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Why are embryonic stem cells important?

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    Thanks Hope. That letter is incredible!

    Here is an excerpt:
    I want to see my daughter walk again

    John A. Kessler.

    John A. Kessler is Boshes professor and chairman
    of the Davee Department of Neurology at
    Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine
    Published June 13, 2004 by Chicago Tribune

    .......You might suppose that what upsets me the most about the stem cell controversy is that political obstructions potentially threaten this lifelong quest.

    You would be wrong.

    A little more than three years ago my daughter suffered a spinal-cord injury in a skiing accident. Although she is now confined to a wheelchair, she is a remarkable young woman who has just finished her freshman year at Harvard University.

    She has accepted what happened to her and is determined to live to the fullest. She also has faith that medical progress will one day enable her to walk again. It is my job to help make that happen.

    I am far more outraged as a father than as a stem-cell biologist at the people who would try to prevent this from happening. I share this outrage with everyone who has a loved one with an incurable malady that might one day be treatable with stem-cell therapies.
    It is no secret why the field of stem-cell biology found itself with allies such as Nancy Reagan, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and many others across the political and religious spectrum. Their loved ones have similarly been touched by human disease.

    The large majority of Americans are in favor of broad government support for stem-cell research. Why are some people crusading against this? In this crusade, as in others, there is a mixture of intolerance of new thoughts, unfounded moral certainty and perhaps religious fervor, combined with a willingness to impose personal beliefs on the rest of the world.

    Resistance is the norm

    Historically, resistance to new thoughts and scientific change has been the norm. Undoubtedly, many vocal opponents of stem-cell research would scoff at suggestions that the Earth is the center of the universe, that the world is flat, that humans can never fly. However, the cup of hemlock that they would like to brew for stem cell researchers differs little from the approaches taken by their historical brethren who knew, with certainty that we live on a flat world at the center of the universe.

    A bill was actually introduced in Congress that would make it a felony punishable by a minimum of 10 years in prison and a $1 million fine to perform some types of stem-cell research. We must be vigilant and guard against irrational resistance to change.

    Others oppose stem-cell research because they fear that the technology might be abused for the reproductive cloning of human beings. No responsible stem-cell biologist has any interest in cloning humans, and there is virtually unanimous support for a ban on reproductive cloning. Trying to obstruct scientific progress because of fears of abuse of technology is not a rational approach.

    On Sept. 11, 2001, we learned that airplanes can be used to destroy buildings. The response is not to outlaw airplanes but rather to outlaw their inappropriate use. The same is true of stem-cell research.
    Some of the more ardent anti-stem-cell crusaders say that they act because of moral and ethical imperatives. It does not seem to matter to them that other thoughtful, compassionate human beings do not share their beliefs.

    There is also rarely any discussion of biology or any scientific rationale for their moral judgments. Their opposition to stem cell research focuses primarily on two issues: the process of somatic cell nuclear transfer (therapeutic cloning) and the use by researchers of frozen embryos that are otherwise slated to be destroyed.

    Unfertilized egg cell used

    The process of somatic cell nuclear transfer uses an unfertilized egg cell, an oocyte, from a woman and a donor cell (for example a skin cell) from a patient. The nucleus, the part of the cell that contains DNA, is removed from the oocyte, and the nucleus from the donor cell is transferred into it. The process is technically complicated but very straightforward in concept.

    Some critics maintain that this process creates life and that human life should not be created for medical or scientific purposes.

    However, any scientist would tell you that no human being has the power or knowledge to create life. The process of somatic cell nuclear transfer starts with a living cell and ends with a living cell, so it is not life that is being created. Has this process created an individual human person or a potential human person?

    There is absolutely no potential for this cell to become a human being.

    Similar issues pertain to the use by researchers of frozen embryos that are slated to be destroyed. I find it impossible to believe that it is morally or ethically superior to discard such embryos rather than to use them for research devoted to curing human diseases.
    Furthermore, it is important to keep in mind that we are discussing a microscopic cluster of no more than 200 cells that has absolutely no potential to develop into a human being unless it is implanted in a uterus. The profound difference between fertilization and conception is frequently forgotten. Fertilization can happen in a laboratory, but the conception of a human individual can only happen after the fertilized oocyte is implanted in the uterus.

