Company Wants Trial for Alzheimer’s Using Aborted Fetal Cells

Bioethics   |   Rebecca Taylor   |   Jul 26, 2012   |   3:13PM   |   Washington, DC

In the comments section of yesterday’s Russian news report that 248 human fetuses aged 12 weeks gestation were found discarded in the Ural mountains, suspected of being used to harvest stem cells, one Russian reader was horrified enough to write, “Oh my God !! Not in Russia !! I thought these things only happen in the USA !!”

As a proud American, my knee-jerk response was to be defensive and wonder where in the U.S. are the aborted unborn routinely found discarded by the side of the road. Nowhere, of course. So why, in the United States, would we be expected to have such a gruesome find?

And then I remembered I have been the one screaming about the Brave New United States for years. Good ol America. The country with “reproductive rights” instead of laws prohibiting the mass creation and destruction of embryos for research, or laws regulating the fertility industry, or laws outlawing sex-selective abortion, or laws prohibiting human germ-line genetic modifications, or even laws that outlaw human cloning. While other industrialized nations have some protections in place for the youngest and most innocent human lives, we are a shining example of callous disregard for the unborn.

We are even proud of our research using cells from the bodies of aborted innocents, as I was reminded by this report from Massachusetts’s Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Technology Review. It is a glowing review of a California company that would like to start human trials for Alzheimer’s using neural stem cells obtained from aborted fetal tissue:

Last week, a California biotech company announced that its human stem cells restored memory in rodents bred to have an Alzheimer’s-like condition—the first evidence that human neural stem cells can improve memory.

The company, called StemCells, is betting that its proprietary preparation of stem cells from fetal brain tissue will take on many different roles in the central nervous system. The company and its collaborators have already shown that its stem-cell product has potential in protecting vision in diseased eyes, acting as brain support cells, or improving walking ability in rodents with spinal cord injury….

His company is not the only group bringing stem cells into the clinic. While much attention was paid to Geron’s departure from the world’s first embryonic stem cell trial (see “Geron Shuts Down Pioneering Stem-Cell Program”), many other groups have continued to push their non-embryonic stem-cell therapies forward for leukemia, colitis, stroke, and more. Meanwhile, Advanced Cell Technology continues its U.K.-based embryonic stem-cell therapy trials for blindness. Non-embryonic stem cells can come from a variety of sources—bone marrow, blood, as well as donated aborted fetal tissue, as is the case with StemCells and Neuralstem, another company focused on neuronal stem cells. In recent years, scientists have also developed methods for turning normal adult cells into stem cells (so-called induced pluripotent stem cells), but their safety has yet to be tested in humans.

So while StemCells is not a lone wolf, it may well be a pack leader. [Emphasis mine.]

Well isn’t that special. It seems, according to MIT’s Technology Review, there is no controversy using stem cells from unborn babies ripped from their mother’s womb. No big deal. Routine business. Nothing to see here. Move on.

While still off base, I think I understand that Russian comment a bit better now.



I wonder if StemCells gets FDA approval for such a trial whether they will ensure that the participants are well informed about where the “stem-cell product” originated. It really is time for The Fair Labeling and Informed Consent Act that will ensure that patients and consumers are informed before any treatment or procedure that contains aborted fetal tissue or where aborted fetal tissue is used in the manufacturing or development of a product.