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Is the Stem Cell Debate (almost) Over?
November 21, 2007 2:41 AM   Subscribe

After recent promising results demonstrating the ability to change mouse skin cells into stem cells, researchers have replicated this change in human skin cells in papers published in Science and Cell (access to full articles requires subscription) . The White House, somehow, is trying to take credit for this. The potential of all this: huge.
posted by switchsonic (57 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
I don't see any inconsistency here. The White House hasn't opposed stem cell research per se, only embryonic stem cell research.

If, indeed, the White House opposition to the use of embryonic stem cells have given impetus to finding alternative sources for stem cells - obviating the fundamentalist opposition and opening to door for medical research - then why not take credit for it? If the "stem cell debate" is over because human embryos are no longer involved, shouldn't everyone be happy? Science can now progress unhindered by moral/religious/political distractions.

Of course, those whose vocal support of stem cell research is really just thin cover for supporting abortion rights won't be so pleased with this, but who needs them anyway?
posted by three blind mice at 3:34 AM on November 21, 2007


If the "stem cell debate" is over because human embryos are no longer involved, shouldn't everyone be happy?

Considering that has added at least seven, and maybe more, years of delay to research on life-threatening diseases, I'd say no.
posted by grouse at 3:40 AM on November 21, 2007 [11 favorites]


I can't believe I missed that previous paper. Thanks for the updates.

I wonder how long it'll be before the Chinese start clinical trials ;-)
posted by kisch mokusch at 3:48 AM on November 21, 2007


The thing that no one talks about, but I think is huge as far as the ethics of stem cells go, is the fact that if these cells are the same as embryonic stem cells, they could potentially be made to form a new embryo. If this is true and every stem cell in your body is a potential new person, than doesn't that mean that using any stem cells is an ethical violation?

I wonder how long it'll be before the Chinese start clinical trials ;-)

Already started.
posted by afu at 4:04 AM on November 21, 2007 [3 favorites]


> Considering that has added at least seven, and maybe more, years of delay to research
> on life-threatening diseases, I'd say no.

Not happy? You'd rather the delay continue, in the interest of beating down the opposition first and using those h. sapiens embryonic cells, whatever the crazies think? Satisfying as that might be, I think moving ahead with the new opportunity is the way to go. Happy, I am.
posted by jfuller at 4:06 AM on November 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


How do you deserve credit for saying that you can't do something and then having people find a way around that prohibition? If I was ever president I would ban xrays and chemotherapy, then when scientists had to find new ways of doing things to replace the perfectly good ways of doing things I could take credit. I would be the greatest inventor of all time with such innovations as triangular tires (circles banned!) pm radio (no broadcasting before noon!). Give me a break.
posted by I Foody at 4:07 AM on November 21, 2007 [9 favorites]


Of course, those whose vocal support of stem cell research is really just thin cover for supporting abortion rights won't be so pleased with this, but who needs them anyway?

Do these people exist anywhere outside of your own fevered imagination?
posted by Faint of Butt at 4:08 AM on November 21, 2007 [7 favorites]


If, indeed, the White House opposition to the use of embryonic stem cells have given impetus to finding alternative sources for stem cells - obviating the fundamentalist opposition and opening to door for medical research - then why not take credit for it? If the "stem cell debate" is over because human embryos are no longer involved, shouldn't everyone be happy? Science can now progress unhindered by moral/religious/political distractions.

Also, prohibition did wonders for the beverage industry. Thanks, Mafia!
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 4:23 AM on November 21, 2007


Science can now progress unhindered by moral/religious/political distractions.

No it can't. Science still can't explore the avenue of embryonic stem cells. And it's not even a pure science issue--how can someone tell that these new stem cells are identical to embryonic ones without studying the latter?
posted by DU at 4:31 AM on November 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


Of course, those whose vocal support of stem cell research is really just thin cover for supporting abortion rights won't be so pleased with this, but who needs them anyway?

I could care less if adult stem cells did or didn't work effectively for stem cell research; I still think embryonic stem cells should be used in research because I think the arguments that embryonic stem cell research is killing a baybeeeeeeee is unmitigated horseshit and should be laughed out of any legitimate medical establishment.

