Sunday, December 2, 2007

New Research in Stem Cells

In the last few weeks, there have been two research achievements in stem cell research. Just to make my position clear: I am a born-again Christian who supports embryonic stem cell research. One achievement has been virtually ignored by the media, the other hyped beyond all common sense.

The achievement ignored was the successful creation of embryonic stem cells by somatic cell nuclear transfer in primates. Skin tissue taken from an adult monkey was implanted in an egg and stimulated to divide and form stem cells. This is the first step to the ability to grow replacement tissues of all kinds for humans that would not have rejection problems. This is the great hope for cures. I think just as important would be the potential to study the disease process of particular concern. We could gain insight into the beginnings of disease that could lead to prevention, so no cure is necessary. That a path to saving millions from suffering has been hardly mentioned.

The achievement hyped was the successful creation of pluripotent cells without the use of an egg. Some columnists and many conservative religious representatives have hailed this breakthrough as the death knell of all embryonic stem cell research. Supporters of embryonic stem cell research cannot allow these voices to stop or cripple vital research. There are many problems with the new method including a high incidence of cancer. This research represents another door opening to the possibility of a cure for a myriad of humanities ills. We cannot allow it to close another door.

We do not know which pathway ( perhaps even both) will lead to the ultimate: replacement cells for the worn-out or malfunctioning parts of the human body. We must fight to see that monies already earmarked for embryonic stem cell research are not diverted to the new pluripotent cell research. Both areas are only threshholds now. Where the research will lead in either case is unknown. Both must be supported by those of us who believe that a day without disease suffering will dawn. Science moves by fits and starts. Discoveries are made by accident and design. Which of these achievements will be the more productive is simply unknown at this point. Therefore both must be pursued.

As I stated earlier, I am a born-again Christian. I do not believe that a clump of cells created in a petri dish has a soul. I understand that many Christians would disagree. For them the union of sperm and egg creates a soul. So I respect their beliefs and their right to express those beliefs. I do not want anyone driven from the public square by the fact that they are religious and that their beliefs are based on faith, not science. The separation of church and state applies to the government, not the people. As citizens, we have the right to make our opinions known and an equal right to dispute the opinions of others. If we choose to associate with others of like mind and speak as a group, that is our right. We cannot allow either side of this great debate to be muzzled.

I, of course, believe my opinion on stem cells is correct and will prevail. Our institutions often are the last to acknowledge change. We must help them see stem cells in all forms as a gift from our Creator that we must use, not abuse.

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