Skip to comments.Newark archbishop among supporters of experimental stem-cell technique
Posted on 07/02/2005 4:09:40 PM PDT by Coleus
Archbishop among supporters of experimental stem-cell technique
By Agostino Bono
Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Archbishop John J. Myers of Newark, N.J., and several Catholic bioethicists were among 35 experts in medicine and ethics who recently announced their support for research into an experimental laboratory technique that could produce embryolike stem cells without creating or destroying human embryos.
Supporters of this research said the laboratory technique, if successful, would avoid moral objections by people opposed to extracting pluripotent stem cells from human embryos because the process destroys the embryos.
Pluripotent stem cells can develop into any cell in the human body and many scientists believe that they hold the key to curing a variety of diseases.
A joint statement by the 35 experts said the laboratory technique would be similar to the process for cloning human embryos. But the genetic material injected into the egg would be modified in advance so that instead of producing an embryo a pluripotent stem cell would be produced, said the statement.
The cell would be "incapable of being or becoming an embryo," said the statement.
The statement was posted June 20 on the Web site of the Washington-based Ethics and Public Policy Center, an independent organization whose stated aim is to apply Judeo-Christian moral traditions to U.S. domestic and foreign policy issues.
Archbishop John J. Myers of Newark
More than half of the statement's signers were Catholics or people associated with Catholic institutions.
The Vatican and the U.S. bishops have opposed stem-cell harvesting which destroys human embryos.
An official of the bishops' Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities told Catholic News Service that the laboratory technique, if successful, could meet the Catholic criteria for stem-cell research.
"This new proposal addresses the Catholic Church's fundamental moral objection to embryonic stem cell research as now practiced, by offering to create cells with the properties of embryonic stem cells without ever producing or harming a human embryo," said Richard Doerflinger, deputy director of the pro-life secretariat.
"If animal trials show the technique to work as planned, and the eggs needed for the technique can be obtained in an ethical manner, it could provide a morally acceptable way to pursue biomedical research with these cells," he said.
The joint statement called for "initial research using only nonhuman animal cells."
If these experiments show "beyond a reasonable doubt" that the technique "can reliably be used to produce pluripotent stem cells without creating embryos, we would support research on human cells," it said.
The experimental technique is called "oocyte assisted reprogramming." Oocyte is the scientific term for "egg."
Father Tad Pacholczyk, director of education at the National Catholic Bioethics Center and a statement signer, said that there is "good scientific reason to believe" that the procedure will lead to the direct production of a pluripotent stem cell.
"The critical element for moral analysis is that an embryo not be engendered," he told CNS.
Experiments with animal cells are needed first to confirm that in the process "nothing similar to an embryo would be produced," he said.
The statement did not directly appeal for government or private funding of the research, but it comes at a time when federal funding of human embryonic stem-cell research is limited to stem-cell lines in existence prior to Aug. 9, 2001. President George W. Bush has said he would veto legislation that relaxes the restrictions.
There is no restriction on private funding of human embryonic stem-cell research.
In a June 20 article in the Wall Street Journal, two of the statement's signers said that if the technique proves successful, it could release federal funds for research with embryolike stem cells.
"There is good scientific reason to believe that this (producing pluripotent stem cells) can be done using biotechnologies," said the op-ed article by Robert George, professor of jurisprudence at Princeton University, and Markus Grompe, director of the Oregon Stem Cell Center.
They added that finding alternatives to extracting stem cells from embryos would help resolve "our nation's divisive debate" over the morality of destroying human embryos to get stem cells.
The technique could also provide a medical benefit as scientists could control the gene structure of the stem cells produced, they said.
"Their genetic constitution would be virtually identical to that of the donor, thus helping to overcome the problem of immune rejection," said George and Grompe.
Other signers of the joint statement included: Legionary of Christ Father Thomas Berg, executive director of the Westchester Institute for Ethics and the Human Person; Jesuit Father Kevin FitzGerald, professor of Catholic health care ethics at Georgetown University; Jesuit Father Kevin Flannery, dean of the philosophy faculty at the Gregorian University in Rome; John Haas, president of the National Catholic Bioethics Center; and Edward Furton, ethicist at the National Catholic Bioethics Center.
George and several other signers are also members of the President's Council on Bioethics which advises President Bush on bioethical issues.
The council released a report in May listing four possible alternatives to extracting stem cells from embryos. Among the alternatives listed was "altered nuclear transfer" of which oocyte assisted reprogramming is a variation.
