August 24, 2006

Media : Embryonic Stem Cell Research

I'll keep this short, as I have neither the morality to state right or wrong, nor the knowledge to give sermons.

Today's media swarm has noticed an older study showing that embryonic stem cells could be produced without destroying the embryo. In many ways, this is the 'Golden Apple', with all the benefits of totipotent stem cells without the moral muss and fuss of.

Or at least it looks this way, or close enough for the vaunted Instapundit and many other bloggers and all members of the mainstream medias. Unfortunately, there still remains no free lunch.

All stem cell treatments have one major problem, the possibility of host-versus-graft disease, where the immune system fights against the injected cells. It can result in cellular damage, rejection of the donor cells, scarring, and in some cases, death. This results when donor cells are significantly different from those of the host. In bone marrow transplants - the first adult stem cell treatment - this occurred with as small a difference as one genetic base pair off.

This is not an insurmountable problem, but the solutions are far from simple. The most obvious one is also the reason that the ethics of embryonic stem cell research are far from cut and dry : simply make stem cells that match the host genetically.

Doing so will require either accepting therapeutic cloning - farms of embryos produced and destroyed to provide the subject cells - or reproductive cloning, with the same farms producing 'child' after 'child' with inherent cellular degradation.

I can't say if this is right or wrong. But I can say that it leaves ethical issues left to be discussed.


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