You might as well have bragged that discovering a new source of fuel means we can stop using oil, which will please the Elder Gods who live deep underground and are angered by the drilling and machinery of the man-animals. The argument against idea #1 has not suddenly become not mind-fuckingingly stupid because idea #2 has come up.

But no, please continue to believe that what this is all about is that what we really want out of all of this is to just kill loads and loads of babies. I mean, that has to be the answer, because the idea that maybe on general principle people interested in science don't want irrational religious nonsense blocking it must be ludicrous to you, you ass.

Why yes, I have been driving for eight hours, what of it?
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 4:32 AM on November 21, 2007 [7 favorites]


Not happy? You'd rather the delay continue, in the interest of beating down the opposition first and using those h. sapiens embryonic cells, whatever the crazies think?

jfuller, please meet my friend straw man.
posted by grouse at 4:37 AM on November 21, 2007 [2 favorites]


If the "stem cell debate" is over because human embryos are no longer involved, shouldn't everyone be happy?

No, because of the delay in getting to this point, and the ground lost to research by other countries.

This is hardly at the stage of a magic bullet, as is implied somewhat by this post. We're far away from any clinical applications that are safe and effective:

"Still, many technical hurdles remain for possibly translating this work to human cells. For example, the homologous recombination technique used to isolate the pluripotent cells does not yet work in human embryonic stem cells. Also, using cells that contain viral vectors can pose health risks."

With respect to inserting genes, this technique is similar to gene therapy efforts in France that led children with SCID to contract leukemia and the death of a patient at the University of Pennsylvania. Using viruses to insert genes is not always precise, and this can trigger the cell to become cancerous or trigger the body's immune system to attack itself.

In any case, even the Whitehead researchers note that the "stem cell debate" is not over:

For now, it would simply be premature and irresponsible to claim that we no longer need eggs for embryonic stem cell research."

Science can now progress unhindered by moral/religious/political distractions.

Even if there are good things in the pipeline, I'm certain that religious nuts will find some excuse to hinder any positive development that comes from this research.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:44 AM on November 21, 2007


...if these cells are the same as embryonic stem cells, they could potentially be made to form a new embryo. If this is true and every stem cell in your body is a potential new person, than doesn't that mean that using any stem cells is an ethical violation?

They don't know that. In fact, nobody can say that these cells are embryonic stem cell equivalents until they show that these cells can give rise to people, who are then capable of bearing (viable) children. That's the ultimate criteria, and the one that the mouse work had to show.

Ironic, isn't it. To save all the embryos, we have to replace one ethical dilemma with another.
posted by kisch mokusch at 5:02 AM on November 21, 2007 [2 favorites]


The White House hasn't opposed stem cell research per se, only embryonic stem cell research.

Strictly speaking, isn't this Administration opposing not the research per se but Federal funding for it? (That may be a distinction without a practical difference, I'll grant you.) Or are they actually trying to to impede or prevent privately funded research in the US or research abroad?
posted by pax digita at 5:03 AM on November 21, 2007


I would also like to add that from a scientific perspective, the real advancement here isn't the sparing of embryos. It's that the creation of these ES-like cells bypasses the problems of allorejection that would surely occur if anybody actually tried to do therapy with true embryo-derived stem cells.
posted by kisch mokusch at 5:03 AM on November 21, 2007


I'm grateful that taxpayers don't have to fund medical research which uses human embryos as a means to an end. Private research on human embryos will continue.
posted by rockhopper at 5:03 AM on November 21, 2007


you "yeah, but..." people are pretty fucked up, you know?
posted by quonsar at 5:04 AM on November 21, 2007


There was already a way around the stem cell thing that didn't involve an embryo. The anti-stem cell people (because at that point that's pretty much what they were) were all over that because blah blah blah...... I'm pretty certain you could turn them against the use of any human cell culture if you used the right words.

The White House has pretty much opposed ALL research because they are trying real hard to play up to a crowd who believe in a God who is only a little smarter than I am if I get a good night's sleep and drink two cups of coffee.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 5:21 AM on November 21, 2007


Do these people exist anywhere outside of your own fevered imagination?