Father Pacholczyk said that in altered nuclear transfer certain genes are eliminated in an effort to create a nonembryonic cell, but this raises the question of whether what is produced might be a defective embryo.
In oocyte assisted reprogramming, certain genes are not eliminated but reprogrammed with the aim of changing the cell into a pluripotent stem cell, he said.
More Information and a list of the 35 supporters are on this link:
Production of Pluripotent Stem Cells by Oocyte Assisted Reprogramming
I just can't see why they can't continue with the safe, effective, ethical and moral way which has been used for the past 30 years -- adult, bone marrow, umbilical cords, etc.
Finn, Siobhan's son
"I just can't see why they can't continue with the safe, effective, ethical and moral way which has been used for the past 30 years -- adult, bone marrow, umbilical cords, etc."
That was my first reaction. Why are we fooling around with this when we already have something that is DEFINITELY moral and effective, like ADULT stem cells?
Why not continue to invest in something that is already helping people and will help even more ill and disabled people with more research, like ADULT stem cells?
Maybe someone more informed that I am, can give me an answer.
Thank you for the ping. I'll have to do some digging to understand this technique directly, but I'm presently too busy with other things to get at it. I'll update when I get to the reading.
There is an alternative, adult stem cell use which has been highly successful.
If these constructs are similar to a tumor or tissue culture and never are organized and animal models confirm that they are not embryos - the earliest stage of life of us all - then they are a moral way of obtaining stem cells.
But, if they are merely deformed embryos, developing as we all did up to a certain point and then exhibiting a developmental defect that is not compatible with life, it is not moral to create them.
Maybe this will work. But what if the forced expression of nanog ceases prior or subsequent to nuclear transfer? Just a speculative thought....
"The proof is projected on the screen. The x-ray shows a teratoma, a naturally occurring tumor that grows from an egg or sperm cell. Like an embryo, a teratoma produces stem cells. But the teratoma does not have the right balance of gene expression to create a fully integrated organism. So it grows into a dense ball of teeth, hair, and skin, a ghastly grab bag of organs like some randomly constructed Frankenstein. Hurlbut points to the x-ray. "They're about the ugliest thing in medicine," he says, "but they might offer us a solution to our stem cell dilemma.'"
Hurlbut has sided with pro-life theologians ever since finding faith in his twenties. (He describes himself as a "generic Christian" who goes to church at a variety of services.) "This idea that an embryo becomes a person only at day 14 is truly pseudoscientific," he says. "It's completely arbitrary." He's a vocal opponent of abortion, a position that hasn't won him many fans on the Stanford campus, where he helped develop the university's bioethics curriculum in 1989. "I've gotten a lot of heat," he says. "I can't say I've liked it."
Ironically, Hurlbut's idea came about not in spite of his piety but because of it. Instead of dismissing the theological concept of an embryo's trajectory to humanhood, he seized it, seeing a scientific opportunity. Would it be possible, he wondered, to engineer embryos that didn't have human potential yet otherwise behaved normally?
Ugh, I'm sorry to read this of my own archbishop? How can they do this when the Vatican has a very clear stance on this issue?
Once had a poster asked me if I could endorse fetuses conceived in such a way as to not form a brain, as tissue sources for older people. You can guess my rejecting reply, which upset the poster so much that I got a cussing and a 'good-bye, I'll never post or respond to your posts again.'
Hurl's technique will conceive via cloning an embryo, then deform him or her so she or he cannot grow to full maturity. I'd say that's still Frankenscience and I'm astonished that Catholic Bishops would endorse it! It's as if they have acquiesced to killing embryos because these embryos will be deformed at an earlier age!
Actually, Dr. Hurlbut's technique would change the DNA of the donor before the creation of the new construct - not after the clone is created. He is insistant that the result would not be and should not be an embryo and that this should be proven in animal models before it's ever tried with human DNA or (enucleated) oocytes.
Remember the molar pregnancy - it's never an embryo.
Embryonic Stem Cell Research Has Failed to Produce Any Cures or Treatments
After nearly a decade of research on human embryonic stems cells, 25 years of research on animal embryonic stem cells, and over $500 million in federal funding, embryonic stem cell research has yet to deliver any cures or treatments. After 25 years of research, there are zero human clinical trials or proven therapies using embryonic stem cells.