    That is why we correctly speak of in-vitro fertilization rather than in-vitro conception. It is ironic that opponents of stem-cell research profess to be following moral, ethical and religious guidelines about the sanctity of human life.

    The moral obligation to help other human beings is a concept universal to virtually all religions, and the entire focus of stem-cell biology is on alleviating human suffering and disease. Anti-stem-cell crusaders seem to place more importance on a cluster of cells that has no possibility of becoming a human than on the suffering and needs of real human beings.

    Embedded in the opposition to stem-cell research is a fundamental attitude of suspicion and fear regarding the application of human reason and research to the area of human reproduction. However, regardless of one's religious beliefs, it is an undeniable fact that reproductive biology is exactly what the words imply, namely a part of biology.

    Many can have children

    Advances in reproductive medicine have enabled many infertile couples to overcome myriad problems and to have children. As a physician and a scientist, I can see no reason to question the morality of helping human beings in this way.

    Like all crusaders, the vocal minority against stem-cell research seeks to impose its beliefs on everyone and to impede (and even imprison) stem-cell researchers. Ironically, in my heart I believe that when stem-cell therapies become a reality, many of the opponents of stem-cell research would eagerly seek any such therapies that could help a beloved family member or friend who was touched by disease.

    By allowing and supporting stem-cell research in the United States, we will facilitate its progress, keep our researchers within the country and bring stem-cell therapies closer to reality.

    I want to be able to help my patients overcome diseases that have devastated their brains and spinal cords.

    I want my daughter to walk again.
    This IS the best write up on the ESC "controversy" I've seen and I soooo agree!

    ~ It is so much easier to mentally label and put paralysed people aside than to delve into why medicine hasn't yet found a way to repair the damaged spinal cord - ICCP ~


      My intention is not to offend any Catholics. This is just my point of view, where I'm coming from.
      My parents were born and raised Catholics. They decided to not be Catholics anymore when one of the sins that for years and years that supposedly condemned people to hell became one of the minor sins...dust off the ashes and say oops I'm sorry but we've changed our mind and this isn't so bad now?

      The Catholic church has been responsible for some very horrible atrocities throughout history. They have also allowed horrible things to be hidden. They have been wrong.
      The truth doesn't change. God is the truth. God is never wrong.

      I'm not saying any of this to pick on the Catholic religion. Truth is, no one on this earth is perfect and all men make mistakes. Also, I realize that many people that are a certain religion, don't necessarily agree with everything within their religion.

      To me, this is a personal decision and one to be made after much reading, prayer and soul searching. I could not make a decision and impose it on someone else knowing that their life might one day hang in the balance of my personal decision.

      Every unfertilized egg that I lose every month had the potential to become a life. I would gladly give one for my husband if it would help him. This is my personal decision. Debatable issues based on religion made into law go against our constitution. In the bible, divorce is wrong. What if we made divorce illegal? What if whatever religion the President was, the nation had to be? Catholic, Seventh Day Adventist, Baptist, Methodist? I have to stand by and fight for my rights and for my husband's right to have some quality of life and I can't back down because this is a controversial, confusing or debatable issue. Believe me, it would be so much easier to just give up but I can't after reading what so many researchers and doctors have said regarding the importance of SCNT.

      I do appreciate and respect everyone's personal decision regarding this debateable issue. I do not believe it should be a government or political issue.


        I must have been posting when you were.
        Thanks [img]/forum/images/smilies/smile.gif[/img]


          Originally posted by Wise Young:

          Steven, sorry. I knew that the Weldon bill has to be passed again but mispoke. It passed by a considerable margin and I don't know how it will fare this time.
          Sorry. I must have started posting while you were typing this reply, as I didn't see it last night. I only posted the current bills to make sure nobody thought SCNT was one vote away from being banned.

