New Obama Advisor Backs Embryonic Stem Cell Research, Despite Failures

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Nov 18, 2008   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

New Obama Advisor Backs Embryonic Stem Cell Research, Despite Failures

by Steven Ertelt Editor
November 18
, 2008

Washington, DC ( — During the presidential campaign, there was little question that Barack Obama would reverse President Bush’s limits on making taxpayers fund embryonic stem cell research. The person Obama named to manage transition activities related to bioethics issues appears to guarantee Obama’s direction.

Funding of the research has upset pro-life advocates because it involves the destruction of human life.

Embryonic stem cell research has also failed to overcome significant hurdles preventing it from helping patients, such as the growth of tumors and rejection by the immune system when cells are transplanted.

Last week, Obama named Jonathan Moreno, a professor of medical ethics at the University of Pennsylvania, to head up bioethics efforts.

In an interview with the Pew Forum in July, Moreno made it clear that he strongly supports embryonic stem cell research funding and has little regard for human life at its earliest stage.

Moreno claimed "the gold standard continues to be human embryonic stem cells" and he contends leading scientists believe that to be the case.

"If you talk to any of the stem cell biologists, they’ll tell you that the need for human embryonic stem cells continues and will continue for the foreseeable future for a number of reasons," Moreno said.

However, scientists are moving away from embryonic stem cell research and towards adult stem cells, which have been the only kind to ever cure or help human patients, and the new iPS cells created through direct reprogramming.

As reported last month, the leading stem cell research scientist in England moved to France because he believes adult stem cells are more worthwhile than embryonic ones.

Colin McGuckin, a professor of regenerative medicine at Newcastle University, says Britain’s priorities are out of whack.

While the British government is pushing cloning and embryonic stem cells McGuckin says adult stem cells are the ones paying dividends for patients.

"The bottom line is my vocation is to work with patients and help patients and unfortunately I can’t do that in the UK," he told the Times. He said France provides a "much better environment" to cure patients and further his work.

"(France) is very supportive of adult stem cells because they know that these are the things that are in the clinic right now and will be more likely in the clinic," he added. "A vast amount of money in the UK from the Government has gone into embryonic stem-cell research with not one patient having been treated, to the detriment of (research into) adult stem cells, which has been severely underfunded."

Meanwhile, Wisconsin scientist James Thomson, considered the father of embryonic stem cell research for isolating the first embryonic stem cell in 1998, has merged his two companies and is focusing on adult stem cells and the iPS cells.

Thomson’s team made headlines last year when he and a separate group of researchers from Japan were able to reprogram adult stem cells into an embryonic-like state.

The work with the induced pluripotent stem cells has been so exciting within the scientific community that some researchers suggest the use of embryonic stem cells may become obsolete.

"I personally believe that the future is in the (adult skin) cells," Thomson said in September.

Wesley J. Smith, a leading bioethics author and attorney, said he sees the move as demonstrative of the change away from embryonic stem cells.

"I can’t think of any more vivid example of the dramatic change in the scientific and political paradigms regarding stem cell research than James Thomson, the discoverer of human ESCs–moving away from embryonic stem cell field and into iPSCs," he said.

"We know why, of course. Cloning hasn’t exactly panned out, besides which it would be far more contentious, dangerous for women due to egg procurement, complicated, and expensive. But IPSCs have really changed the paradigm," he explained.

Dr. David Prentice, a biologist and fellow at the Family Research Council, told that McGuckin’s leaving the UK is yet another example of how embryonic stem cells are given a misplaced priority.

"This story sadly illustrates how the hype surrounding embryonic stem cells, cloning, and other unethical research has pushed aside the reality of adult stem cells," he said.

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