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Human stem cell research

Major events during 2009

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News items:

  • 2009-MAR: Scotland, Canada: Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells (iPS cells) produced: This is a third type of stem cell that show great promise for the future . They have the flexibility and potential range of applications of embryonic stem cells without the ethical concerns expressed by religious and social conservatives. The process by which iPS cells are generated involves the conversion of ordinary cells -- like skin cells -- so that their properties simulate those of embryonic stem cells. A Japanese researcher, Shinya Yamanaka, pioneered the process in 2006 by inserting DNA into an ordinary cell through the use of viruses. Scientists in Canada and England developed a far safer process in 2009 on both mice and human cells. According to the Washington Post, he lead scientist from Canada, Andras Nagy, said: "It's a leap forward in the safe application of these cells. We expect this to have a massive impact on this field." 1 More details

  • 2009-MAR-09: USA: President Obama overturned Bush's policy on stem cell research: President Obama rescinded the Bush policy established by an executive order in 2001. It severely limited embryonic stem cell research in the U.S.

    President Obama said:

    "In recent years, when it comes to stem cell research, rather than furthering discovery, our government has forced what I believe is a false choice between sound science and moral values. In this case, I believe the two are not inconsistent. As a person of faith, I believe we are called to care for each other and work to ease human suffering. I believe we have been given the capacity and will to pursue this research -- and the humanity and conscience to do so responsibly."

    He promised to develop "strict guidelines" to make certain that stem cell research "never opens the door to the use of cloning for human reproduction." He said that such research is "dangerous, profoundly wrong and has no place in our society or any society."

    The president's executive order requires the National Institutes of Health to develop new guidelines by early 2009-JUL for research projects that the NIH will fund.

    Dr. Harold Varmus, president of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and co-chairman of Obama's science advisory council said:

    "The president is, in effect, allowing federal funding of human embryonic stem cell research to the extent that it's permitted by law -- that is, work with stem cells themselves, not the derivation of stem cells."

    CNN reported that:

    "While conceding that 'the full promise of stem cell research remains unknown' and 'should not be overstated,' Obama nevertheless expressed hope that the order will help spur faster progress in the search for cures to afflictions such as Parkinson's disease, cancer and spinal cord injuries."

    Not included in this list are such disorders and diseases as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (a.k.a. Lou Gherig's disease), multiple sclerosis, paralysis, heart disease, degenerative effects of diabetes, and many other diseases.

    Public reaction is split. Those who believe that human personhood begins at conception are outraged by the development because the extraction of stem cells means the destruction of a surplus embryo, thus preventing it from developing into a newborn. Tony Perkins, President of Family Research Council said that:
    "Today's news that President Obama will open the door to direct taxpayer funds for embryonic stem cell research that encourages the destruction of human embryos is a slap in the face to Americans who believe in the dignity of all human life. I believe it is unethical to use human life, even young embryonic life, to advance science. While such research is unfortunately legal, taxpayers should not have to foot the bill for experiments that require the destruction of human life."
    Others welcome the funding of stem cell research for the potential benefits that they hold for perhaps a hundred million Americans who suffer from various diseases and disorders. 2,3 More details

  • 2009-APR-17: New guidelines released for future embryonic stem cell research: Dr. Raynard Kington, the National Institutes of Health's acting director said:

    "We considered the range of ethical issues and we believe this policy will allow substantial research that is ethically responsible and scientifically worthy. We believe this is our best judgment now about a reasonable policy at this time. [This is] an important day for science."

    Up to 700 stem cell lines might be available of which many would be eligible to be used for research under the new policy. That would be a massive increase over the 21 lines that qualified for federal funding and were available to researchers. Most of the 21 are now unusable.

    The guidelines would allow federal funding for projects only if:

    • The stem cells were extracted from pre-embryos using private -- not government -- funding sources.
    • The pre-embryos used come from fertility clinics where they were created for in vitro fertilization, and
    • The pre-embryos used are surplus and no longer needed for reproductive purposes.
    • The donors of the pre-embryos consent for their use in research.
    • Donors were not paid for donating their pre-embryos.

Stem cells from other sources would not be allowed in federal funding. Somatic cell nuclear transfer (a.k.a. cloning) would be prohibited. Stem cells derived via in vitro fertilization for the purposes of research could not be used. Projects involving arthenogenesis -- the development of an unfertilized ovum -- would not be funded.

Researchers have long believed these stem cells hold the keys to important discoveries and treatments for conditions such as Parkinson's disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, spinal cord injuries, heart disease and diabetes. 4

Related essays on this web site:

Cloning and stem cell research are unrelated lines of research. However, they both start with an ovum and initially use some of the same techniques.

bullet When does human personhood begin?
bullet Human cloning
bullet Pre-implantation genetic diagnosis
bullet Therapeutic cloning

References used in the above essay:

  1. Steven Ertelt, "IPS Cells, An Embryonic Stem Cell Research Alternative, Make Major Advance," LifeNews, 2009-MAR-02, at:
  2. "Obama overturns Bush policy on stem cells," CNN Politics, 2009-MAR-09, at:
  3. John-Henry Westen, "Obama to Sign Executive Order Monday Opening Public Funding of Embryonic Stem Cell Research," LifeSiteNews mailing, 2009-MAR-06.
  4. Saundra Young, "Guidelines for broader stem cell research unveiled." CNN Health, 2009-APR-17, at:

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Copyright 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
First posted: 2009-MAR-05
Latest update: 2010-SEP-29
Author: B.A. Robinson

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