Friday, March 1, 2013

Continuing to Ignore Their Own Advice -- Despite Continued Advances

A study in the current issue of  Stem Cells Translational Medicine reports the use of  neural stem cells derived from induced pluripotent stem cells (iPScs) to treat amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, also known as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease”) in rats.  The study shows that the iPSc-derived neural cells were able to engraft, survive and develop into mature neural cells in the spinal cords of the ALS rats.

Dr. Roland Pochet of the Universite Libre de Bruxelles in Belgium, who headed up the research teams, said the results “demonstrate proof-of-principle of survival and differentiation of human iPSc-derived neural progenitors in in vivo ALS environment, offering perspectives for the use of iPSc-based therapy in ALS."

Dr. Anthony Atala, editor of the journal in which the study appeared, called the results “encouraging,” adding that beyond ALS they “suggest the potential of cell therapy for the field of neurobiology and disease treatment."

The announcement of the study’s results also noted that neural cells had previously been derived from neural stem cells (NSCs) and embryonic stem cells (ESCs) as well.

But this development again demonstrates that along with adult stem cells, iPScs are proving to be viable, ethically non-contentious alternatives to the use of human embryonic stem cells; in this instance the adult and iPSc-derived neural cells did everything the hESCs did, but without having to destroy an embryo in the process.   Indeed this and other studies show the continued pursuit of hESCR is ethically unjustified even by standards first set by its proponents.

In 1999, Presidents Clinton’s National Bioethics commission (NBAC) first recommended federal funding for hESCR.  The supposed potential of the research deserved federal support, NBAC argued -- but on condition.  Given the inherent ethical problems, NBAC judged it was “justifiable only if no less morally problematic alternatives are available for advancing the research (at pg. 53).”  In others words, if viable, ethically non-contentious means existed for advancing such research and pursuing cures, then hESCR should not be pursued at all.

Induced pluripotent stem cells are already replacing the use of hESCs in several areas of research in the filed of regenerative medicine, such as in disease modeling and drug testing.   As noted in a previous blog, the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine, established to give priority funding to hESCR, has over the years been shifting more and more resources into adult stem cell and iPSC research.

Given these developments and others like it, one wonders: why do proponents of hESCR continue to ignore the very standards they set down in the 1999 NBAC report for pursuing it?

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