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Thursday, September 29, 2005

If it works, it should satisfy stem cell opponents

As is well known, lots of people are strongly opposed to embryonic stem cell research, so strongly that they are not persuaded by the possibility of benefits from this research. Lots of other people think it holds great promise, and that it should be pursued, regardless of the ethical concerns of the first group. (To many from the second group, not exploring possible medical benefits is a serious ethical concern.)

How do we solve this ethical (and political) dilemma? Perhaps we can't satisfy both groups. But, perhaps we can.

In First Things, Maureen Condic writes about "Altered Nuclear Transfer-Oocyte Assisted Reprogramming (or ANT-OAR)," and gives some explanation of this proposed technique. If it works, it would work by using "epigenetic reprogramming to convert an adult cell into an embryonic stem cell." An unfertilized human egg (oocyte) would also be used, in addition to an adult cell, in the process. The cytoplasm (material outside the nucleus) of such an egg can "turn off" the programming of an adult cell. Epigenetic reprogramming has already been done, with the assistance of oocytes, in the cloning of mammals.

At no time during this procedure, as proposed, would there ever be a human embryo, or any entity that would be capable of developing into a baby. No human embryos would be harvested. What would be needed would be unfertilized eggs and adult cells.

Should this procedure work, it might be possible to do what therapeutic cloning is supposed to do, namely produce stem cells with the power of embryonic stem cells, and derived from, and with the characteristics of, a particular adult. One such characteristic is tissue type. If an embryonic stem cell derived from me were to be used, in me, to cure, say, Parkinson's disease, my immune system would not be expected to reject such cells.

Some experiments need to be done to test the feasibility of this procedure.

Condic cites a statement, published in "Ethics and Medics," a publication of the National Catholic Bioethics Center, making this proposal. (The same issue of the publication has an interpretation of what the Pope said concerning the Schiavo case.)

Perhaps I'm a little cynical, but I wonder if some of our politicians (and others, including well-known evangelical figures, TV stars, etc.) would really accept this procedure, if it works. I fear that there would be fears of losing influence and donations (on both sides), and refusal to bury the hatchet. I hope this works, and that the embryonic stem cell political battles end in a friendly truce. I hope one side accepts this procedure, if it works, and that the other side stops calling for the use of human embryos in stem cell research.


Bonnie said...

This is very interesting, Martin.

One legitimate concern that some may have has to do with the purpose of oocytes themselves. Some might argue that, since oocytes have the purpose of being joined with a sperm in order to create a human being, they ought not be used for any other purpose.

Martin LaBar said...

I'm sure that is true--some will so argue. I should think about the legitimacy of that argument. Apparently, at least some Roman Catholic thinkers are not troubled by it.


Martin LaBar said...

I have now (Oct 1, 2005) placed a post relating to Bonnie's comment. It is
. I would appreciate any further comments on the subject, by Bonnie or anyone else.