New Embryonic Stem Cell Research Method Could Avoid Rejection Issues

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Nov 22, 2007   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

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by Steven Ertelt Editor
November 22,

Madison, WI ( — The new method of producing embryonic-like stem cells that two teams of scientists have devised could help combat an issue that has plagued embryonic stem cell research. The controversial science has never been able to overcome immune system rejection issues that don’t inhibit the use of adult stem cells. reported on Tuesday that scientists in Japan and Wisconsin released studies in the medical journals Science and Cell that claim to have found a way — called direct reprogramming — to make adult stem cells revert to their embryonic form.

The studies confirm that human skin cells (fibroblasts) can be used to make pluripotent stem cells sharing essentially all the features of human embryonic stem cells.

Pro-life groups have supported the use of adult stem cells because they don’t come with the ethics problems associated with the destruction of human life.

Wisconsin stem cell scientist James Thomson says the direct reprogramming process appears to eliminate that concern but may also eliminate the problem scientists have had of using embryonic stem cells in medical transplants.

Reprogramming an individual’s own cells to mimic stem cells provides a way to create individually tailored transplant tissue unlikely to be rejected by that person’s immune system.

"These cells should be perfectly matched with the patient, so the immune system should not attack it. But most of the other challenges [associated with embryonic stem cells] are intact," he told MSNBC.

Pro-life groups noticed the potential for solving the rejection issues as well.

In a statement sent to, the National Catholic Bioethics Center said, "These strategies also circumvent a second series of moral objections by providing a method for obtaining patient-matched stem cells without cloning human embryos or using women’s eggs."

Rich Doerflinger, of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, seemed to agree.

"We have a technique that doesn’t use women’s eggs and doesn’t use embryos to make very versatile pluripotent stem cells that are matched to any patient," he said.

But Tom Okarma, president and chief executive of Geron Corp., a California-based firm that has spent $100 million on embryonic stem cell research, claims the technique isn’t likely "to bear any fruit."

"Most of the people who are doing this work and make the claim that this is going to change the therapeutic field really know nothing about cell therapy," Okarma told the Associated Press.

He said getting the FDA to approve personalized treatments for medical use would be significantly more expensive than making treatments using embryonic stem cells obtained by destroying human life.