Scientists Make Major Advance in Embryonic Stem Cell Research Alternative

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Mar 27, 2009   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Scientists Make Major Advance in Embryonic Stem Cell Research Alternative

by Steven Ertelt Editor
March 27
, 2009

Madison, WI ( — Scientists have made a major advance in an ethical embryonic stem research alternative that does not involve the destruction of human life. Stem cell pioneer James Thomson and his team were able to take direct reprogramming, which is used to create iPS stem cells, to the next level.

Thomson was originally able to use the reprogramming method to turn back adult stem cells to an embryonic-like state.

In doing so, the methods left behind viruses and outside genes which would cause problems if the iPS cells were ever used in a treatment to cure or help patients with various diseases or conditions.

Thomson and his team developed a safer way of creating the cells without the viruses and mutations by delivering the special genes with a plasmid, a small, very stable circle of DNA. The problematic genes were eventually diluted and what remained were cells that are like embryonic stem cells but that don’t require the destruction of human embryos to obtain.

Stephen Duncan, a stem cell researcher at the Medical College of Wisconsin, who was not involved in the research, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that this is a major advance.

"You don’t need to make viruses. You don’t need to have special precautions. This is a technique any basic molecular biology lab can use," he said. "I think we’re getting to a position where we can start to think about using these cells therapeutically."

Noted bioethics author and attorney Wesley J. Smith hailed the advance and said the politics involved shows President Bush was ahead of his time and President Obama is standing in the way of progress.

"Under President Bush’s 2007 executive order, this type of research was required to be federally funded as a way to surmount the bitter cultural divides over biotechnology and its impact on the intrinsic importance of human life," he explained. "In other words it was pro ethics and pro science."

"This is the very kind of policy President Obama promised that he would pursue as president–but instead, he stealthily broke that promise by revoking the Bush order," Smith added.

Although human iPS cells were only announced in November 2007, Smith says the "advances made since then have been breathtaking."

"Let’s hope they and/or other alternatives someday render embryonic stem cell research superfluous," he concludes.

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