Scientists: Embryonic Stem Cell Research Showing Little Progress 28 Years Later

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Dec 30, 2009   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Scientists: Embryonic Stem Cell Research Showing Little Progress 28 Years Later

by Steven Ertelt
LifeNews.com Editor
December 30
, 2009

Washington, DC (LifeNews.com) — In the 28 years that scientists have been toying with embryonic stem cells in animals and humans, not one human patient has even been treated. Despite President Barack Obama forcing taxpayers to fund the research, that destroys human life, scientists don’t expect that to change anytime soon.

In a new interview with NPR, Len Zon, a stem cell researcher at Children’s Hospital in Boston, admits that any hope of treating patients with embryonic stem cells is not forthcoming.

"I think that’s still a ways off," Zon said.

"Although there are some studies that the FDA is considering, I think we still have to figure out how to make these cells in a more efficient and effective way, and I think that’s going to take awhile," he said.

Part of the effectiveness problem revolves around the fact that embryonic stem cells, when inserted as treatments in animals, still form tumors and prompt rejection issues from the immune system.

Zon told NPR that he holds out more hope for the new development called direct reprogramming. That’s the process discovered by Japanese researcher Shinya that reverts adult stem cells to an embryonic-like state and avoids having to kill unborn children to obtain the cells.

But even this process has yet to treat patients with the induced pluripotent stem cells (IPSCs) it creates.

Jose Cibelli of Michigan State University told NPR that direct reprogramming is revolutionary because it uses the benefits of embryonic stem cells without the moral quandary of killing human beings.

"Anybody can do this procedure," Cibelli said. "It’s a very simple recipe. It’s a combination of three or four genes, and in a couple of weeks you go from a skin cell to an embryonic stem cell. It’s remarkable."

LifeNews.com talked with Dr. David Prentice, a former biology professor at Indiana State University who is now associated with the Family Research Council.

He said scientists are still underplaying the value of adult stem cells.

"Obviously, what’s missing from this perspective is the whole subject of adult stem cells," he said.

He also says Zon underplays the difficulty associated with embryonic stem cells.

"Zon points to a lot of exciting basic research being done with embryonic stem cells, but that any real applications are ‘still a ways off,’" Dr. Prentice noted. "That seems an understatement of epic proportions."

"There has been precious little progress with embryonic stem cells in the last 28 years, since mouse ESC were first grown, and that lack of progress has little to do with legislation or funding and much to do with the intractable nature of the cells," he continued.

Prentice told LifeNews.com that "iPS cells are exciting because they can be created easily and cheaply from any tissue and any individual, and the process offers insight into the basic nature of gene expression and cell development."

Still, prentice says adult stem cells outpace even IPSCs in terms of their usefulness for patients.

"They are a boon to basic research. But even iPS cells offer only distant promises for clinical use," he said. "The real progress has all come from adult stem cells, not only in basic science understanding, but more importantly in the realization of practical applications already helping thousands of patients."

"Since the iPSCs behave like embrynoic stem cells, they still have practical problems of tumor formation. They may be useful in drug testing in the lab, in the future. But it’s still just adult stem cell research that treats patients, and likely will be so for quite some time," he concluded.

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