Media Falsely Report Embryonic Stem Cell Research Advance

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Oct 5, 2011   |   6:25PM   |   Washington, DC

Mainstream media reports issued today make it appear scientists engaged in some sort of massive breakthrough or advance in human cloning and embryonic stem cell research, but that doesn’t appear to be the case.

A Washington Post headline screams, “Scientists Report Possibly Crucial Advance in Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research” while the BBC blares the title, “Human ‘cloning’ makes embryonic stem cells.”

“Scientists reported Wednesday that for the first time they used cloning techniques to coax human eggs to generate embryonic stem cells containing the genes of specific patients,” the Post claims while the BBC says, “A form of cloning has been used to create personalized embryonic stem cells in humans, say researchers.”

However, Dr. David Prentice, a former Indiana State University biology professor who is now a fellow with the Family Research Council, tells the media reports are much ado about nothing. He says the result of the work of the scientists involve in impractical.

“These results are decidedly underwhelming,” he told LifeNews. “The scientists did get human cloned embryos, and got cells from two of the many embryos created, but the embryos and cells were triploid, containing half again as many chromosomes as normal.  They have no clinical use, and will also be relatively useless for laboratory studies because as was noted in the study, the cells accumulated numerous additional mutations once placed into cell culture.”

Prentice says the scientists involved “also tried to hide what they were doing, never mentioning the term cloning or nuclear transfer (the technical term for cloning).

Aside from the ineffectiveness of the research, Prentice says it is unethical as well.

“The creation of any human embryo by cloning technology, and the wanton destruction of a human embryo for experiments, is morally reprehensible.  Add to this the solicitation of women with cash incentives to undergo egg harvesting, risking their health, and this is a technique replete with ethical problems,” Dr. Prentice said. “Meanwhile, adult stem cells are successfully and ethically treating thousands of patients, yet are ignored as the real solution in regenerative medicine.”

Wesley J. Smith, an attorney and bioethics author, also commented on the latest news, saying, the media reports are “misleading.”

“In actuality, this is a potential advance in human cloning research. Scientists have long known how to create ES cell lines from destroyed embryos,” he said. “If the researchers had obtained stem cells from eggs, it would be process known as parthenogenesis, that is, stimulating the egg to divide.  But that isn’t what this was.  It was a form of human cloning via a procedure similar–but different as we shall see below–to somatic cell nuclear transfer.  SCNT, the process that created Dolly, makes an embryo asexually. That means the stem cells were obtained from embryos, not eggs.”

Smith tales the Post to task for writing, “At the same time, the researchers made the cells by producing and then destroying mutant embryos, whose moral status immediately became a matter of sharp debate.”

Smith responds: “How were they “mutant?” When the scientists tried to create embryos via standard SCNT, they failed.  So rather than taking the nucleus out of the egg before inserting the somatic cell nucleus–as is usually done in SCNT cloning–they left it in.  That meant the resulting embryo was “triploid,” that is it had 23 extra (69 rather than 46) chromosomes.  That makes these clearly useless in treatments.  And as for use in drug or other patient specific research, we already have induced pluripotent stem cells that have the normal set of chromosomes.  So, this is more a novel proof of theory, it seems to me, than an actual breakthrough.”

“So, that means the embryo could never have become a baby, right? Nope. Triploid babies are occasionally born (although they usually miscarry).  It is a terminal condition, but they can live for weeks, or even months, after birth,” he continues.

Smith also notes that, aside from the unethical nature of the research itself, these scientists paid women for their eggs to allow their research.

“Yes, as the award winning documentary, Eggsploitation, (produced by the CBC, for which I am a paid consultant) clearly demonstrates, egg extraction can be very dangerous to women’s health–potentially including death.  Egg selling is now allowed in New York, which is how these researchers obtained the gametes.  It should be outlawed, and indeed, is generally deemed unethical for use in biotechnological research,” he says.