embryonic form by turning human skin cells (fibroblasts) into pluripotent stem cells sharing essentially all the features of human embryonic stem cells. Since then, scientists have been able to advance the knowledge and use of the cells and scientists at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research  in Boston have used the reprogrammed cells to successfully treat Parkinson's in mice. The Whitehead scientists released a new study showing the Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells (iPSCs)  were effective in alleviating the symptoms of Parkinson's in rats. Weeks after a transplant of the iPSCs, Parkinson's symptoms were significantly reduced and the cells were able to replace lost or damaged neurons.

Periodically   there  are reports in the media of therapeutic  cloning in animals   to obtain their embryonic stem cells.  Dr. David van Gend,  National Director  for "Do No Harm, Australians for Ethical Stem Cell Research" dismisses the latest report of cloning in mice  as "A mere curiosity… another  piece of outdated research from the defunct era of cloning.
This research was done a year back, in the era when scientists thought cloning was uniquely useful. But since the paradigm shift in stem cell science in November 2007 - the advent of direct reprogramming of adult cells to the exact equivalent of cloned embryonic stem cells - that  is no longer the case",   Dr van Gend said.

“All one can say to this curious piece of outdated research is: ‘So what?’ If you want pluripotent stem cells that exactly match a patient, you can now get them by Dr Shinya Yamanaka’s direct reprogramming of adult cells, not creating and destroying cloned embryos.

“Who in their right mind would use thousands of eggs – it took over 5000 in this experiment to  make 24 mouse clones - to get the same product that could have been obtained quickly and ethically by reprogramming skin cells? And which licensing body would ever permit the creation of human embryos for this destructive purpose, now that there is an ethically uncontentious alternative?

“No, cloning as a serious science died in November 2007, and this latest research – performed  in February 2007 – is just another dusty exhibit in the Old Curiosity Shop of cloning. No Australian scientist has any reason to pursue the dehumanising science of cloning,  since Yamanaka provided us with the ethical alternative of ‘induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs).”

In the meantime researchers from the University of Florida have published online in the peer-reviewed journal Stem Cells and Development  that  a study in mice  suggesting that umbilical cord blood cells may improve the pathology associated with Alzheimer's disease.
Following a series of low-dose infusions of human umbilical cord blood cells into mice with Alzheimer's-like disease, the amount of amyloid-ß and ß-amyloid plaques - hallmarks of Alzheimer's pathology in the brain - was reduced 62 percent. Amyloid-ß induces an inflammatory response in the brain associated with the interaction of CD40 and CD40L, two pro-inflammatory molecules. Researchers also reported an astonishing 86-percent improvement  in cerebral amyloid angiopathy (CAA), another hallmark of Alzheimer's disease. CAA  compromises the integrity of the blood-brain barrier, disrupting normal trafficking of various molecules and cells from and to the brain and is believed to be the main culprit for the brain inflammation observed in Alzheimer's.

And speaking of dandruff, University of Buffalo engineers said stem cells from hair follicles have the potential to be engineered into new blood vessels for bypass surgery.
The researchers said stem cells from sheep hair follicles contain the smooth muscle cells that grow new vasculature. Stem cells from human hair follicles also differentiate into contractile smooth muscle cells. The findings are published in the journal Cardiovascular Research.

Cardinal Keith O'Brien of  Edinburgh, outspoken in his opposition to ESC research,  has suggested that Scotland  take the lead in ethical stem cell research by establishing a national repository for tissues taken from the umbilical cords of all babies born in Scotland.  This tissue could be used in future to harvest stem cells matching the babies' genetic code.

Australian legislation,  the Prohibition of Human Cloning for Reproduction Act 2002 and the Research Involving Human Embryos Act 2002 permitting cloning and experimentation on human embryos needs to be reviewed and amended  as soon as possible, and the money and scientific endeavour expended on ethical research.

Babette Francis is the National & Overseas Co-ordinator of Endeavour Forum Inc., an NGO having  special consultative status with the Economic &  Social Council of the United Nations.



Member Organisation, World Council for Life and Family

NGO in Special Consultative Status with ECOSOC of the UN