He is just taking advantage of the pluripotency of mefi comments.
posted by srboisvert at 5:37 AM on November 21, 2007


Yeah, the ethical or moral objections to embryonic research are, as stated so eloquently, “unmitigated horseshit.” These embyros were already biomedical waste. It’s not as if researchers were stealing fetuses from the womb. They were conceived in vitro at fertility clinics, and if they aren’t used in research, they will just be destroyed or kept on ice indefinitely.
posted by breaks the guidelines? at 5:48 AM on November 21, 2007


As a diabetic, I am all for stem cell research. The idea of a shiny new pancreas really makes me happy.

The pitfalls are scary, though. From everything I've read, first-generation cloned animals have been fucked up in all kinds of ways. The problems seem to disappear in the second-generation offspring, but that doesn't really solve the problem of the "parents".

My gut feeling is that our concept of "junk" DNA is probably a bit simplistic.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 5:48 AM on November 21, 2007


My gut feeling is that our concept of "junk" DNA is probably a bit simplistic.

What used to be called "junk DNA" should be copied exactly to clones. It's our understanding of epigenetics which is utterly incomplete.
posted by grouse at 6:08 AM on November 21, 2007


Actually it seems the administration did provide federal funding for non-embryonic stem cell research (those Somatic cells).
I don't really care what one politician says to criticize another. If the scientists say this was held up for six-odd years because of the hold, solid.
Of course, I agree the ethical debate was a non-issue. But again, this seems to have gotten funding from the start.
posted by Smedleyman at 6:12 AM on November 21, 2007


(and of course, I'd give credit to y'know, the guys actually doing the research)
posted by Smedleyman at 6:14 AM on November 21, 2007


From everything I've read, first-generation cloned animals have been fucked up in all kinds of ways. The problems seem to disappear in the second-generation offspring, but that doesn't really solve the problem of the "parents".

So just grow two pancreases and only use the second one.
posted by DU at 6:14 AM on November 21, 2007


Poems are made by fools like me
But on God can make a tree
see? si
Joyce Bush Kilmer
posted by Postroad at 6:19 AM on November 21, 2007


every cell in your body is a potential new person

Chafing is Murder!
posted by Mick at 6:22 AM on November 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


if these cells are the same as embryonic stem cells

They are not the same. There are differences. We don't know how these cells will behave yet. All this back slapping is more about the press playing up the controversy and conflicts in the political realm. The science is still very early.
posted by stbalbach at 6:24 AM on November 21, 2007


So just grow two pancreases and only use the second one.

I probably should have said that the problems seem to disappear in the naturally conceived offspring of clones.

It would take a long time to clone a viable pancreas that way.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 6:45 AM on November 21, 2007


Don't worry guys, I'm sure it won't take long before xtian crazies find a problem with this method as well. Then we can all go back to fighting again.
posted by fungible at 7:19 AM on November 21, 2007


quonsar: you "yeah, but..." people are pretty fucked up, you know?

What's pretty "fucked up" is watching my nephew slowly die, over the course of 6 years, because he was born without a critical part of his brain -- a condition that may have been directly addressed by more timely stem-cell research. It's similarly "fucked up" watching my neice die of the same condition. She will probably be gone within the year, born too late for any of the new research to have any benefit.

I can't say for sure that the new research would have helped my sister's kids, but it's clear that these delays do have consequences.
posted by LordSludge at 7:28 AM on November 21, 2007 [4 favorites]


Of course, those whose vocal support of stem cell research is really just thin cover for supporting abortion rights won't be so pleased with this, but who needs them anyway?

What? I've never heard of anyone with that position, indeed, why would they take it, since abortion is already legal and accepted by the majority of Americans?
posted by delmoi at 7:42 AM on November 21, 2007


They are not the same. There are differences. We don't know how these cells will behave yet. All this back slapping is more about the press playing up the controversy and conflicts in the political realm. The science is still very early.

