Dr. David Prentice reports in NRL News that unethical embryonic stem cell research continues to garner more news, but is falling behind as the least likely stem cells to benefit real patients. To recap:
- Embryonic stem cell research is dependent on destruction of living human embryos to retrieve their stem cells.
- Induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells) are produced by taking a few cells, like skin cells, and programming them to act like embryonic stem cells (pluripotent quality) without destruction of human life.
- Adult stem cells “are isolated from numerous tissues, including bone marrow, muscle, fat, and umbilical cord blood, just to name a few,” according to Prentice. There is no loss of human life to obtain the cells.
Unethical embryonic stem cell research, once the darling of the research world, is beginning to experience failures. The most public was the action of Geron, the first company with FDA approval to use embryonic stem cells on actual patients, to shut down its embryonic stem cell trial and research. “After a year, none of the patients showed improvements, though they will need to be monitored for many years to come for potential tumor formation,” says Prentice.
Huge advances have been made with iPS cells, first discovered in 2007. “Recently, Israeli scientists made iPS cells from heart patients, then turned the iPS cells into beating heart cells in the lab to study heart disease,” reports Prentice.
But the real gold standard is adult stem cells as the only ones that are effectively used in real patients with real diseases. Just in the last year, adult stem cells have been used to improve damaged hearts, repair muscles, make new windpipes, and grow enough red blood cells for transfusions.
All of the hype about embryonic stem cells slowly continues to recede while the fantastic ethical alternatives take center stage. It is a great outcome when science is able to advance the human condition in an exciting manner without destroying human life.