WASHINGTON (June 7, 2007) — Three studies published this week in Nature and Cell Stem Cell show promise in the field of stem cell research. Richard Doerflinger, Deputy Director of Pro-Life Activities at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, commented on the implications:
"These new studies, showing the direct reprogramming of adult cells to form cells with the abilities of embryonic stem cells, confirm a report by Japanese researcher Shinya Yamanaka in Cell last year. Clearly this field holds great promise.
"Because adult cell reprogramming does not pose the moral problem of creating or destroying embryos, or of exploiting women for their eggs, it may offer a way for people of all faiths and ethical backgrounds to use, subsidize, and enjoy any benefits from pluripotent stem cell research. This would be a gain for science, ethics and society.
"Such reprogramming also may offer two practical advantages over stem cells from embryos. First, it may produce genetically matched stem cells from a patient's own body cells, avoiding immune rejection (a feat not yet achievable using cells from embryos, due to the failure of attempts at human 'therapeutic cloning'). Second, researchers may be able to refine the procedure so these cells are less likely to form tumors, a tendency in embryonic stem cells that has barred them from use in human trials. Practically as well as ethically, these studies point the way toward enjoying any possible benefits of embryonic stem cells without some of their disadvantages.
"Such promising research would have received federal funds under the "alternative" stem cell bill supported by the Catholic bishops' conference last year (S. 2754). That bill, approved by the Senate, was killed in the House by those who support destroying human embryos. This fixation on embryo destruction as the necessary path to medical progress has in fact slowed progress.
"Note also that, without any reprogramming, stem cells from cord blood and adult tissues remain the gold standard for clinical use. These cells have helped patients with over 70 conditions in clinical trials, and we have seen over a hundred advances in such non-embryonic stem cell research in the past year alone (www.stemcellresearch.org). It seems obvious that science and ethics can and should work hand-in-hand to advance this field."