It seems they are claiming that they are the same as embryonic stem cells. From the Science article:

Here we show that four factors (OCT4, SOX2, NANOG, and LIN28) are sufficient to reprogram human somatic cells to pluripotent stem cells that exhibit the essential characteristics of embryonic stem cells.

At the rate the technology is advancing, it will only be a matter of time till we can clone people from adult stem cells.
posted by afu at 7:55 AM on November 21, 2007


It seems they are claiming that they are the same as embryonic stem cells.

No, they aren't. "Exhibiting the essential characteristics" does not mean they are the same. Only time will tell just how different they are. It probably won't be that much time though, given that many researchers are chomping at the bit to use these lines.
posted by grouse at 8:05 AM on November 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


correction: "I can't say for sure that the new embryonic research would have helped..."
posted by LordSludge at 8:11 AM on November 21, 2007


The fact is scientists have been going about this all crabbed. They're supposed to design a clone ray gun, and when you aim it and pull the trigger, you make a duplicate of whatever the clone ray gun is aiming at.

If they would use the technology already available for destruction and then reverse the polarity of the insert technobabble here, they could create life instead of destroying it, and the world would be saved! There would be a Natalie Portman in every pot!
posted by ZachsMind at 8:14 AM on November 21, 2007


Too Soon to Give Up on Embryonic Stem Cells
posted by homunculus at 8:22 AM on November 21, 2007


you "yeah, but..." people are pretty fucked up, you know?
Yeah, but... He gassed his own people!!!
posted by vivelame at 8:22 AM on November 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


Of course, those whose vocal support of stem cell research is really just thin cover for supporting abortion rights won't be so pleased with this, but who needs them anyway?

Niether will those whose vocal support of stem cell research is really just thin cover for feeding their appetite for fresh baby smoothies. Damn hippies.
posted by homunculus at 8:36 AM on November 21, 2007


In retrospect I should have titled the post "Is The Embryonic Stem Cell Public Debate (almost) Over?" That was my flake, since we'll probably be debating many things about stem cells for a while, and science will most likely invent a new moral quandary soon enough. However, I think that oftentimes the government and media really needs to push itself to put scientific issues on the table, and I wonder if with this new ability to circumvent the entire "Is an embryo a human?" issue we'll be hearing much less debate in the public sector and among politicians from now on.

Of course if these modified skin cells turn out to have some intrinsic difference from embryonic stem cells, the entire kerfuffle could be back on again, and perhaps with even greater furor.

When putting together this fpp I went to whitehouse.gov hoping to hear their response straight from the horse's mouth. No good. In fact, their website doesn't even have a section anywhere on scientific research in general, stem cell or not. The closest thing they have is a page on "space exploration," or a much shorter page on "technology" that feels like it was written by an intern as an afterthought. The ridiculous response from the white house to these papers, which seems to insinuate that they (the white house) somehow did the real work, that the Bush administration led and Science followed, is telling, because it assumes that the work from these papers wouldn't have happened without the Bush administration. Our government doesn't understand, or really, care about science. And that's the scary thing.
posted by switchsonic at 8:48 AM on November 21, 2007


What? I've never heard of anyone with that position, indeed, why would they take it, since abortion is already legal and accepted by the majority of Americans?

Fair comment, but I'd like to point out that abortion is barely legal in many places in America and is definitely on shaky ground. Keep fighting, abortion rights supporters.
posted by agregoli at 8:48 AM on November 21, 2007


I've simply never understood where the moral outcry against ESCs comes from. The cognitive dissonance involved here is staggering. As others have pointed out, many thousands of times more embryos are destroyed in the process of IV fertilization, yet many faithful, abortion-opposing Christians will use this process without a second thought.

You can bet safely there's a political force at work making poor deluded social conservatives dance on their strings.
posted by Room 101 at 9:38 AM on November 21, 2007


From the last link:

Pluripotent stem cells offer the possibility of a renewable source of replacement cells and tissues to treat a myriad of diseases, conditions, and disabilities [...]

Honestly not trying to snark, but out of grammatical curiosity, I thought "myriad" was used like the word "many", as in: "tissues to treat myriad diseases, conditions, and disabilities." Is it also acceptable to say "a myriad of"?