          I hope you don't think I'm tying to be an obstructionist here, as we both want the same thing. For different reasons, but the same thing nonetheless. [img]/forum/images/smilies/smile.gif[/img]

          In your earlier post from last night, you said there are several possible alternatives (to SCNT) and listed two. If you have to mention SCNT when discussing ESC (as you did in your reply to alan), start off with discussing the possible alternatives to obtaining embryonic or pluripotent stem cells (eg, dedifferentiation, transdifferentiation, fusion) before moving on to discuss possible uses.

          Hope, it's not about mandating the President's beliefs on the nation. Rather, it's about recognizing that we can move forward with expanding stem cell research and taking action on it.

          The vote in the House to allow the expansion of stem cell research using leftover IVF embryos is about 70 votes shy of overturning a veto. We can get a bill in there that will allow stem cell research to continue by making sure the bill focuses on finding alternative ways of obtaining massively pluripotent stem cells.

          Such a bill would fly right through Congress with little-to-no opposition, pretty much guaranteeing stem cell therapies in the next few years. Or, we can hope that Democrats will sweep the midterm elections and win control of Congress, which isn't likely. If they do, we'd be waiting until 2007 at the earliest to begin federally funded stem cell research. If they don't, we will be waiting until 2009 or later.

          I happen to like the idea of starting now, rather than later. [img]/forum/images/smilies/smile.gif[/img]

 a diamond, in the rough
's worse than we thought. it turns out the people at the white house are not secret muslims, they're nerds.


            Originally posted by Steven Edwards:

            Hope, it's not about mandating the President's beliefs on the nation. Rather, it's about recognizing that we can move forward with expanding stem cell research and taking action on it.

            The vote in the House to allow the expansion of stem cell research using leftover IVF embryos is about 70 votes shy of overturning a veto. We can get a bill in there that will allow stem cell research to continue by making sure the bill focuses on finding alternative ways of obtaining massively pluripotent stem cells.
            with the president's veto power you yourself are acknowledging that which you say Hope claims: it really IS about "mandating the President's beliefs on the nation."

            This is so unfortunate since it terribly delays the alleviation of human suffering.
            Looking for alternate means to find pluripotent cells ( as laudable as it is) is also another delay in itself.

            ~ It is so much easier to mentally label and put paralysed people aside than to delve into why medicine hasn't yet found a way to repair the damaged spinal cord - ICCP ~


              I said what I said because of what you were saying in regards to making laws and policy according to what the Catholic religion believes. Which may be different tomorrow if we look back into their history. [img]/forum/images/smilies/smile.gif[/img]You seemed to be saying that we should drop SCNT because of Catholic opposition to it?
              The analogy is common sense and applies in reference to what is happening in my opinion.
              Thanks for pointing it out. [img]/forum/images/smilies/smile.gif[/img]


                Originally posted by Faye:

                This is so unfortunate since it terribly delays the alleviation of human suffering.
                Looking for alternate means to find pluripotent cells ( as laudable as it is) is also another delay in itself.
                Would you rather start stem cell research now or later? Finding alternative methods of obtaining pluripotent stem cells may very well be a delay, but it's a shorter delay than what we would be facing.

                I say it's either start research now or wait and do it in the future. Do you disagree?

                Understood Hope. I am making the argument that obtaining the support of the Catholic Church would allow us to move forward with ESC research today instead of tomorrow.

       a diamond, in the rough
      's worse than we thought. it turns out the people at the white house are not secret muslims, they're nerds.


                  Hope and Faye, thank you for all your posts.

                  I want to say that I strongly oppose the ban on SCNT not only on the grounds that it will obstruct progress in stem cell research but because it criminalizes a very important technique that will be needed to create cloned eggs for infertile women who do not have eggs.

                  It is also important to emphasize that cloned stem cells are not the be-all and end-all of hope for spinal cord injury and many other conditions. Embryonic stem cells can be used without cloning. Furthermore, cloning is very inefficient and difficult to do, coupling two low probability events: cloning and growing an embryonic stem cell line. Until better and more efficient methods become available for cloning of stem cells, I doubt that this will be a practical method for producing immune-compatible stem cells for transplantation to the spinal cord.

