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New IPS Stem Cell ‘Breakthrough’ Is Not a Pro-Life Victory!

By Leslie Tignor

News is breaking, once again, that scientists have “developed a technique that can quickly create safe alternatives to human embryonic stem cells,” and it’s being hailed as “a major advance toward developing a less controversial approach for treating a host of medical problems.”

Pro-life groups and organizations are, also once again, being duped into believing that this new invention is “an efficient way to produce apparently safe alternatives to human embryonic stem cells without destroying embryos.”

Washington Post staff writer Rob Stein reported in “Scientists overcome hurdles to stem cell alternatives” on September 30 that lead researcher Derrick J. Rossi of the Children’s Hospital Boston and his team produced a new version of what are known as induced pluripotent stems cells, or iPS cells. According to Stein’s article, “iPS cells could enable scientists to take an easily obtainable skin cell from any patient and use it to create perfectly matched cells, tissue and potentially even entire organs for transplants that would be immune to rejection.”

Further, Stein reports that “opponents of human embryonic stem cell research seized on the development as the most convincing evidence yet that the morally questionable cells are unnecessary” and even quotes Richard M. Doerflinger of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops as stating, “With each new study it becomes more and more implausible to claim that scientists must rely on destruction of human embryos to achieve rapid progress in regenerative medicine.”

Stein goes on to discuss the short history of iPS stem cell research and some confusing details about converting messenger RNA. However, what Stein’s article—and others touting the “breakthrough”—fail to mention is that the research involved the use of aborted fetal cell lines and human embryonic stem cells!

Mrs. Debi Vinnedge, director of American Life League’s Associate group Children of God for Life, read the research paper, published in Cell Stem Cell, for herself and notes that Rossi and his team used aborted fetal cell lines MRC-5 and Detroit 551 (female fetal skin). Additionally, the research team used H1 and H9 human embryonic stem cells. “This is no moral victory and no different than the previous experiments, since both aborted fetal and embryonic stem cells were used,” she said.

Likewise, in a January 2008 article, Vinnedge reported that earlier iPS stem cell research used materials obtained from electively aborted babies. In the same article, Dr. Theresa Deisher, founder of Ave Maria Biotechnology Company, a research firm dedicated to pro-life alternatives for unethical human therapeutics, noted that aborted fetal cells are not necessary for conducting iPS research. “There are other ethical ways to produce the DNA needed for transformation, efficiently and morally,” she said. “If these means were employed to produce the needed DNA, there would be no moral issues with the use of reprogrammed adult cells for research.”

In addition to omitting this crucial information about reprogramming research itself, Stein and others omit the fact that adult and umbilical cord stem cells are already treating and/or curing many of the ailments and conditions that some are intent on curing with yet unproven and destructive human embryonic stem cells. Why? Stein notes that “Rossi and other researchers … said that embryonic stem cells are still crucial because, among other things, they remain irreplaceable for evaluating alternatives.” How about the fact that more ethical forms of stem cell research do not involve patenting the cells, whereas research involving human embryonic stem cells does—and that’s a money factor.

Robert Lanza, a stem cell researcher at Advanced Cell Technology in Worcester, Massachusetts, called this most recent “approach ‘almost too good to be true,’ saying it evoked the magical alchemy of ‘turning lead into gold.’” In an ironic sense, this is a much more valid statement than anything human embryonic stem researchers have said to date.

Truly overcoming the hurdle of stem cell research would more accurately mean banning human embryonic stem cell research for good and placing all of our resources into furthering ethical forms of stem cell research.

Leslie Tignor is director of American Life League’s Associate program and researches various matters relevant to respect for life and human dignity.