(Oh, and great links. I'm excited by the potential here.)
posted by TimeTravelSpeed at 11:19 AM on November 21, 2007


This is an important result aside from any ethical concerns. The ability to create pluripotent cells from somatic cells eliminates the necessity of a cloning step in any potential therapies and it greatly increases the supply of pluripotent cells for both research and therapy.
posted by mr_roboto at 12:16 PM on November 21, 2007


As a fetus I was stolen from the womb by biomedical researchers.

My mom, bless her heart, is just so gullible. She fell for the"We're here to change the number three yepnode junction in your fallopian access panel" thing. Again.

Oh. Mom. A sucker for anybody with a lab coat and a clip board.

Anyway. They took me in a rather beat-up camper van up to Canada, where this sort of thing is not only perfectly legal but apparently mandatory. It's how they grow Mounties!

I tried to communicate with them. I blew bubbles at "feeding time" when ever they dropped the brine shrimp into the test tube. Bu that just made them turn to each other and say things like "Awww. Look he's burping, eh!"

Finally one of them recognized that my tapping on the test tube glass was Morse Code. Luckily my tapping out the lyrics for "Tom Sawyer"was a wise decision.

"Oh! Holy Maple Syrup! " the younger researcher yelled. "This one is sentient! We must release him back to the wild."

By "the wild" they meant my mothers American Womb.

"Alert Her Majesty we have a priority Shatner Level Five Situation! She must send the Saskatchewan Stealth Sub to fetch us."

And with that they took back in the submarine along the secret subterranean Canadian aqueducts that riddle North America.
posted by tkchrist at 1:11 PM on November 21, 2007


Luckily my tapping out the lyrics for "Tom Sawyer" the letters "YYZ" in Morse code was a wise decision.

There we go.
posted by LordSludge at 1:19 PM on November 21, 2007


You mean:

- . - - - . - - - - . .
posted by tkchrist at 1:45 PM on November 21, 2007


tkchrist, I have no idea what you just said but I loved it anyway.
posted by switchsonic at 2:10 PM on November 21, 2007


TMI re: YYZ
posted by LordSludge at 5:01 PM on November 21, 2007


No, they aren't. "Exhibiting the essential characteristics" does not mean they are the same.

Yes, they are. You are claiming that the researchers are lying. The fact that these stem cells are pluripotent is not that big a deal. We can already get pluripotent adult stem cells from bone marrow. The reason they are a big deal, is beacuse as far as we can tell, they look like embryonic stem cells.
posted by afu at 6:06 PM on November 21, 2007


TimeTravelSpeed,

Honestly not trying to snark, but out of grammatical curiosity, I thought "myriad" was used like the word "many", as in: "tissues to treat myriad diseases, conditions, and disabilities." Is it also acceptable to say "a myriad of"?

Myriad can be used as a noun or an adjective. From the OED:

USAGE Myriad is derived from a Greek noun and adjective meaning ‘ten thousand’. It was first used in English as a noun in reference to a great but indefinite number. The adjectival sense of ‘countless, innumerable’ appeared much later. In modern English, use of myriad as a noun and adjective are equally standard and correct, despite the fact that some traditionalists consider the adjective as the only acceptable use of the word.
posted by effwerd at 9:37 AM on November 22, 2007


Wired Science Issues Stem-Cell Challenge to Fred Thompson
posted by homunculus at 2:19 PM on November 27, 2007


Bush’s ‘Stem Cell Victory’
posted by homunculus at 12:27 PM on November 29, 2007


Stem Cells—This Time without the Cancer
posted by homunculus at 2:09 PM on December 3, 2007


Standing in the Way of Stem Cell Research
posted by homunculus at 5:41 PM on December 3, 2007


A Stem Cell Breakthrough — No Thanks to Mr. Bush
posted by homunculus at 12:24 AM on December 7, 2007


Scientists Cure Mice Of Sickle Cell Using Stem Cell Technique
posted by homunculus at 12:27 AM on December 7, 2007


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