Ethical Alternative for Obtaining Embryonic-Like Stem Cells Gains Wide Support

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A new proposal for obtaining embryonic-like stem cells has received the backing of a number of influential scientists and ethicists who are opposed to embryo-destructive research. They say the method, if successful, would bypass the creation of an embryo and would go straight to creating the stem cells themselves. The proposal could serve as an answer to the demands of those in the scientific community who have touted embryonic stem cells as a potentially revolutionary cure for a bevy of diseases while also answering the concerns of those who oppose embryo destructive research.

Volume 2, Number 48
July 6, 2005
 
A new proposal for obtaining embryonic-like stem cells has received the backing of a number of influential scientists and ethicists who are opposed to embryo-destructive research. They say the method, if successful, would bypass the creation of an embryo and would go straight to creating the stem cells themselves. The proposal could serve as an answer to the demands of those in the scientific community who have touted embryonic stem cells as a potentially revolutionary cure for a bevy of diseases while also answering the concerns of those who oppose embryo destructive research.

Thirty-five scientists and ethicists signed on to a joint statement about the proposed method known as oocyte assisted reprogramming (OAR). OAR is a form of altered nuclear transfer (ANT), a method of obtaining the “blank cells” known as pluripotent stem cells that was proposed by Dr. William Hurlbut of Stanford late last year and presented to the President’s Council on Bioethics. ANT was the subject of much controversy in conservative circles because some thought it would result in the creation and destruction of deformed embryos.

OAR differs from the original ANT proposal because it is believed that pluripotent cells could be produced directly without an embryo being created and destroyed in the process. “The method of alteration here proposed . . .  would immediately produce a cell with positive characteristics and a type of organization that from the beginning would be clearly and unambiguously distinct from, and incompatible with, those of an embryo. Incapable of being or becoming an embryo, the cell produced would itself be a pluripotent cell that could be cultured to establish a pluripotent stem cell line.”

The proposal was generated to meet the objections of some scientists and moralists that the original Hurlbut proposal would create an embryo that would then be destroyed. Some of these scientists and moralists believe that OAR proposal overcomes their objections including Father Tad Pacholczyk, the Director of Education for The National Catholic Bioethics Center and a signatory to the proposal. Other notable signatories included Maureen L. Condic, Associate Professor of Neurobiology at the University of Utah School of Medicine; Robert P. George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University; Markus Grompe, Director of the Oregon Stem Cell Center; John Collins Harvey, Senior Research Scholar and Professor Emeritus of Medicine at the Center for Clinical Bioethics of Georgetown University Medical Center; Paul J. Hoehner, Harvey Fellow in Theology, Ethics and Culture at the University of Virginia Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and Associate Professor of Anesthesiology at the University of Virginia Health Sciences Center; and William E. May, the Michael J. McGivney Professor of Moral Theology at the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family.

The joint statement makes it clear that the signatories are only supporting research on animals and that only if “such research establishes beyond a reasonable doubt that oocyte assisted reprogramming can reliably be used to produce pluripotent stem cells without creating embryos, would we support research on human cells.”

It is expected in the coming weeks that the National Institutes for Health will announce that it is soliciting proposals for research into OAR. It should be noted that after decades of research there have been no successful medical treatments using embryonic stem cells and by contrast there have been numerous successes in medical treatment from readily available adult stem cells.

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