                  I am glad that the cloning and embryonic stem cell issue has been separated because that may allow embryonic stem cell research to go ahead. As long as there is a serious threat of government interference in this ara, I seriously doubt that any company will invest in embryonic stem cell research (even with the safe havens provided by California and New Jersey). If necessary, I would be willing to accept a moratorium on cloning to avoid a ban of SCNT (not only government funding but all private and public use of SCNT).

                  Steven, there is a point where one has to draw a line. That is what a consensus is all about. Both sides have to give in. It would be unfortunate we cannot reach a consensus because it means that majority rule has to occur.



                    A point of clarification if I may: I am not suggesting we agree to a ban on SCNT. Rather, the bill would fund research of alternatives to SCNT with the aim of determining whether or not SCNT is necessary. The existing SCNT policy would stay in place or, at the very worst, put a moratorium on human SCNT for the next three years. I would not suggest a policy that harms research.

                    The Congress we currently have would be more than willing to provide adequate additional funding with the hopes of proving SCNT is not needed.

                    Ideally, the bill would fund alternatives to SCNT at $75-100 million per year with annual reports delivered to Congress on the current state of research. At the end of the three years [2008], a conclusion can be drawn: Have we determined if SCNT is necessary? If so, implement a policy going whichever way the recommendation suggests.

                    The benefits would be that more funding would be available for stem cell related research. A possible grant application would have three aims: 1) Obtain pluripotent stem cells from [insert favored method here]; 2) Determine whether or not the stem cells have any flaws; 3) See if they work in animal models of [condition].

                    SCNT research would still be available for funding in animal models.

                    Please outline or summarize for me any problems you would have with such a bill.

           a diamond, in the rough
          's worse than we thought. it turns out the people at the white house are not secret muslims, they're nerds.



                      The current policy is dictated by the Dickinson amendment in 1997 (I think) which stipulates that NIH may not fund any research that harmes a human fetus. This is the rationale and the basis for George Bush's policy to not allow the NIH to fund any research utilizing cells derived after August 2001. That would of course cover SCNT.

                      As you know the anti-cloning bill proposed by Weldon and Brownback will criminalize the act of "introducing nuclear material from one or more human somatic cells into a fertilized or unfertilized oocyte whose nuclear material has been removed or inactivated so as to produce a living organism (at any stage of development) that is genetically virtually identical to an existing or previously existing human organism." The person who wrote this legislation does not understand the procedure of SCNT and probably does not realize that this bill does not prevent other methods of cloning and at the same time criminalizes a procedure that will not produce a clone or hurt an embryo. Senator Brownback and Representative Walden are getting incompetent scientific advice.



                        I still disagree with a temporary ban on SCNT as much as a permanent ban for the same reasons I stated before. It would encourage Brownback and open the door for him to do even more harm in the future.
                        I understand Dr. Young they do not understand the science. There may be ways around it if it should happen. I hope that it won't happen. It will stymie important research that is going on even now.
                        All they have to do is fund the research and prove it. We are waiting. They can put any number on it they wish...the number will show how important it is to them. So far, I can tell they think bad things always happen to somebody else because they really haven't been concerned enough to even educate themselves on this issue much less fund it.
                        Give seperate funding for embryonic research and for nuclear transfer? Is that what you are asking? They've been doing seperate funding for adult stem cells for years now and look where it's gotten us. Not very far. 2 levels would give my husband his hands back. 2 true levels. We don't even have that right now. They can't even give him one pain free day.
                        Again, in order to justify any kind of ban on SCNT you would have to shut down and ban the IVF clinics.



                          A good article about the political history of the stem cell issue, including noting that Bush was not the first President to fund ESC research, is on PBS' web site. It also discusses the amendment you mentioned.

