Adult Stem Cell Awareness

December 3, 2007

Fr. Tad: The Holy Grail of Reprograming

Fr. Tad’s most recent Making Sense of Bioethics is devoted to the stem cell breakthrough and how it may (or may not) affect the future of stem cell science and policy.

The Holy Grail of Reprogramming: A New Era for Stem Cells?

December 2007 . The recent discovery that regular old garden-variety skin cells can be converted into highly flexible (pluripotent) stem cells has rocked the scientific world. Two papers, one by a Japanese group, and another by an American group, have announced a genetic technique that produces stem cells without destroying (or using) any human embryos. In other words, the kind of stem cell usually obtained by destroying embryos appears to be available another way. All that is required is to transfer four genes into the skin cells, triggering them to convert into pluripotent stem cells. It has been called “biological alchemy,” something like turning lead into gold. Many are hailing “cellular reprogramming” as a breakthrough of epic proportions, the stuff that Nobel prizes are made of, a kind of Holy Grail in biomedical research.

As important as this advance may prove to be scientifically, it may be even more important to the ethical discussion. It offers a possible solution to a longstanding ethical impasse and a unique opportunity to declare a pause, maybe even a truce in the stem cell wars, given that the source of these cells is ethically pristine and uncomplicated. As one stem cell researcher put it recently, i f the new method produces equally potent cells, as it has been touted to do, “the whole field is going to completely change. People working on ethics will have to find something new to worry about.” Thus, science itself may have devised a clever way to heal the wound it opened back in 1998 when human embryos began to be sought out and destroyed for their stem cells. Dr. James Thomson (whose 1998 work ignited the controversy, and who also published one of the new breakthrough papers) acknowledged just such a possibility in comments to reporters: “Ten years of turmoil and now this nice ending.” Whether this nice ending will actually play out remains to be seen, but a discovery of this magnitude, coupled with a strong ethical vision, certainly has the potential to move us beyond the contentious moral quagmire of destroying human embryos. Continue at NCBC



  1. Thomson changed his mind and joined with the Executive Publisher of Science in a near-fraudulent letter to the Washington Post. Here’s my reaction to their “reactionary science.”
    Please spread the word

    Comment by Beverly Nuckols — December 4, 2007 @ 8:40 am | Reply

  2. […] From Fr. Tad Filed under: Uncategorized — chelseaz @ 8:41 am Monica pointed out Fr. Tad’s most recent column, Holy Grail of Reprogramming. He was also interviewed in the […]

    Pingback by More From Fr. Tad « Adult Stem Cell Awareness — December 7, 2007 @ 8:41 am | Reply

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