Stem cells are amazing things.
A little living component of the human body that is basically a cellula rasa: It can become almost any type of cell it needs to become with the proper programming and encouragement.
I don’t understand the biology of how stem cells work, but I don’t need to. What I do know is that when stem cells are taken from adults, amazing things happen. Like a “skin gun”. Seriously: it basically airbrushes on new skin, but without the “I’ve just been to an amusement park” feel to it.
Here’s a video about it:
Thus far we’ve had many, many stories of people treated with “adult” stem cells. Spinal cord injuries, Cerebral Palsy, leukemia, severe burns, Multiple Sclerosis, strokes, Parkinson’s, cancers, and other diseases. The good folks over at StemCellResearchFacts.com have stories and facts.
Importantly, the successful treatments have come from “adult” stem cells. “Adult” stem cells are those stem cells taken from umbilical cord blood, amniotic fluid, the placenta, bone marrow, or most any other organ system of the human body. Adult stem cells are not those taken from embryos.
You have to kill an embryo in order to harvest its stem cells. No little human embryos are killed or even molested in the harvesting of adult stem cells.
On top of that, while many successful treatments have come from the use of adult stem cells, not a single successful treatment has come from embryo-derived stem cell therapies. (Or at least, if one has happened, the silence is deafening.)
The potential promise of embryonic stem cells is closely connected to their problem. Embryonic stem cells are “pluripotent,” meaning they theoretically can become any type of body cell, which is why they are so alluring. The problem is that they have proven quite difficult to control, e.g., turning into hair and bone tissue when they were supposed to become brain matter. (See #4 at this little list.)
Adult stem cells are, in their original state, multi-potent, but not pluripotent–they can become many things, but are limited based on what part of the body they are taken from.
But that is fast becoming a problem no more. A number of problems with re-programming adult stem cells to be pluripotent have been overcome, without sacrificing the greater ability to control them. The promise of adult stem cells increases by the day, without having to kill little human embryos.
And yet, in spite of the lack of any real solutions coming of all the “promise” of embryonic stem cell research, in spite of the real ethical problems with using stem cells that were harvested from embryos that died in the process, in spite of the new-found pluripotent promise of adult stem cell, and in spite of real solutions already coming from adult stem cell treatments, our government still uses your and my tax dollars to subsidize research using embryonic stem cells, but not on therapies using adult stem cells.
That may change soon, however. A court case called Sherley v. Sebelius which is before the US Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit is challenging the government’s funding of research on embryonic stem cell therapies. When I went to the page for the case was the first time I discovered that our own Matt Bowman is one of the attorneys for the ADF on the case.
Bowman, arguing for the little embryonic people, says:
Americans should not be forced to pay for experiments that destroy human life, have produced no real-world treatments, and violate federal law. … The district court’s injunction simply enforced that law, which makes sure Americans don’t pay any more precious taxpayer dollars for needless research made irrelevant by adult stem cell and other research. In these economic times, it makes no sense for the federal government to use taxpayer money for this illegal and unethical purpose.
Visit ADF for more on the case.
I hope the case is successful, of course, but I lament that a court case is necessary to force the government to stop doing something that is unnecessary and unethical.
Always remember: no skin guns ever came from dead embryos.