                          A bill as I suggested below would effectively prevent a ban on SCNT for the next three years. Republicans that may be on the fence about expanding stem cell research by allowing the use of discarded IVF embryos will likely vote against it to try and recover from the Terry Schiavo backlash. I am trying to help craft an agreeable solution, but need input. Would what I suggested below be acceptable?


                          I agree about the importance of two levels. Two real levels would get me off the vent at night, allow me to cough, and give me arm function. I am working on getting them to fund the research.

                 a diamond, in the rough
                's worse than we thought. it turns out the people at the white house are not secret muslims, they're nerds.


                            Dr. Young-
                            That's great and all but what good does that do chronic people like us when you have the Univ. of Wisconsin, where e stem cells were discovered and patented, say in their stem cell info. page that treatments are decades and decades away at best? I am not being negative, only responding to their negative outlook for those suffering this very minute. Even Dr. Thomson has said that he believes that these cells should be aimed at not therapuetic treatments, but to learn about cell programming, aging, etc.
                            What am I and others supposed to really think when there has been no breathroughs in restoring sexual function, treating neuropathic pain, or anything for that matter which seriously and dramatically increases one's quality of life. I don't know, maybe spinal injuries due to spinal avm's and infarction cause far more pain than the usual chronic traumatic SCI. Because I know for myself that I won't make it another 5 years without any improvement to make life more tolerable. I'm not refering to the, in my opinion, failure 4-AP, or any other vague therapy today. I don't want to die, I loved my previous life, but I WILL NOT make it when treatments are referred as " someday ". For some people it's the loss of walking, or bowel and bladder, but for me, the one truly devastating blow is the inability to have sexual relations like I used to. Treatment for acutes is completely irrelevant, why focus on treatments for those not injured today. And if you believe that acute therapies will eventually give rise to chronic treatments, then that just proves that any help, modest or dramatic, is decades and decades away.

                            sherman brayton
                            sherman brayton



                              The big risk is that they may ban SCNT. Reversing such a law may take decades. That would be a real shame. In a real knock-down dragout fight, I think that we may lose on both the ESC and SCNT bills. This is because President Bush can veto whatever bills come across his desk and I agree with Steven that there are not enough votes in the Senate and the House to overcome a veto.

                              In such a case, the United States will not only lose at least another four years on ESC research but SCNT will be criminalized. Thankfully, some ESC research will be going on in California and possibly New Jersey. The latter will be a real battle. Opponents to ESC research are doing their best to tie up Proposition 71 in lawsuits and conflict of interest accusations. Likewise, I understand that they are going to pour millions of dollars into a campaign to stop the passage of the New Jersey stem cell bond referendum.

                              If the ESC bill passes, this means that the NIH will be able to set up a National Stem Cell Bank that may be able to provide matched stem cells of all sorts for clinical trials. Congress recently proposed a the National Umbilical Cord Act of 2005 that will fund more umbilical cord blood research and I think that this will facilitate the availability of umbilical cord blood stem cells for clinical trial.




                                Please understand that I am continuing to push as fast as I can to get more treatments for chronic spinal cord injury into clinical trials. It is so frustrating. The Christopher Reeve Paralysis Act could have been passed in 2002 but wasn't. Now 3 years have passed and we still don't have clinical trial money in 2005. And we have to not only fight therapeutic nihilists but budgetary nihilists as well.

                                Our government is not investing in either acute or chronic spinal cord injury therapies at the present. The only "clinical trial" that NIH funded in the past six years was the weight-supported ambulation trial. I understand that Darwin Prockop is applying for NIH funds for bone marrow stem cell therapies for subacute spinal cord injury but have not yet heard whether he has gotten the funding for that yet.

                                In China, while the rest of the centers are starting to collect data on their current clinical trials (OEG, adult bone marrow, fetal bone marrow, and just standard therapies), we are now working hard to initiate some phase 2 clinical trials to evaluate lithium and OEG combination. I am trying to find sources of chondroitinase and GDNF. In May 2006, I hope that we will have raised enough money to start a combination therapy involving a cell transplant, a growth factor, and a growth inhibitor blocker.