Possible Adult Stem Cell Therapy for Blood-Disorders in Down Syndrome

Bioethics   |   Gene Tarne   |   Nov 29, 2012   |   3:49PM   |   Washington, DC

A recent study from researchers at the University of Washington announced a major step forward in the treatment of genetic diseases and specifically in treating Down syndrome patients.

Down syndrome occurs when there is an extra copy of chromosome 21 (hence its alternative name, Trisomy 21) in the individual’s genetic makeup, causing the physical and mental impairments typically associated with the disorder.  Dr. Jerome LeJeune, a French geneticist who opposed abortion and had strongly held pro-life beliefs, was the first to identify the trisomy that causes Down syndrome.

According to the study, the researchers successfully removed that extra chromosome from cells taken from Down syndrome patients.  Cautioning that while this was not a cure for Down syndrome, study co-author Dr. David Russell said it does raise “the possibility that medical scientists could create cell therapies for some of the blood-forming disorders that accompany Down syndrome,” such as certain forms of leukemia.

Adult stem cells would have a key role to play in developing these potential therapies for Down patients.  The hope is to take adult stem cells derived from the patient’s bone marrow, remove the extra chromosome from these cells, and then use the now-healthy stem cells to treat the patient.  Embryonic stem cells do not even enter the picture.

Yet just as medical advances in medicine can be used to help, they can also be used to harm — a fact that has had profoundly deleterious consequences for those with Down syndrome.

LeJeune’s work in identifying the cause of Trisomy 21 led to the ability to diagnose its presence while the child was still in the womb.  In an article titled Eugenics, American Style, Tucker Carlson writes: “Grasping the implications of his work, Lejeune grew to be a passionate opponent of abortion and prenatal testing, which he called ‘biological pornography.’”

LeJeune’s worst fears about the abuse of his discovery have been realized.  Today it is commonplace that a diagnosis of Down syndrome in utero will result in an abortion.  Studies in both the U.K. and Europe and in the United States put the abortion rate for a diagnosis of Down upwards of 90% or more.  LeJeune branded such targeted abortions of Down syndrome babies as “chromosomal racism” adding “that this rejection of medicine—of the whole biological brotherhood that binds the human family—should be the only practical application of our knowledge of Trisomy 21 is beyond heartbreaking….”



The breakthrough allowing for the removal of the extra chromosome that causes Down syndrome demonstrates there are practical applications other than abortion for our knowledge of Trisomy 21 – ones that instead offer hope and healing.

LifeNews Note:  Gene Tarne is a senior adviser at the Lozier Institute.