Ethical Alternatives to Embryonic Stem Cells Exist
Embryos are not the only source of stem cells. Every one holds an unknown amount of stem cells that can be derived without harm or injury. These adult stem cells are capable of transforming into countless cell and tissues types have been located throughout the human body, including in the brain, muscles, blood, placentas and even in fat. Recently germ? line stem cells from testes have been successfully reprogrammed into pluripotent adult stem cells with the same potential of embryonic stem cells.
Stem Cells from Ethical Sources Are Now Treating Over 70 Diseases and Afflictions
Every useful stem-cell therapy developed to date has not required the destruction of human embryos. According to a June 2004 report prepared by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), adult stem cells and stem cells from cord blood are currently being utilized to treat 72 diseases and the NIH is funding another 330 human clinical trials using these cells. Adult stem cell research has revealed potential treatment and cures for afflictions such as Buergers disease, bladder disease, lupus, heart failure, stroke, liver failure, nerve regeneration, genetic metabolic disease, and respiratory conditions such as emphysema and pulmonary fibrosis. Other studies have shown that adult stem cells hold great potential to treat Parkinson's and diabetes. When asked at a June 2006 Senate hearing about the best avenues of research that could be pursued, Dr. James Battey, the director of the NIH Stem Cell Task Force responded, to me, the very most interesting thing is this frontier area of nuclear reprogramming, where you take a mature adult cell type and you effectively de-differentiate it back to the a pluripotent state.
Ethical Alternatives Should Be Pursued Rather Than Seeking to Save Life By Destroying Life
We all desperately want to find cures for the diseases that afflict our friends, families and neighbors. Yet in our quest to find these cures, we must not ignore or rationalize the tremendous moral questions posed by destroying living embryos, which is undeniably human life in its earliest stages. We are fortunate that ethical alternatives to destructive embryonic stem cell research exist and it is imperative that we first pursue these ethical alternatives before even considering investing in research that requires destroying life to save life.
Embryonic Stem Cell Research Diverts Funding Away From More Promising Research
Over the past five years, Congress has increased funding for ESCR every year and increased annual funding almost four-fold, despite zero results. This bill seeks to increase federal ESCR funding even more, despite the lack of results and the existence of ethical alternatives that has a multitude of proven results and offers countless benefits from future research. Every dollar spent on research that does not yield results is one less dollar that could have been invested in research on ethical alternatives that are already yielding cures. Again, 25 years of embryonic stem cell research has produced zero cures.
Embryonic Stem Cells Have Dangerous Side Effects That May Require Other Unethical Practices to Remedy
In experiment after experiment, embryonic stem cells have demonstrated that they may be too taratogenic for therapeutic purposes. It is not uncommon in experiments on mammals for the animals to be killed by tumors. Uncontrollable growth of cells is one of the main reasons embryonic stem cells can not be tested in human subjects. As a consequence, cloning embryos and then destroying them to extract their stem cells or allowing embryos to develop into fetuses so that their organs can be cultivated may be the next step, but both techniques pose additional scientific, moral and ethical dilemmas.
Adult Stem Cells Have Consistently Outperformed Embryonic Stem Cells for Therapeutic Purposes
Virtually every breakthrough announced using embryonic stem cells in animal models has been preceded by a similar feat with often greater results using adult stem cells.
Very Few Surplus Embryos Are Available for Research
Proponents of destructive embryonic stem cell research claim that surplus embryos are going to be discarded anyway. A RAND study has found that to the contrary, very few embryos are expected to be discarded. The vast majority88.2% are designated for family building and another 2.3% are being donated to other families for adoption. According to the RAND study, embryos available for research do not have high development potential and very embryonic stem cell lines could be created from the embryos available for research. This means that embryos would have to be created specifically for destruction is additional stem cell lines were to be created for research.
Patients Need Cures Not False Hopes
Leading proponents of research on embryonic stem cells are themselves lowering expectations that dramatic cures to diseases such as Alzheimers. The Guardian newspaper recently reported that Lord Winston, the most prominent embryonic-stem-cell researcher in the United Kingdom, said that hopes for cures had been distorted by arrogance and spin. I view the current wave of optimism about embryonic stem cells with growing suspicion, Winston told the British Association for the Advancement of Science. A leading embryonic stem cell researcher in South Korea who hailed some of the most promising advances in the field has admitted to falsifying his research. Exaggerated predications and expectations used to promote embryonic stem cell research exploit patients and families desperately seeking cures.