A pro-life group is reporting that a recent stem cell breakthrough that turns adult skin cells to "embryonic" is not a pro-life solution as currently done.
On November 21st and 22nd, Dr. Shinya Yamanaka and Dr James Thomson published back-to-back studies that were hailed as moral alternatives to embryonic stem cell research. Both studies involved introducing genes into adult stem cells through a lentivirus, which reprogrammed them to become "embryonic" or induced pluripotent stem (IPS) cells, without destroying human embryos. But pro-lifers may have celebrated too soon, without studying the methods used in the papers.
Just January 5 the National Institutes of Health, the U.S. government's medical research financing unit, began accepting grant applications from scientists to further the new breakthrough.
However, according to the organization Children of God for Life, both researchers used several versions of the 293 aborted fetal cell lines to modify the DNA of the host adult skin cells to accomplish the reprogramming.
"Unless you read the papers published by Dr Yamanaka in Cell and Dr Thomson in Science, you would have no idea where the DNA came from that was used to transform the adult cells", stated Debi Vinnedge, Executive Director of Children of God for Life, a pro-life watchdog organization focused on stem cell research and aborted fetal cell lines in medical products. "And even then you would have to know what you were looking for to understand it", she added.
For example, while Dr Yamanaka reports using PLAT-E, PLAT-A and 293FT cells in his paper, the proper name for these cell lines is HEK (human embryonic kidney) 293. The cells were obtained from an, electively aborted baby by Dr. Alex Van der Eb, Crucell NV, the same company producing aborted fetal cell line PER C6, derived from the retinal tissue of an 18- week gestation baby.
In the second study, Dr James Thomson of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, also used aborted fetal cell line 293FT to produce DNA used to modify adult cells. Furthermore, Dr Thomson obtained the DNA sequences he used from human ES cells. And before using foreskin fibroblasts, Thomson tested the reprogramming on IMR-90 aborted fetal cell line, taken from the lung tissue of a 16-week gestation female baby.
"Pro-lifers may be deceived by the excitement about these publications", Vinnedge cautioned. "Using aborted fetal and embryonic stem cells from deliberately destroyed human beings is certainly not any kind of moral victory."
Vinnedge noted that the research is fraught with other moral and clinical problems, such as fatal tumors, which are a well- documented attribute of embryonic stem cells, and which also occurred with the adult reprogrammed IPS cells. And while Yamanaka and Thomson allege the new cells generated would be "patient specific" with no immune rejection problems, this claim is premature because there is foreign DNA present from the lentivirus used to modify the cells.
However, it is not necessary to use aborted fetal cells to produce the lentivirus at all, noted Dr Theresa Deisher, R&D Director of Ave Maria Biotechnology Company, a research firm dedicated to pro-life alternatives for unethical human therapeutics.
"There are other ethical ways to produce the DNA needed for transformation, efficiently and morally," said Dr Deisher. "If these means were employed to produce the needed DNA, there would be no moral issues with the use of reprogrammed adult cells for research."
Dr Yamanaka, Induction of Pluripotent Stem Cells From Adult Human Fibroblasts By Defined Factors
Dr James Thomson,