Spinal Confusion

...an attempt to clarify confusing and innacurate information in science articles

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

New Stem-Cell Methods Fall Short

Kristen Philipkoski from Wired News writes an interesting piece today on the newly proven methods (in animal models) to obtain embryonic stem cells. Many members of the "main-stream media" heralded these accomplishments as the deal-breaker in the ESC debate.

Guess what? They were wrong. Dead. Wrong.

New Stem-Cell Methods Fall Short
By Kristen Philipkoski

02:00 AM Oct. 19, 2005 PT

Headlines this week trumpeted a possible solution to the embryonic stem-cell research conundrum. Scientists obtained the cells without destroying embryos, which is the sticking point for most people who oppose the research.

But that point is still stuck, according to religious leaders and other watchdog groups. They say the two methods described in the Oct. 16 issue of the journal Nature are not a clear solution to the ethical conundrum.
Religious and bioethics leaders, including Richard Doerflinger and Arthur Caplan, both say that this is a no go.

The reasoning?

The "single blastomere" approach does not guarantee that the embryo will not be affected or harmed. The removal of a single cell from an eight-cell blastocyst alters the interaction between the cells comprising -- at that point in time -- the entire life, which will have an effect on its development.

The effect may be benign and allow the viable embryo to develop, or it may cause an abnormality in the embryo leading to a birth defect, or a number of other things. Given our (current) limited understanding of the human body, it is impossible to guarantee that no harm will come to the embryo.

Scientific obstacles aside, this technique currently relies on human skill to successfully perform. Having yet to meet a perfect individual (some close, but... not quite), this procedure can never truly be deemed 100% safe while humans are involved.

"Altered nuclear transfer" prevents the gene Cdx2 from being expressed, which intentionally stops a crucial developmental event from occurring: the formation of the trophoblast. The trophoblast is, essentially, the skin that holds the blastocyst's innards (i.e., its stem cells) from emptying all over the place.

Again, this technique currently relies on human skill, so the same caveat applies.

The National Catholic Bioethics Center weighs in against both methods. (As a side note, I love their visual layout and color scheme; very calming.)

The Christian Medical Association and the Family Research Council also opine that these methods are inherently wrong.

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At January 22, 2006 3:38 PM, Anonymous Rebecca said...


The National Catholic Bioethics Center is against embryo biopsy for obtaining embryonic sem cells, but I think they are not against Aatered nuclear transfer. Some of the ethicists at the NCBC have signed this endorsement:


As far as I know the Catholic Church has not taken an offical stance yet.


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